NUTTY CONSUMER’S 6TH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

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THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF PROVIDING TIPS TO ASSIST COMPANIES IN BREAKING AWAY FROM THE “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTER SYNDROME.

Is it not feasible to customize these “cookie cutter” call systems to better suit the needs of your customers?

What would it take to make sure the client has access to a customer service survey at the end of each call ( or some legitimate alternative) by which the agent is not able to bar the clients from completing it? Can the client have only 2 survey questions to answer along with an option to voice details? My preferred questions would be: (1.) Based on a score from 1-10 with10 being excellent, was the agent able to take care of all your requested needs that were possible to accomplish during this one call? (2.) Based on a score from 1-10 with 10 being excellent, would you recommend this company to your friends and /or relatives?(3.) Would you like to add any comments which would enable us to better serve you in the future?

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Make sure your sales and customer service agents really know how to conduct the new buzz term of “relationship sales.” If I invited someone into my house, I do not want to talk or form a relationship with anyone reciting a scripted greeting; ending and a check list of what questions should  be asked during our conversation. I would be horrified if someone I just met started asking me personal questions that I am not likely to share with anyone. Why do some company personnel believe that these norms of courtesy do not apply to a sales agent and a potential client? Over time as I talk to my guest and discover that his/ her history reflects some common interests with me, then the guest could eventually be comfortable enough to start to ask pertinent questions and to share information that would  help me to demonstrate how whatever I am selling would benefit and suit my client’s needs. This is “relationship sales.”

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One of the major complaints voiced by many call center representatives who are professionals in their fields of business, sales, insurance, banking, and financial planning, etc. is this requirement of being obligated to follow a script no matter what the circumstances. Some agents have told me that their scripts keep being adjusted. In one case, the company management has stated that the agents have to utilize a particular opening and closing statement; follow certain set of steps in the call process; ask a certain amount of questions, and keep the call as short as possible. It is as if the top brass are searching for the magic bullet to standardize the sales procedure to make it easier for agents to sell and for supervisors to be able to manage the sale process. If one searches the internet, there are numerous call center marketers advertising and promoting their perfect script guaranteed to improve anyone’s sales numbers. None would be a good example of developing, the “relationship sales” model. The best “relationship sales” course offered as a basic lesson online that I have found is on SAI Global . Incidentally, there is no magic bullet as you will always be dealing with the client who is not scripted.

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Is your company able to demonstrate an increase in revenues due to increase of both the tenured and newer clients purchasing new products and decrease in tenured clients partially cancelling current lines of business; increase in customer retention rates and increase in customer satisfaction ratings while increasing revenues due to cost cutting measures such as operating a “cookie cutter” call center? Having access to sophisticated business analytics is even more crucial if the business you are managing involves selling to a limited market. Pleasing your customers, being true to your brand and earning your clients’ loyalty over and over again by consistently delivering exceptional products and services can’t afford a c- change in this expectation. A company can’t afford to have their culture compromised by management’s decision to implement the “cookie cutter” call center in order to increase the financial soundness of the business but without the necessary strategic business plan and customization to mitigate the typical unintended problems associated with this type of operation.

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One of the hidden problems has to do with the call center employee attrition rate approaching 50% for large organizations incurring mostly inbound calls. According to a write up, published in 2012, http://www.trostle.com,”; Managing Hidden Costs of Contact Center Teams In The New Economy, turnover is described as follows: “Turnover is the percentage of the total number of agents leaving the call centre over 12 months, divided by the number of seats during the same 12 months. Turnover can be healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional, voluntary or involuntary, avoidable and unavoidable. Research from Chris Bracken of Call Me! IQ reports that “Industry data shows large call centers average 49% annual attrition, . . . call centers focused on outbound dialing average more than 60% annual attrition. Turnover costs have a significant impact on the department budget and company profitability. Total costs can range from 60 to 200% of an employee’s annual salary, according to various reports. One study estimated that turnover-related costs represent more than 12% of pre-tax income for the average company and up to 40% for companies in the 75th percentile.”

