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Call Center Articles

How to Enhance the Customer Experience



Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Healthcare Call Center Work Can Be Hard

Don’t Focus on the Angry Masses but Grab onto a Good Call Whenever Possible

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Working in a call center is challenging. Although it’s been a long time since I answered calls in one, I’m still aware of how hard it is. That’s because I’m now on the other end of the phone, such as for dealing with healthcare-related issues.

In truth, I try to minimize my interaction with healthcare personnel, in large part because of the hassle that occurs once the appointment ends. I spend much more time trying to get the bill paid then I spent talking to the healthcare professional in the first place.

Attempting to get my provider to work with my payor is challenging at best, and a futile endeavor at worse. Neither party will talk to each other, which means me talking to them separately. This requires me to phone their respective call centers. Then I ping-pong back and forth, working hard to reach a resolution but making little progress. Too often I get a slightly different response each time I call. 

Currently, I have two outstanding medical invoices, which I’ve been working on for several months. It would be far simpler to ignore the negotiated fees and pay the billed amount in full, but because I must have insurance, I might as well try to use it. Right?

A recent call to my provider quickly escalated into a confrontation, with them threatening to turn me over to collections and me begging them to allow me to pay the negotiated fee as payment in full. They would have none of it. I may have raised my voice. I may have said some things I’m not proud of.

I hung up with equal parts remorse and frustration.

Three days later I called back for another round. I had new information. I knew I’d reach a different rep because they’re a large organization, and I’ve never talked to the same person twice.

Guess who answered the phone? Yep, the same person I failed to treat with respect to my prior call. I groaned to myself. I sucked in a lungful of courage and opened my mouth. “Hi! I talked with you a few days ago and wasn’t very nice. I’m sorry.”

She didn’t know what to say. Truly, she was speechless. After a silence long enough to make me wonder if I should apologize some more, she meekly said “Um . . . thank you.”

Although we had a civil conversation this time, I got no closer to getting my bill paid. I guess it’s time for another round of calls.

Call center work is hard, especially when callers don’t want to hear the information agents have to tell them. Difficult calls are common, so healthcare call center reps must take a small win whenever they can. If they hold onto it, it might help them weather the plethora of angry callers that are bound to follow.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

How to Find a Critique Group

How to find a critique group.

Local Critique Groups

Keep looking for a local group. There may be some, but you just haven’t found them yet. Try bookstores, schools, libraries, and coffee shops—any place where writers hang out. Also, ask every writer you meet if they’re aware of any area critique groups.

Another option is to start your own critique group. It’s not hard. It’s what I did. Again, look online for ideas and recommendations on leading a successful critique group.

Online Critique Groups

As an option, consider an online group. There are many out there. Just do a search. These groups have different goals and various formats, so look them over to find one that’s right for you. And if your first choice doesn’t work, try a different one.

Categories
Business Articles

A Shocking Experience

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When I call a contact center, I pay special attention to what happens. I can’t help it. Over the years I have evaluated and critiqued enough calls that it has become habit, even though I no longer need to do so. Fortunately, this tendency provides anecdotal fodder for articles and the occasional righteous rant.

One call I made, years ago, indeed, shocking, not for any deficiency or appalling behavior, but because it was so good. Sadly, I have become so conditioned to sub-par and ineffective phone support, that I am surprised when professionalism and efficacy actually occur how—disheartening. This whole realization was quite shocking to me. I have spent most of my adult life passionately working in and diligently promoting an industry from which I have begrudgingly acquiesced to accept mediocrity.

Here’s my saga. A few weeks ago before that, I received a subscription invoice for a magazine I had never heard of nor received. This is not unexpected; it seems to happen often. I politely wrote “please cancel” on the invoice and returned it in their pre-paid envelope, hoping to be done with the whole affair.

A few days later, the magazine arrived. I looked at it and realized that it might be worth reading. I enjoyed it and wished I hadn’t cancelled it. (In retrospect, it is likely that, on a whim, I did request it, but I have no recollection of doing so.)

I pondered what to do. I wasn’t fair that the publisher had sent me the magazine in good faith but wasn’t going to be paid for it. I also wanted to ensure that I received future issues without interruption. Frankly, I wondered if I had the fortitude to contact the publisher in order to attempt to resolve it.

