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 1OTH RANT VS. “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF CASE STUDIES ABOUT COMPANIES WHICH ARE SUCCESSFULLY ACTING IN THE CUSTOMERS’ BEST INTERESTS WHILE TREATING EMPLOYEES WITH DIGNITY. images another planet customer serviceHow would your company like to be able the advertise the following on the front pages of your website. “Zappos Insights is a department within the Zappos Family of Companies created simply to help share the Zappos Culture with the world. Yep, that means YOU!  We are humbled by the attention Zappos has received and all the questions we get about our zany culture and business. We hope to see a day when all organizations realize you CAN have a successful and profitable business where your employees love coming to work, are happy and engaged, and your customers are raving fans. We want to share with YOU how we created our core values, built our culture, and run our business based on them. We want to share this with you so that you can translate it to YOUR unique and amazing company to create a happier and more productive culture and workplace. Whether your business has been around for 100 years, or you are an entrepreneur just starting out, we offer tours of the Zappos Headquarters, Q&A sessions with Zappos leaders, a Zappos Insights membership, and a full Zappos culture immersion with our 3-Day Boot Camp event. We can even create a custom event for YOU if you’d like. Just let us know. “ “At Zappos, we believe that work should be fun. Check us out and learn how we foster an employee-centric culture and have been named to the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For 5 years in a row!”

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Could your call center work place imagine this story of a coach? Zappos has coaches that are life coaches. They describe one favorite coach, Augusta. As per a Forbes article published on 2/4/2014 by John Greathouse, this is Zappos description of their coaching practices:

“While CEOs and other executives routinely have accessed to personal coaches, such coaching remains a rarity for the average worker in Corporate America. When such programs do exist, they often focus on making workers more productive, efficient and skilled in their job performance. These programs often indirectly benefit the workers, but their primary goal is the betterment of the company.”

Zappos is renowned for its focus on its customers and employees. The company realizes that fostering personal growth is not only good for each employee, it benefits the entire company. As such, employees are encouraged to pursue goals, irrespective of whether they will have any impact on their ability to excel at their jobs.

For instance, Zappos team members can work with Augusta to lose weight, stop smoking or even get into college.

At Zappos, the Coach’s primary responsibility is to make employees better people, not necessarily better workers. Augusta is rightfully proud of this emphasis, stressing that, “The program wasn’t designed around (job) performance or metrics. It was designed around our culture. How can we assist our employees with whatever it is they want to do. What’s going to make them happy? What are they passionate about? And a lot of times it is within their personal lives. We know that a happy employee in their personal life obviously is going to be a happy employee, even at  work.”                                                                                                                                                                                                 Look at what a call center critic writes about Zappos in comparison to others as in the case of Best Buy. This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community, titled, ” How are Call Centers Bullying Their Employees With Bad Scripts on 6/14/2014 by Aurelie Chazal. She writes the following: ” The number 1 reason why employees actually stick to nonsense scripts isn’t because they find them useful. It’s because it could get them fired if they didn’t! A Best Buy employee complained  few years ago about the fact that failure to adhere to the script could result in termination of employment. Guess what Best Buy replied?

As is common with large corporations such as Best Buy, we do have guidelines for our customer support teams to follow to ensure that our customers receive the highest quality care,” „We have not heard from any of our customers (directly) on this topic and if we did we would of course address each concern individually.” This author continues: “No one wants to loose their job, especially when you need the money to survive. So employees just comply with the rules, complain about them during breaks and go on doing what they’re told because why would they fight the system anyway? I mean, no one makes them feel like their opinion matter. On the contrary, everything is made to make them feel like they DON’T matter and are not so hard to replace. In other words, there’s really no way to shine because of who you are in customer service. Companies are making it perfectly clear that your social skills are not their priority. Basically customer service reps are not here to have nice conversations with customers, they’re here to have as many conversations as possible.

This same author goes on to endow compliments to the company Zappos by stating: “I recently chatted with Zappos and it is clear that their customer service representatives are part of the family. The chat I had felt 100% genuine and it allowed me to connect with the person on the other side of the computer. But one thing that struck me with Zappos is that employees are encouraged to go “off-script” (not that they actually use scripts). What I mean is that the employee I spoke to started to tell me about her trip to Paris and we exhanged few thoughts about the city. This might seem highly unprofessional but it was the best customer experience I ever had. Why? Because Zappos gives their employees the opportunity to really connect with customers. In that particular case, the rep couldn’t solve my problem but I still left happier than ever, and I can promise you I will be a loyal Zappos customer if they ever start shipping to Europe.”

She encourages companies to learn from some of the following actions exhibited by those who work at Zappos:

-” Customer service employees are an important part of the company and are treated as such. Zappos CEO even regularly answers the phones himself!

– They are trained to be friendly and make the customer happy, not to read a script.

– They are allowed to give their personal opinion and that’s how they connect with customers

– They are regularly rewarded and are given lots of reasons to be proud of their job”

She explains: “No one said it was easy to provide excellent  customer service but it’s attainable. It just requires a big change in the way companies think. It’s time they see the value of good customer care and start building an organization.”

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Let’s take a look at another company, Jackson National Life Insurance Company as depicted in a NY Times article, dated March 16, 2014 and titled, “Jackson Customer Service Achieves “Call Center World Class Call Certification” for 2013. This is what the article states: “The Service Quality Measurement Group, Inc. (SQM) has again awarded Jackson National Life Insurance Company® (Jackson®) with “Call Center World Class Call Certification” for 2013. Jackson also received the “Highest Customer Service by Industry” award, achieving the top rating for the financial industry.1 The awards mark the ninth year Jackson has been recognized for its customer service performance in both of these categories.”