images2FWR1U0VThe report continues: “There are both tangible and intangible costs associated with turnover. Intangible costs include: low morale; lack of commitment; breakdown of trust; critical skills or knowledge drain; dissatisfied customers; lost intellectual capital; reduced reputation; potential lost customers. Tangible costs (both voluntary and involuntary) include hiring costs associated with replacing an employee: third party recruiter fees; online system and advertising costs; candidate interviews (assessment, testing, and screening fees); new hire bonuses, referral fees, and sign-on incentives; processing and time associated with replacement (HR, management, multiple interviews and departments involved); training new hire costs – on boarding process and associated costs of acclimating a new employee to the environment (mentor or co-worker time) In the case where a replacement cannot be found quickly or it is decided not to replace, there are costs associated with redesigning the work, as existing employees must be retrained to cover the vacancy and overtime must also be paid in order to cover the additional work. In addition, there are lost productivity or business costs – includes the “savings” incurred by not paying wages for the exited employee, and it also includes costs associated with low morale, lost revenue and the performance differential for the new employee as well as costs associated with lost sales.”

If your company wishes to continue to be proud of being an exceptional company which provides outstanding products and customer service,  then do not give into the “fools gold” marketed by the call center systems sales teams without any modification as to how customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction is measured. Do not compromise! It cannot just be how they answer your customer satisfaction surveys and employees respond to employees surveys but how are customers voting with their pocketbooks and is there a reduction in the employee retention rate. Focus on placing the pleasing of your customers first has to be based in reality, and then invest in a healthy work environment which actively encourages the free flow of ideas by your frontline employees; otherwise, over time you will end up compromising your hard earned reputation and branding. YOUR COMPANY WILL REFLECT THE “COST CULTURE!”

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)Wells Fargo’s pressure-cooker sales culture comes at a cost http://www.latimes.com/…/la-fi-wells-fargo-sale-pressure-20…;

2.)Does corporate culture drive financial performance? – Forbes www.forbes.com/…/does-corporateculture-drive-financial-perfor…

3.)Wells Fargo foreclosure manual under fire – The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com/…/wellsfargo…/25cd38…

4.)Call Center Confidential: The Underbelly of Customer Centricity blogs.hbr.org/…/callcenter-confidential-the-u/

5.)The Truth About Customer Experience – Harvard Business Review hbr.org/2013/09/the-truth-about-customer…/‎‎

BELOW ARE TYPICAL CONSUMER COMPLAINTS AGAINST COMPANIES WHICH HAVE THE “COOKIE CUTTER CALL CENTER SYNDROME: 

1.)Called into xxxxx at the end of DEC 2013 to inquire about auto and home insurance. Was disconnected by xxxxx’s “survey request” automated service; and subsequently reconnected to a different agent. Unbeknown to me the 1st agent issued a home policy without my consent.
If that were not enough– xxxxx apparently filters its “member reviews” because my complaint of this practice via the member review method never saw “the light of day” in their system– it was never published. No wonder all that you ever see on their website are glowing reviews of their service and company; with only a minor slight shown now and then to promote a fabricated image of fairness. 259c286        

2.)       Problem #4:  We are in a rental property that requires 60 days written notice that we are planning on moving out.  We simply asked the mortgage representative  what would be a good estimated date she could give us for closing….it was her favorite answer “I don’t know!”  With her continuing to not know anything, giving the 60 days notice too early could leave us homeless or too late could leave us paying rent and a mortgage. Finally, after getting fed up with her enough I spoke to her supervisor and made a complaint but we were still not getting very clear answers on anything.  We spoke with another mortgage company who immediately locked us in a for an interest rate and had much lower closing fees than xxxxx.  They immediately sent an appraiser out and had a report back 2 days later.  This other company is having no issue of meeting our closing date of Jan 17th.              
3.) I have been a xxxxx customer for 16 years and have always spoke highly of them. I have never made a claim until recently. When I called the claims associate, Juanita **, she was extremely rude and could care less about the loss of my property. Juanita did a very poor job with explaining the claims process and interrogated me like I was a criminal. I asked to speak with a supervisor and she refused numerous times until I raised my voice. My claim has not been settled yet but I am already looking for a new insurance provider for my home, auto, property, and valuable item insurance that xxxxx currently has. My experience with xxxxx has been so poor that I am switching companies even if it costs me money.