Notice that I said “attempt to resolve it.” Overall recent experience had so numbed my expectations that I was doubtful of a successful outcome. How many phone calls would I need to make? How many times would I be transferred to the wrong person or department? Would I be cut off or hung up on? Would I be told to call another number and then another, only to be referred back to the first? Would I be able to understand and effectively communicate with the agent? Would they comprehend the situation and know what to do? Could I end up making matters worse?

These questions permeated my mind, and they were all based on frustrating and fruitless experience. I gathered my resolve, actually blocking out time to focus on this formidable task.

Thankfully, things got off to a good start when I quickly located a clearly labeled “subscription number” number in the magazine. It was a toll-free call, which was another bonus. Even so, I took a deep breath before I dialed the number.

I began counting rings (an old habit). One ring, two… and it was answered! The agent was both pleasant and professional. She seemed happy to talk to me. She was easily understandable, speaking the same dialect of English as me. I explained my dilemma and she immediately grasped it. No transfer, no pondering, no delays. “I can take care of it,” she said confidently. And she did.

Pleasantly and effectively resolving an issue on the first call isn’t hard to do, but in my experience it is shockingly rare.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Five Types of Writers

Five Types of Writers

types of writer

Discover What Type of Writer You Are and Then Embrace It

There are different types of writers. They have different motivations, are at different places in their writing journey, and have different goals. Here’s how the different types of writers break down:

1. The Aspiring Writer

I’ve heard many people refer to themselves as aspiring writers. But they’re misusing that label. They say aspiring because at this point in their journey they lack the confidence to say they’re a writer, so they qualify it by tacking on aspiring. If this is you, I encourage you to take a deep breath, drop aspiring, and boldly say, “I am a writer.” It will take practice to say with confidence, but you can do it. You are a writer.

In truth, an aspiring writer is someone who doesn’t actually write; they merely aspire to write—someday. But they’ll never get around to it. Yes, they act as a writer. They read books on writing, go to writing conferences, and hang out with other writers. They talk a good game, but that’s all it is: talk.

They want to have written, but they don’t want to put in the hard work, to actually sit down and write. They aspire to write, and that’s where it ends.

Don’t be someone who aspires to write. Just write.

2. The Hobbyist Writer

Next, we have people who write for fun, write for therapy, or write for family and friends. They’re hobbyists. There’s nothing wrong with that.

So, if a hobbyist writer describes you, accept it. As a hobbyist, you may not publish much and certainly won’t make much money from your work, but you are writing. And that’s what’s important. Own that label, and celebrate it.

However, if you want to realize more from your writing, consider moving beyond the hobbyist phase.

3. The Passion Project Writer

Some writers have a book they must write. It’s a compulsion, a calling. They work hard to produce the best book they can. They self-publish it. Then they spend years promoting and marketing their book.

It’s their passion.

But it may be the only book they ever write. Or if they do write other books, these may fall short because the passion isn’t there. And it shows.

There’s nothing wrong with having a passion project. I know many people who write one book, and that’s it. That’s okay. But if you want more, consider the next two categories of writers.

4. The Artist Writer

I know many writers who view themselves as artists. They produce wonderful work and produce it with some degree of regularity. But they write when the muse hits, and they write when they have a deadline. However, if they don’t feel like writing, they don’t. They’re often discovery writers (pancers: they write by the seat of their pants). Writing speed and output frequency doesn’t matter. They’re artists, and that’s what they care about.

If you’re thinking of the phrase starving artist, that fits this category of writer. They may not make much from their art, and they certainly won’t earn enough to support themselves. That’s why the artist-writer needs another source of income. This could be a day job or a side hustle. It may be a spouse, an inheritance, or a generous patron.

5. The Career Author

The final category is a career author. Although their words may flow from many different motivations, they have one thing in common: writing is their job, and they strive to make money from it, either full-time or part-time.

They haven’t sold out. They’re just being intentional. They value the craft and may even view it as art. They also write with passion. But, in addition to that, they write with purpose. They want to share their words with others and earn money as they do. They have an entrepreneurial mindset. They are an authorpreneur.

A Final Thought about the Types of Writers

At various times in my writing journey, I have been each of these types of writers. Some of my stops have been brief, and others longer, but where I am now—and where I want to remain—is as a career author.

Right now, I make some of my income as an author, and my goal is to one day earn all my income through writing. But money is not my motivator; it’s the outcome. My desire is to share my words with others. As I often say, my goal is to “change the world one word at a time.” And making money from doing so is a sweet result.

