Challenges in the Customer Support Services Industry

Every entrepreneur knows the importance of the quality of customer support services. Although in the customer service industry a myth is developing that outsourcing the customer services will not give the desired result, this industry is growing incredibly in South Asia. Mostly progressive companies are recognizing the potential and turning towards outsourcing their customer services departments to call centers located at different regions. These call centers are the main contact point for their customers. Most prominently this industry is growing in Pakistan, Philippines, and India.

In the adverse global economic condition like others, call center industry is also facing lot of challenges. To keep consistent quality of services the most alarming global issue is the retention of staff. The reasons and solution to retain them is different in Asia as compared to rest of the world. There are two important factors in the retention process i.e. incentives and motivation. The priorities differ between agents, especially in South Asia. The balance between incentives and motivation is the dominant factor in the retention of agents. There is a considerably high ratio of agents give priority on positive relationships among the team, supervisors and managers over incentives. It is equally important to chalk out a customized plan for individual agents to find out what they value most. One size fits all approach does not work in this industry.

I don’t run outbound call center but to my understanding another possible reason of turnover is the stress in outbound call center environment. Because of the use of sophisticated technology, agents don’t get time to recover from the stress in between awkward call from an unhappy customer or the stress due to performance targets. The performance targets sometimes put so much pressure that agents start bragging the customers to achieve their targets. The stress build up can also lead to illness and promote non-attendance.

Another challenge in call center industry is measuring the quality of services provided by your agents. The difficulty is due to the fact that mostly instead of complaining to the call center or the company directly, customers tell their friends of their bad experiences. So how will you measure the quality of service? Mostly companies are using surveys to get the opinion of their customers. There are other resources which can be used along with surveys. Among those forums, social media platforms and product reviews sites are on top. I experienced a little improved result when contacting all the customers who put negative remarks on forums and commented on the product reviews sites. On approaching them I offered the best solution to their concern that the company could afford. In most cases it is acceptable to the customers converting them again a happy customer. It is still important to measure the level of satisfaction and the best way to accurately know is to ask your customer directly at the time of first interaction.

Few call centers measure the quality of their service and the customer satisfaction level by assessing the average call handling time, time to answer a call, and the number of contacts by a customer to resolve the issue. But at times this method will not show the correct picture. All these methods depend on the products and services such as technical support services which may require a lengthy call to properly resolve the issue. Same could happen with customized products where during the first call some verification is required and it may only be possible to resolve the issue on second call. Also satisfying a customer only during first interaction is not enough. To earn a considerable satisfaction level customers need iterative positive experience from the contact center. Developing business relationship, trust and credibility takes time and it cannot be developed overnight.

The first step in improving the quality of customer support service is to improve your relationship with the employees. Involve them in major decision making, give them the feeling of ownership and acknowledge their achievements. It will help in increasing their morale and loyalty. Inspiration is an important factor in improving the role of your employees towards their commitment to high level of excellence and professionalism.

Besides satisfying existing customers on their interaction, it is also a good idea to keep their interest alive in the company. There are various avenues to stay in touch with your customers and prospective clients. There are companies who bombard their customers with chain of strong sales messages which in turn adversely affect customers’ reaction. There is no harm in sending a few softer sales messages. If possible, phone contact and face-to-face interaction is more effective.

In this turbulent economic time customers tend to look for low cost alternatives and it is becoming hard to keep their interest in your products and develop their trust in the company. Now the question is how you can keep your customers satisfied and maintain their confidence. The first and foremost thing is that your front line champions of customer service should be well trained to listen to and understand the customers’ requirements and concerns. For this purpose a weekly performance reviews with all your agents are very helpful in maintaining the minimum required standards. This is very important to quickly and effectively resolve customers’ issues. In resolving the issue exceeding their expectations and make the process simple and easy will further enhance their interest and confidence in the company.

Life In The Service Industry

The title “Service Industry” is a broad and encompassing term that includes business enterprises ranging from courier and delivery to the high tech industry; from the grocery to the gas station to the hospital and all businesses in between. Obviously, various business ventures are geared to present their wares to particular clients and customers but they all have a common thread – service to their clientele. This “service” may be excellent or it may be horrendous. In these articles we will explore the concepts of service and repercussions of the good, the mediocre and the bad with the intention of improving the service commitment of the readers to their customer.

PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS

My personal background in the service industry is in the telecommunications field. Beginning my career in 1970 with the Bell System before Divestiture, I left after the government forced the breakup of Ma Bell and have been in the private business world of telecommunications ever since.

During the early years of my career I was taught the importance of customer service and maintaining the correct relationship to customers. Two of the Bell System’s top priorities were “safety” and “customer service”; safety for the employees and service for the customer which included a high quality in the standard of work practices and ethic.

Becoming a business owner, I was introduced to business world situations that a novice could never have dreamed of and it is always rewarding to work through them. I believe that our strong commitment to service excellence is what has carried our company for 22 years. The service excellence ethic that I had been taught and conformed to was easily incorporated into my business. Instilling this ethic into the hearts of technicians that haven’t come from that environment has always been the challenge. Some get it and make great team members. We all agree that everyone in our business has basically the same products and pricing. What sets us apart is our commitment to our customer’s needs when they need us.

THE QUEST FOR SERVICE EXCELLENCE

The particular industry with which you are connected doesn’t matter. The concepts that we will discuss remain valid for all with the result being to safely provide a quality product to your customer and make a profit in the process.

When we hear the word “service” in the context of the business world, it brings to mind someone providing a desired product, tangible or not, to someone else. This product should be designed to bring satisfaction to the customer and bring them to the point of willingly rendering legal tender to the provider. When it all works properly, the customer is satisfied with the product and the provider makes a reasonable profit and is able to comfortably seek another customer and not be apprehensive to invite former customers back.

Of course, I have just explained free enterprise and what happens when the system is employed properly. The proper understanding of providing service to customers and clients makes the American economy tick. The misunderstanding of providing customer service makes consumers sick.

May I say up front that making a profit is not a sin to be shunned but is the backbone of free enterprise. The potential of owning a profitable business keeps the entrepreneur focused on his goals and this in turn provides jobs to the economy. As in anything else in this world, overindulgence and the extravagant and unnecessary profit by taking advantage of others is wrong. But the enjoyment of a reasonable profit for a business will keep that business alive and healthy for you, the customer to return and claim that great product again.

IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE

A Service Manager who I know told his boss, “We have spoiled our customers!” The boss said, “Yes, we want every one of them to think that we have our tools in hand and our hand on the doorknob just waiting for their call.” That’s the service attitude it takes.

In our next posts we will discuss Service Attitude, Performance, Leadership and Stories and Experiences of the sometimes roller coaster ride and never dull life in the service business.

LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY PART 2

IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE

Providing great customer service starts when you get up each day. It begins with ATTITUDE. I don’t believe this is just a simple cliché. The life you live each day begins with an attitude of some kind. Abraham Lincoln said words to the effect that a man is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. I have seen that to be true with a service mindset also. You can allow situations to occupy your thinking or you can put those aside, concentrate on providing properly for your customer and then pick them up later at an appropriate time. Don’t worry. They will be there waiting for you.

We know that most days are filled with challenges of all kinds. Employees, schedules, equipment breakdowns, customer complaints…the list goes on. So if you know at the outset this is going to be the usual day, why begin in a grumpy mood? You already have a head start on it by knowing what to expect, so make it a positive. You are only making your day more difficult if you dwell on the negative that will come. Be tenacious as you greet each new challenge. When you work through it to success, your reward of satisfaction will be awesome; and if a customer witnesses your positive approach to their problem, you will raise your value with them.

A good example from our industry is when a customer is having problems with one of their service providers, i.e. local phone company, internet or long distance provider. Many times they can’t relate the problem they are having properly and talk the tech language that is required. The customer is always relieved when we step in, spend the time with the support group and follow the trouble ticket to completion. We assure them that we will take care of the situation and that they can get back to doing what they do best in their business.

Sales turnaround specialist Lou Ludwig says, “If we don’t wow them, it’s likely that we won’t do business with them…this is not a casual occurrence, it’s a planned and consistent activity.” Looking for ways to “wow” customers should be a daily exercise. Many times the seemingly insignificant things will speak the loudest to customers.