4.)I do billing and collections for doctors. At one time, I would recommend xxxxx. They conducted business with their policy holders with great care and consideration. It seemed they paid the claims without too much problems such as large reductions. Reductions cost the patient, and they are not legal! I work for doctors who do not want their patients to have to pay any more than what the policy states. So if their policy states that out-of-network, the policy is 80/20, I am there to assure the insurance pays the 80%, not reduce the charge and only pay 65% or less leaving a balance for the patient.

Because insurances are not forced to pay what their obligation is, it has caused the rise in health care. If they would pay as they have promised their clients, hospitals would not need to start a charge for an aspirin at $20.00 in the hope to get the 20 cents. At one time, xxxxx was the best insurance and as a bill-er, I was called often to give referrals. It broke my heart when I had to warn people about xxxxx instead of giving them as my referral.

NUTTY CONSUMER’S 7TH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

call-center-cartoon-100-aht aht cartoonTHIS BLOG WILL FOCUS ON THE CALL CENTER EMPLOYEE AND POSSIBLE LEGAL ISSUES.  After doing some research on the subject of call center issues, I have become increasingly concerned about the well being of the employees being part of the “cookie cutter” call system syndrome. To gain further insight, I have  discussed this subject with several current and former call center employees as well as doing  basic research. It is somewhat depressing to picture a professional with a college degree such as an insurance agent or financial advisor, working under this prototype call center environment without any customization to ensure that both the needs of the customer remains a top priority but also that employees are treated with dignity and respect.

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How could agents not suffer some anguish if they felt required to compromise their moral values in order to keep their job?  How would  anyone not be uncomfortable by finding themselves being placed in a position as at Wells Fargo by which you are directed to sell hard on each and every incoming call no matter what the customers’ circumstances. What if the customer is calling in about a serious complaint; is very upset due a recent tragedy and is calling in a claim; they have just lost thousands of dollars due to a poor investment; they have lost out on the purchase of a dream home due to the company’s poor mortgage customer service  etc.? An agent would have to be blessed with a strong stomach to continue in the hard sales role even if pressured by management. It is easy to think that the employee should just quit. However, what if you are the family breadwinner with several children and can’t risk the consequences of just leaving a company during a time when the job market is on a downturn. You could ask why doesn’t the agent protest to management. As one agent advised me, it is management who are enforcing these standards. If you are perceived as not being a team member, your life will be made very unpleasant. You will be  marginalized with a reputation for being a difficult or disgruntled employee; someone who is unstable as well as not being a team player.  An agent from a well established company described to me what typically occurs when an employee dares to challenge the status quo. The offending agent could be subject to excessive monitoring with supervisors listening in at random and excessive surveillance. As time passes the agent will experience extreme discomfort and will eventually leave.

cartoon6760 customer service joke re agent performanceOne agent described how she had worked for a company for seven years and had many plum assignments typically given to top performing agents along with outstanding employee reviews. She was a young, healthy adult with a college degree as well as some previous successful sales experience and management training with a beauty product company. However, at some point while being employed by a company with an excellent reputation, she voiced concerns about the sales tactics being practiced. She eventually ended up with mental health issues and left the company on disability leave after enduring  many weeks of bullying.  She tried returning to work but found that her anger issues were returning as she would still be working for the same supervisor who had harmed her. She didn’t want to live in fear and so she resigned. She had been subject for weeks to a frequently deployed tactic by call center management of excessive surveillance and constant monitoring. This includes the supervisors listening and recording many calls for hours and at random times with the intent to catch the employees making an error. Then the employees are frequently confronted with all their errors, written notices, increased coaching sessions  with the employees’  full knowledge that they are helpless, and even if they get that they are being treated unfairly and unjustly, they have no legitimate, reliable and effective recourse for relief. This is just for starters! These tactics  are also used to set up an employee to be fired.  If companies believe that this pattern of subjecting offending employees to these bullying and mental harassment tactics  designed to separate out an agent, is a way to avoid legal repercussions, please reconsider this stance.  Currently, these systemic practices  may not be sufficient for claimants to legally prevail on the basis of the companies’ managers, intentionally “inflicting extreme emotional distress” on any particular employee.  However, as per an article in the Insurance  Journal, published 3/4/2013, titled “Workplace Bullying Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground “by Sam Hananel, “more than a dozen states — including New York and Massachusetts — have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and compel employers to prevent an “abusive work place.”  