Discover what type of writer you are and embrace it. Don’t let anyone tell you your path is wrong or inconsequential. You are a writer.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Discover Five Reasons Why Self-Publish Is Ideal

We looked at why a writer might want to pursue a traditional publishing deal. Here are five reasons why self-publishing is ideal for some authors.

1. Have Greater Control

Self-publishing is ideal for authors who more say over their work and the finished product. This can be good, or it can work against them, but either way, they have more control, usually a lot more.

5 reasons why self-publishing is ideal

2. Earn More Per Book

Self-published authors can earn more on each book sale, generally several times more. They can also change the price whenever they want to.

3. Faster Publishing

Production of a self-published book is quicker, putting it in the hands of readers faster than a traditional publisher could ever hope to do. This means writers can start selling books sooner and make money quicker.

[bctt tweet=”Self-publishing is ideal for small and undefined markets.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

4. Self-Publishing Is Ideal for Small Niches

If your market is small or hard to reach, traditional publishers will not likely be interested. Self-publishing is ideal for small and undefined markets.

5. Self-Publishing Is Great for Entrepreneurs

Self-publishing is effectively running a small business. Authors with an entrepreneur mindset will enjoy this option, realizing the rewards of hard work.

Given all this, wouldn’t every writer want to self-publish?

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Five Reasons a Writer Should Pursue a Traditional Publishing Deal

Five Reasons a Writer Should Go With a Traditional Publisher

The Benefits of Going with a Traditional Publisher

In “Why Self-publishing vs Traditional Publishing Doesn’t Matter” I pointed out that both options have the potential to satisfy the core needs of a writer seeking publication. Writers must carefully consider the pros and cons of each option before pursuing either one. Future posts will consider some of these issues.

To start the discussion, here are five reasons why a writer should go with a traditional publisher:

1. Wider Distribution

Traditional publishers have distribution avenues that are effectively not available to self-published books. Sure, there are work-around solutions, but they’re limited and require much time and effort. Traditional publishers handle the distribution, easy peasy.

2. An Advance

Traditional publishers provide an advance. While the advances are getting smaller, they still exist. Self-publishers never receive an advance. In fact, self-publishing costs money, so it’s like a negative advance.

3. More Prestige

An author of a traditionally published book earns greater respect and garners more esteem.

4. Higher Quality

Traditional publishers generally produce a higher quality product. There are more eyes looking at it to catch errors and make it the best they can.

5. They Do the Heavy Lifting

What about e-books, hardcover and paperback, press releases, cover designs, ISBN, bar codes, back cover material, and author photos? A traditional publisher handles all these items. There’s nothing for the author to master or worry about; traditional publishers make it happen.

Traditional Publisher versus Self-Publishing

Given all this, why would anyone want to self-publish? Next week, we’ll consider why.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Look to Fine-Tune Your TAS Processes

Seek to Provide the Fast Responses Your Prospects and Clients Expect

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer service

We live in an I-want-it-now culture. People, in general, and your answering service clients, specifically, expect quick responses to their inquiries. If they don’t get what they want when they want it, they’ll seek solutions elsewhere.

That’s why we need to look at our various answering service processes and seek to fine-tune them. The goal is to develop new ways of doing things so we can respond quicker with our present and future clients.

Here are some areas to consider.

Streamline Sales

How long does it take from the time a prospect clicks a button for more information until they’re interacting with a person who can help them? Though it’s a good practice, an automated response doesn’t count, nor does someone texting, calling, or emailing that someone will get back with them in a few minutes. What matters is contact from a salesperson who can answer questions and move toward a successful close.

The patience of prospects is extremely short. The chances of success decrease noticeably as response times increase. For many situations, five-minute response time is a new standard. Making prospects wait even thirty minutes, dramatically decreases the chance of someone connecting with them and closing the deal. That’s why some companies push for one-minute response time. Most prospects will wait sixty seconds before they contact another company.

This means you need to figure out a way that the information on the clicked form goes immediately to a salesperson who can contact them right away. Any other steps or delays are unacceptable.

Streamline Onboarding

Once you sign up for a new client, what’s your process for getting them set up so you can take calls? This doesn’t mean giving them a generic solution now and fine-tuning it later. This means a fully functional, working answering service solution.