Another example from our experience is brought to mind. More than once we have been congratulated on leaving our work area like we found it or in better condition. We have all seen cluttered, dirty closets where communications equipment is located. That closet may not have been swept in the last 10 years, but when we left it was clean. For the observant customer, this speaks volumes about who we are.

Now, relate these examples to your personal industry. How can you perform a little better and provide a “wow” for your next customer? Maybe an extra special greeting to them when they walk in; maybe a little something additional added at no cost to their purchase; maybe asking them how their family is. One wise man said, “Everyone walks through life with a sign around their neck that says ‘make me feel important’.” If we can make that customer feel that they are important to us, they will be back time and time again.

I once employed a technician that was not a very good technician. However, he had the people skills that a service company should fervently seek. Customers loved him and even stood up for him when he needed to be reprimanded on a particular job. And they insisted that I and my service manager get to the bottom of the problem, because it certainly could not be the technician’s fault. So, we reworked the job and solved the problem without pressing the issue. The customer relationship was worth more than the immediate understanding of where the blame actually lay.

Are you attacking each day with a great customer service attitude? Is your priority to provide service excellence or just to make a profit? These two goals go hand in hand, and I believe the attitude of customer service comes first. If you are striving daily to provide the quality product that your customer desires, you are stretching a long way toward continuing to build a profitable business.

So, as the old song says, “Put on a happy face” and enjoy providing the service that you are capable of.

This will bring us next time to performance. You can say it all day long, but you must do it!

LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY – PART 3

Performance

Performance is the key to your longevity in business. If you are in business, then you have put your reputation on the line as a performer that can get the job done. As you continually prove to your customers that you can perform, they will beat a trail back to your door when they need the service or product you provide. If you do not perform and have an unconcerned attitude for performing, then fold your tent, it’s just a matter of time.

Over the years I have been a witness to many varied personalities and attitudes in the service industry. Here are some examples:

1 – I have seen megalomaniacs who wanted everyone to know that they were God’s gift to their field of expertise. One such technician worked for me. He was a very intelligent person but could not perform when it came to customer or other employee relations. When I finally terminated him he was completely offended and questioned my decision, as he put it, “You don’t want to work with me anymore?” This was after I had presented 2 pages of customer complaints that had been discussed previously to no avail. He just couldn’t get past his own greatness. To my dismay, I waited too long to get this done and lost some business in the process.

Another such individual was a business owner. He was a friend and a very intelligent person. But his visions of grandeur about who he was became a flaw that he could not overcome and led to his company’s collapse because of his non performance with his customers.

These types of individuals are not willing to do whatever it takes to perform and provide customer service. In their world they are right every time and in all situations, and this leads to a less than acceptable performance level.

2 – On the other hand, I have seen people enter the workforce with no background in our business and become outstanding service performers because they realized that the most important aspect of our business is our customer. As we said last time, it all begins with attitude. The attitude to learn the business and perform for the customer is a gold mine for a small business owner when he finds this individual.

One young man came from the retail industry as a store manager. He had no technical background or computer skills. My concern was how he would acclimate to the high tech world. His attitude and customer skills propelled him to eventually be our service manager, overseeing a team of technical service performers daily.

We have all had less than desirable experiences with service providers. Maybe it does not bother you as it does me or maybe you’re not as sensitive to it as I. But when I see a waitperson or technician or delivery driver, etc with a frown or a trite attitude it really affects me in a negative way.

I realize that the situations in people’s lives are many and varied and can very easily become outwardly expressed in facial and voice expression. But this is what we have been discussing; you must get past this and concentrate on your customer for the long haul. They have problems too. Don’t provide an outlet in attitude and/or body language that potentially will ruin that relationship.

When a customer has a need, the good service performer goes to work to fill that need. If it’s a product, they will provide it; if it’s a service, they will get it accomplished; if it is working through a problem, their mindset will be, “It ain’t over until I win!” The businesses that employ people with these attitudes will perform and be recognized as the best in their industry.

