THE BLOG

Help Your Customer Service Reps Engage With Customers

09/21/2011 01:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 21, 2011

Marketing Situation: Recently, a client for whom we were developing Customer Engagement strategies asked for help in identifying the reasons for low customer satisfaction scores.

Voice of Customer research determined that a major reason for dissatisfaction was a recent company initiative to limit "talk time" in the Customer Service center. The CSR's had been told to limit talk time to 90 seconds. The emphasis on talk time made the CSR's feel pressured to wrap up calls quickly. As a result, they began to rush customers off the phone and in their haste, began to miss key steps in the customer service process. This created an increase in call backs by customers who were now irate because they had to place an extra call to fully resolve their needs.

The mandate to "wrap calls up" within a short time was also causing CSR morale problems. Things had to change quickly. We started by changing management's view that you can increase customer engagement and impose tight "talk time" limits on your CSR's. You can't have it both ways. This doesn't mean that customer engagement necessarily drives significant increases in talk time, but you can't insist on greater engagement and shorter talk time.

Two Questions to Consider:

1. Do your CSR's have the autonomy and authority to engage customers, create rapport, and deliver win-win outcomes, or, are they bound by talk time limits?

2. Are your CSR's receiving poor performance reviews because of occasional lengthy calls, which exceed talk time limits, but solve problems and build good will?

Three Recommended Actions:

Create a Customer Engagement Plan for your CSR's that will encourage customer centric behavior and reduce stress by:

1. Identifying what is causing increases in talk time and stressful exchanges with customers. Talk about those root causes with your people, not the end-result "talk time" number you want. For instance: Do your front-line service people have to put customers on hold so they can track down a manager to authorize a (common) solution to a problem? Could the team solve more of those problems on their own?

2. Giving your team the autonomy and authority to provide value in every call. Let your people know that you trust them. Remind them that you hired them and trained them to connect with people and solve problems. Ask them to critique their own calls. This level of respect builds trust and allows for calls which truly serve customer's needs.

3. Creating meaningful individual and team rewards. Don't dish out rewards based solely on "talk time" metrics. Reward your people for providing exceptional service to your customers.

The Takeaway For Marketers: Implementing the three action items will:

  • Increase both customer and employee satisfaction scores.
  • Reduce callbacks.
  • Reduce average call handling times!

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.