In pursuing this goal, the objective is to balance speed with accuracy. Don’t program their account so quickly that it contains errors. But don’t take so long that they give up on you.

This means sending the information collected by the salesperson directly to the programmer. Even if you sell customers on the paradigm that “it will take us three business days to set up your account properly, because we’re focused on quality,” still look for ways to do things faster and better.

Streamline Customer Service

Now you’ve turned a prospect into a client. Ideally, they’ll never have any customer service issues, but they will.

When it comes to responding fast to customer service inquiries, there are two considerations. The first is how quickly the client can share their concern with someone who can act upon it. The second is how quickly the customer service agent can implement and communicate the solution to the client. Address both these issues, looking for ways to fine-tune your processes to respond with speed and accuracy.

Streamline Other Areas

Sales, client onboarding, and customer service are the three big areas to address first. But when you’re finished with those, this doesn’t mean you’re done. There’s more to do. In accounting, look at the timeliness of sending invoices, handling receivables, and processing payables. What about dealing with technical issues? First, restructure procedures that address problems affecting more than one client. Then look at simplifying the process to resolve the technical concerns of one client.

A related issue is in your agent hiring and training procedures. Though this isn’t a client-facing concern, it does directly affect your answering service’s productivity and profitability.

Be Ever Streamlining

Once you’ve fine-tuned the processes in all these areas, now you can sit back and take it easy, right? Wrong! Always seek ways to do things faster and better. Don’t accept the status quo, and don’t assume that if something was good enough last year, it’s good enough now.

Always seek to do things faster and better. Other answering services are. If you want to keep up, so should you.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Is Blogging a Form of Self-Publishing?

blogging is self-publishing

I once read that blogging is a form of self-publishing. The author’s opinion gave me pause. It seemed a simplistic claim. I felt it in some way diminished the noble art of publishing.

Anyone can blog, and it seems most everyone does, but not most everyone self-publishes a book, even though the tools are there so that anyone can.

While some blogs are profound and worthy, other blogs are trivial and unworthy.

Oh, wait, some self-published books are profound and worthy, while others are trivial and unworthy. Perhaps there are some parallels after all.

[bctt tweet=”Blogging is a form of self-publishing.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Given that some blogs become books, either verbatim or as a springboard, perhaps blogging is prelude or preparation to self-pub.

What I do know is that blogging is a good practice for publishing. Blogging can accomplish the following:

Blogging Teaches Us to Meet Deadlines

Having a regular blogging schedule gives us mini-deadlines to hit. Every week we must write, produce, and publish what we create. If we miss a deadline our readers know it. Even worse, we know it. Deadlines prep us to be ready to hit bigger deadlines later for our books.

Trains Us to Write When We Don’t Feel Like It

Writers write—even when we don’t want to. Sometimes we need to write when we’re sick or tired or lacking motivation or have nothing to say. That’s life, and blogging trains us to realize and accept that.

Conditions Us to Publish

We write a post, edit it, and then…vacillate. It’s scary to press “publish” and share our work with the world. What if they don’t like it? What if the piece isn’t ready? But after a couple of dozen posts, it gets easier; after a couple hundred, it’s not a problem; and after a couple thousand, I don’t even think about it. That readies us to click publish on our books, too.

Prepares Us to Receive Feedback

Blogging puts our words out for the public to see. Some will like what we write and others won’t. Others will point out typos, and a few will find errors that don’t exist. This will happen with books but on a greater scale. Blogging prepares us for that.

Yes, blogging is self-publishing. So if you blog, that means you’re a published author.

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Categories
Writing and Publishing

Should You Use an Outline to Write?

Use an outline to guide your writing.

When writing a short story, article, or blog post, I often start with a title, opening line, or concept. Then I start writing to see where it takes me. (Sometimes I have the last line in mind and write to get there.) Though this may result in extra content that I need to cut, it usually becomes part of another article or post. However, recently for blog posts, I’ve been writing to hit bullet points, which is a basic outline.

Conversely, when I start a book, I always have an outline. This gives me a structure to easily move from one item to the next, without wasting time or words. After all, it’s not a big deal to cut 20 percent of a 300-word blog post (60 words), but it would be painful to cut 20 percent of a 50,000-word book (10,000 words).

However, just because I use an outline for books, that doesn’t imply I don’t discover things along the way. When I do, it’s an exciting bonus, which I’m happy to work into the text. Then I update my outline.