In the best seller Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, “When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magic alchemy of great performance.” This is the prescription for maximum performance; the discipline of service excellence and the strong commitment to the work ethic. Mix them together and be proud of your service performance.

Importance of a Quality Work Uniform in the Service Industry

No matter what type of service industry you own or manage, presenting a professional workforce to the public is of the utmost importance to the overall image of your company. Choosing a work uniform that is appropriate and appealing will help your workers appear more professional to your consumers. Plus, work uniforms help to promote and advertise your business effortlessly.

As the name suggests, the service industry is all about serving your customers. A professional and attractive work uniform is especially important when dealing with the public because it immediately identifies you as someone who is available to help. When employees wear an identifiable work uniform, they become instantly recognizable to consumers. This promotes a feeling of professionalism and fosters an environment of customer support.

We have all had the experience of wandering around a store looking for someone to help us, not sure who works there because the employees do not have a clear dress code. When customers walk into your store, your employees should be instantly recognizable. There should never been any confusion of who is and is not an employee in your establishment.

Service professionals who work in people’s homes, like electricians, plumbers, and repairmen, should always present themselves in a uniform that indicates the company that they work for. This practice enables homeowners to easily identify the worker when he or she comes to the home. Most people would not let in a stranger without a proper uniform. Plus, wearing an easily identifiable uniform makes you appear more professional and trustworthy.

There are so many options when choosing a uniform for your staff. Listed below are a few things that you should keep in mind when determining the best outfit for your employees.

Appropriate for the job: Your work clothes should be appropriate for the tasks that you must complete. For example, a service industry worker who may be crawling under houses to check piping will need comfortable, stain resistant clothes that will enable him to perform his job effectively. An employee selling high-end furniture may require a more upscale type of uniform. When choosing work attire for your employees, make sure that you select clothes that allow them to do their job comfortably.

Presentable to the public: You want to select work apparel that will present a professional image to the public. Include your business name on the shirts and choose colors that match your company logo. Be sure to select items that are wrinkle-free and easily laundered so that your employees look fresh and refined each day. Remember that they are promoting your company image to the world.

Comfortable: Keep in mind that these are the clothes that your employees will be wearing all day everyday while they wait on customers and perform their job. It is important that you choose fabrics that are comfortable no matter what the season. You may consider offering your employees a few choices in styles. For example, you may have a cold weather uniform to be worn in the winter months and a short sleeves version to wear when it is warm. Breathable fabrics like cotton are usually the most comfortable to wear all year long.

Presenting a professional appearance is essential to the success of your service-based business. For the most impact, choose a uniform that will benefit your employees as well as your bottom line.

Service Industry Gets an Uptick From Recession’s Bottom

Most people do not realize it but the service sector of our economy in the US makes up the greatest portion of the jobs. Manufacturing is now the smallest well under 10% of the employment base. Retail is fairly large, but it’s nothing compared to the service industry. Having the service industry expand does indicate that we are coming off the bottom of the recession and things will be looking up from here on out.

Of course, we still have to worry about the commercial real estate market fallout, which will be significant and another huge hit on the banks, but the authorities, the fed, and the TARP monies are sitting on the sidelines ready to do something serious about it. Obviously, the service sector was hit hard as consumers in the middle class are spending less money going out to eat, and traveling. The hospitality industry has a huge chunk of service related jobs.

According to Industry Week in the first week of October 2009;

The ISM said the overall economic outlook remains clouded: “Even with the overall month-over-month growth reflected in the report this month, respondents’ comments vary by industry and remain mixed about business conditions and the overall economy. Services makes up the lion’s share of economic activity and employment, and is therefore critical to recovery from the long recession.”

The US economy cannot recover from the recession until the service industry recovers and starts replenishing those jobs that have been lost. As more and more companies see more and more customers, their profits will increase. They will have to hire back those workers they laid off. With more workers making a paycheck again, that means retail sales will go up, and therefore, manufacturing jobs will also increase because those retailers will need more inventory to replenish what they’ve sold.

This is a very good sign for economic recovery, almost as good as the stock market, which generally leads economy by 6 to 10 months, and it has been going up now for over six months. Please consider all this.