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“According to SQM, to achieve Call Center World Class Call Certification, 80 percent or more of the calls must be at the “world class level” for at least three months. SQM’s criteria are based on the customer’s satisfaction with his or her service experience and customer service representative, as well as the resolution of the call. While the financial services industry averages 76 percent of calls receiving the highest possible score, Jackson far exceeded the minimum with 90 percent. Additionally, Jackson’s service representatives were able to resolve 87 percent of issues in one call, which is markedly higher than the industry average of 74 percent.”

“With more than 4 million customers, our Service Center is a critical part of the Jackson experience,” said James Sopha, chief operating officer of Jackson. “Jackson is proud to be recognized for its proven commitment to serving the diverse needs of contract-holders and financial professionals. We are able to answer questions quickly and thoroughly utilizing Jackson’s Genius System — our proprietary technology — which enables our associates to filter in real time through the tens of thousands of different policies, features and benefit combinations we offer.”

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For the companies out there whose executives are not aware of other options besides the “cookie cutter” call center operations, I have presented three outstanding examples of how a company can break away from this constrictive culture and experience tremendous success while treating both their customers and employees with great care.  Ask yourself this question. If you were an outstanding college graduate and potential exceptional employee, which type of company would you prefer to solicit a job?

If you are a company still mired in the “cookie cutter” call center environment, please consider successfully breaking away by following in the steps of these three companies to ensure your company’s viability for the future. As in the case of the  Zappos, why not consider designating your companies’ coaching duties to being more supportive of the frontline employees. If you have business analytics which objectively measure  performance such as tracking the number of sales and monies closed by the sale agents, then your company is in a better position to identify and reward your stars. Please remember that your stars are not the ones who will be dealing with your customers on a daily basis for years. All your frontline workers require great care.

Here are some of the better companies that are not managed as typical “cookie cutter” call center companies. I reviewed many consumer ranking type companies  such as JD Power; Consumer Reports; CNN Money; Forbes and MSN Money to compile this data. The best online banking company is Ally Bank; the best mortgage company is Quicken Loans;  the best financial advice firm is Edward Jones; and the best property and casualty company is Amica.

USAA insurance for the military, ex military and their families is rated better than or equal to Amica by most rating companies; however in 2014, Consumer Reports ranked USAA behind Amica in homeowner’s insurance. Still, USAA has been rated # 1 for many years. The USAA brokerage division received the highest rating for customer satisfaction.  USAA offers many outstanding products including online banking and free financial advice. For anyone who intends to carry a balance over months, the USAA World MasterCard ( plus chip or signature enabled) and their American Express card offer the best interest rates starting at 9.9% along with no annual fees, a flexible reward program and limited travel insurance of up to $1,500. However, you will be charged 1% for any foreign money conversion exchanges.

According to NerdWallet.com, the best credit cards for travel which offer great rewards with no foreign money exchange transaction fees plus chip or signature enabled are the Chase Saphire Preferred card and the Barclay Arrival card. The Barclay Arrival MasterCard has been named a best travel rewards credit card by most travel bloggers and “Best for Travel Rewards” by MONEY Magazine in Oct. 2013. The rewards are great. This no-annual fee card features no foreign transaction fees and pays 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on everything else.  Also, you get 10 percent of your miles back when redeemed for travel.  However both these credit cards charge annual fees which are waived for the first year of usage, higher interest rates starting from 14.99 to 15.99 %. My friends who have done some research state that the Capital One travel credit cards charge lower interest rates. For anyone who has not served in the military and who intends to carry a balance over months,  the Citi Preferred card offers a competitive interest rate starting at 12.99% which is waived for the first year and it charges no annual fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has the best benefit of free travel insurance. I looked up this credit card enhancement on their website which advertises, the “TRIP CANCELLATION/TRIP INTERRUPTION INSURANCE,” if your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels. See the footnote below for a comparison table of various credit cards valid as of 2/2015.

The best free resource to assist military families (this includes ex military) in their retirement planning is the USAA Financial Planning Department.

The best free resource to assist military families in their budgeting can be downloaded from the internet under the title of “Operation Money,” published by NBC on August 25, 2014 by Jene Chatzky. The advertisement states:

“Jean Chatzky, financial editor for NBC’s Today show, is here to help with Operation Money, a mission-based guide that provides detailed resources to prevent money problems before they happen; gives you the tools to manage through a tough situation if you’re already facing one; and empowers you to figure out how best to plan for your future—either in or out of the military—and then assists you in doing so. The chapters throughout focus on saving, debt, credit, buying and financing a home, buying and financing a car, paying for college, protecting the ones you love with insurance and an estate plan, dealing with a relocation, managing money through a deployment, handling a furlough, retirement, divorce, and the financial aspects of caregiving.”

This blog has been updated on 2/11/15.

 RELATED ARTICLES:

1.)Zappos Insights – Culture Training – Customer Service Training www.zapposinsights.com/

2.)How Zappos‘ CEO Turned Las Vegas Into a Startup Wired-Jan 2014

3.)What Happens in Brooklyn Moves to Vegas The New York times-Oct 2012

4.)From Call Center Agent To ZapposLife Coach: This Woman http://www.forbes.com/…/johngreathouse/…/from-callcenteragent-to-z

5.) Jackson Customer Service Achieves “Call Center World  markets.on.nytimes.com/…/press_release.asp?…

6.) Compare credit cards’ trip cancellation, trip interruption …http://www.creditcards.com › Credit Card News Oct 14, 2014 – Are you covered if you have to cut your vacation short or cancel it all together? Before taking out travel insurance, check your credit card …