Here's something you might find interesting: A study done by UC, Irvine found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
Sound familiar? In most workplaces, constant distractions are the rule. Between IMs, emails, texts, and phone calls, it's difficult to focus. In fact the UC Irvine study revealed that these interruptions - combined with the time it takes for people to reorient back to their original work - mean that most people end up sacrificing quality and adopting a faster, more stressful working style.
Then there's the topic of my blog (and a prime contributor to work interruptions): what happens when you need customer service support. But first here's a short overview of how the experience has evolved over the last several years.
Traditional customer service, aka the efficiency model
Think about the way call centers functioned back in the day. It was all about volume: the total number of "tickets" that came in and how quickly a representative handled them. Customers routinely dealt with complicated phone button menus and lengthy "hold times" (not to mention that elevator music!) before a call was picked up. And even though there was a human being at the other end of the line, it was rare to have a "real" dialogue since most issues were addressed using pre-scripted answers.
That's because most call centers were run like factories and spending more than a few minutes resolving a customer issue was frowned upon. In the efficiency model, handling things quickly and getting on the next call were the goals. Whether the issue was fully resolved to a customer's satisfaction took a back seat.
The rise of the online and ease-of-use
As the internet became more established, the widespread use of toll-free call centers began to wane, largely replaced by online solutions. The customer service experience became all about ease of use. By visiting the CS portion of a company website, customers had numerous support channels and FAQ pages to address their particular issues and could fall back on email inquiries or the call center as a last resort.
With information readily available the customer became more empowered. The experience was considerably improved, if still impersonal and unsatisfying.
Enter the emotional factor
What was missing from the above models was a sense of caring and responsibility for a customers' needs. After all, a customer with a problem is a person, too!
This thinking drives the approach of best-in-class customer service today:
- Empathizing with the customer's situation
- Making them feel valued and important
- Being transparent and even apologetic
- Following through with the right solutions
- Following up and getting feedback
Achieving an emotionally driven customer experience isn't a matter of dealing with customers person-to-person vs. providing online support. In the best cases, it's a combination of both: empowering customers with readily accessible information to solve the "solvable" themselves yet still "being there" when you're needed.
Rules for success, customer experience core values
In my role at Symphony Talent, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve the customer service experience for our clients. Minimizing distractions comes first and foremost so a lot of what follows is about building trust, minimizing distractions and reinforcing the client relationship.
Exceptional customer service doesn't just happen: it's an ongoing journey of learning and refinement. That being said, I'd like to share a few simple guidelines and rules for success I've learned from my years on the front line:
Be a solution, not a frustration!
- Sometimes it takes a team: be willing to connect all the various players to find the right solution
- Canned responses are frustrating: you're speaking "at" rather than "with" the client
Empathy, empathy, empathy
- Put yourself in your client's shoes
- Let them know you care and have their best interests in mind
- Offer ways for clients to help themselves
- The more information you can provide the better
- Make sure the solutions are easy to find and simple to follow
Do what you've promised!
- Set expectations from the get-go
- Do what you say you're going to do
- If you can't deliver according to schedule, be upfront and honest about it
- Stay ahead of the curve. Identify issues before they escalate
- Keep people in the loop about the status of their issue, their contracts or anything else likely to impact business
- Don't just band-aid things with a quick fix. Find the core challenge and SOLVE it!