Comcast’s public image took a hit last week when an audio recording of an overzealous customer-service representative went viral. As the CEO of a business phone-service provider (with no connection to Comcast), I felt for the rep on the line, trying desperately to keep the customer.
But as I continued to listen to the increasingly painful call, it appeared to me that rather than acting in the best interest of the customer, the rep’s passion most likely stemmed from an ulterior motive. Incentive programs can be a driver for such behavior.
Yet incentive programs are not meant to provide employees with a permit to mistreat customers in the pursuit of compensation. While not all incentives are evil, some of the best-intended incentives can be exploited and can backfire on a company if there's little monitoring and behavioral training in place.
Good customer service isn’t always the easiest goal to achieve, especially for time-strapped small business owners. And one negative PR event can deliver a serious blow to future revenue. As the Comcast story quiets down, four lessons can be learned:
1. Focus on the basics. Don’t let callers wait on hold. Try to answer calls in less than three rings. Quick response times can decrease customer aggravation if or when something goes wrong and can help callers feel confident they will get a person on the line if they dial back in the future.
Avoid complicating the phone menu. Adding multiple options to the phone menu might at first glance appear to simplify the user experience, but do callers feel that way?
It's not pleasant to plow through a lengthy phone menu with numerous options only to encounter a long hold time to speak with a representative and then be transferred to a different department. Keep the options simple and customers will be much happier.
2. Personalize the training process. Continually training and monitoring customer service reps is incredibly important. But formal seminars are not needed to be sure everyone is on the same page. The reality is, not every employee has the same strengths or weaknesses.
Assign an internal quality-assurance person to listen to customer interactions and use the weaknesses identified as opportunities to hold small, personalized training sessions. Focused meetings will enhance the customer experience and boost employee morale.
3. Focus on the employees. Happy employees attract happy customers. Invest in employees, whether through career-advancement opportunities, a positive company culture or having company leaders listen to concerns on a regular basis. The customer-retention stats will soon go through the roof.
Imagine being in the shoes of the customer-service reps. If it's not possible to envision returning to work every day as one of them, make efforts to change the company’s culture and focus on employee satisfaction. The number of discontented customer calls will plummet in no time.
4. Ask for customer feedback. Set up automated customer-satisfaction surveys and initiate a quality-assurance process for listening and critiquing each customer-service call. Take this information and respond with speed (immediately, if possible) to any negative experiences. Learn from each piece of feedback and continually modify the program to make it the best it can be.