rhan518l call system customer service issueIn the text  of the “bullyonline.org” website that I mentioned was very popular in the United Kingdom in a previous blog and which has been inundated with calls from call center employees, lists one of the mental illnesses resulting from working in this highly stressful industry as PTSD. My first reaction is that was just too far fetched as no “cookie cutter” call center worker can claim to have been subject to the stress of a war zone. However, according to a standard definition of PTSD, the leap is at least worth consideration. A standard definition is as follows: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered when a person sees or is party to a psychologically traumatic event, such as war, a natural disaster, or any situation that invokes feelings of helplessness or Intense fear. While most people eventually adjust to the aftereffects of such events, some people find their symptoms getting worse with time. These worsening symptoms are the product of PTSD.”

Why tempt fate? Perhaps your legal division can look at the bigger picture and ask themselves, how would your company’s reputation be tarnished by having some of these practices being depicted on the front pages of the Washington Post  due to some unforeseen incident?

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Some other methods designed to separate a quality employee from a company are more subtle. One gentleman had an MBA, a strong, successful real estate sales background  and he also had received outstanding reviews, accolade letters from the President’s office, had a track record of surpassing any and all sales goals set by management and was well respected by his peers. He just made the politically incorrect move to question some of the company’s sales tactics and treatment of the clients. As a result, whenever he applied for another position within the same company, he was never successful. There came a time when he needed to be able to work from home because of a difficult family health issue. Other representatives with minimally acceptable employee evaluations were granted this exception but this one gentleman with an exceptional record was not. Consequently, he did resign and another company is reaping the rewards of employing an outstanding worker.

imagesLWJQRJLZDEAR COMPANY, do not allow accountants ( cost cutters) or the legal division to recommend actions intended to avoid negative legal consequences which are counter to your mission statement of providing excellent customer products and service while treating  your clients with exceptional levels of integrity and respect; and which could consequently cost you your business reputation.  Frequently, these divisions view the company’s well being from a limited viewpoint and cannot envision the big picture. Right now I am talking about how an employee described to me how she is strongly discouraged from documenting anything she discusses with a client even if it is important. The reason given for this rule was that the writing of notes on the various accounts over time adds to the average call handling time. I suspect that this directive has more to do with the legal department wishing to prevent future legal claims by not leaving a paper trail.  As per “Do You Know Your Call Center Law?” which was published on 1/21/2014, by Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor, “if an agent hands out faulty advice and it results in an injury, the contact center could be liable.” Their advice is to make sure agents are properly trained to provide directions and advice.

The problem with the plan of not allowing your employees to keep notes to avoid the paper trail is that technology is improving. In time,  a customer will be able to record their conversation with a call center representative. As per federal laws, there cannot be any expectation of privacy as most call centers record calls as well. There are discussions on the blogosphere as how to manage the state laws regarding a consumer being legally able to record a call center call.  As an example, on the blog, The Daily Dot, dated August 12, 2014 , titled “How to Record a Customer Service Call Without Breaking The Law, ” the Author Aaron Sankin writes, “if you decide to start recording your customer service calls, it’s a good idea to ask the customer service rep if it’s okay before hitting the little red button. In this case, it may be better to ask permission than forgiveness. Laws regarding the recording of telephone conversations —typically called “wiretap laws”—fall in to two basic categories: one-party consent, and two-party consent. In many two-party-consent states, all parties on the call must consent. At the moment, 18 states and the District of Columbia have wiretap laws on the books. It’s important to note that the location of the person you’re recording matters when it comes to state laws. Here’s a quick rundown of each state’s law, according to the Digital Media Law Project:

Arizona: One party must consent
California: All parties must consent
Florida: All parties must consent
Georgia: One party must consent
Illinois: Unclear—so get two-party consent to be safe
• Indiana: One party must consent
Massachusetts: Two-party consent; secretly recording calls is illegal
Michigan: All parties likely must consent—but courts are divided
• Missouri: One party must consent
New Jersey: One party must consent
New York: One party must consent
• North Carolina: One party must consent
• Ohio: One party must consent
Pennsylvania: All parties must consent
Tennessee: One party must consent
Texas: One party must consent
Virginia: One party must consent
Washington: All parties must consent
 Washington, D.C.: One party must consent

Mr. Sankin recommends that even if you don’t see your state on this list, make sure to check all applicable state laws before recording anybody. He continues to state, “If you’re calling from a smartphone, you’re going to need a different system and a perfect app for that is called TapeACall. TapeACall, which runs on both iPhone and Android phones, lets users record any conversation at the touch of a button. Those recordings are stored on TapeACall’s servers and can be played back instantaneously on the device. The files can also be exported and saved on the phone or a computer in .mp3 format. The service is free for 60-second clips, but costs $9.99 for a version with unlimited recording time. (Full disclosure: I use TapeACall almost every single day doing reporting and can personally attest that it’s magical).”

Mr. Sankin added the following: “Paul Stockford, research director of the National Association of Call Centers, said he doesn’t think it’s especially commonplace for customers to record their calls with customer service reps. ‟I’ve seen isolated incidents,” he said. ‟But I don’t know about this being any kind of trend.” Recent events indicate that it may soon become one. A few weeks ago, another dissatisfied Comcast customer released a legendarily painful recording of a company rep making every possible excuse to avoid letting him cancel his service. The call went massively viral and became a huge black eye for Comcast, which is in the process of waging a publicity campaign to convince federal regulators to approve its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. In short, your best weapon against bad customer service may be a recorded call. Just be careful before you use it.”

In the end, there will be a paper trail and the company will be forced to increase their training programs and to stress quality control as to the reasonableness and accuracy of information provided by their representative. Why allow your company to be impeded by the accountants and legal experts from investing now in increased training and from implementing a constructive, quality control plan to improve the quality, completeness of detail and accuracy of information provided by your agents?

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There are those who are asking me why am I discussing the employee. These “cookie cutter” call center systems have huge expenditures associated with high employee turnover rates, non planned absentee days; employees out for weeks due to mental health disability leave and the higher health care costs due to the increase in physical health and mental health employee claims because of this work stress. The additional costs alone to train professionals with college degrees to keep up with high turnover rates is astronomical in the insurance, banking and financial advice companies. These jobs can involve complicated thinking and long term learning curves and so there is that hidden problem of having customers interacting too often with inexperienced agents. These are unnecessary costs which can be allocated for example, towards lowering the costs of company’s products, investing in research and development and/ or increasing company revenues. It would be helpful if the “cookie cutter’ call center business analytics included tracking the above mentioned costs.

YES, THERE  ARE MAJOR COMPANIES TREATING THEIR BOTH THEIR CUSTOMERS AND THEIR CALL CENTER EMPLOYEES WELL WHILE ENJOYING TREMENDOUS SUCCESS SUCH AS AMERICAN EXPRESS, JACKSON  AND ZAPPOS. I WILL DISH OUT MORE IN MY FUTURE BLOGS.

RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)How American Express Transformed Its Call CentersHarvard blogs.hbr.org/…/american-express-how-we-tran…

2.) Workplace Stress and Mental Health Issues – Academia.edu www.academia.edu/…/Workplace_Stress_and_Mental_Hea

3.) 15 Effects of Stress on Call Center Agents and the Company blog.talkdesk.com/15-effects-of-stress-on-callcenteragents

4.) For mental health, bad job worse than no job – CNN.comvwww.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/14/unemployment.health/
http://www.mirror.co.uk/…/callcentre-staff-facing-targets-22…
6.) The Last Bullying Frontier | Psychology Today by Guy Winch