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Business Articles

The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas Stations

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, self-service

First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic—or more—on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked—which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”)—though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

Food

Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there—and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things—but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster—providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel

Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple of hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking

The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust

The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue

Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to—complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center—a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

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Healthcare Call Centers

The Weak Link of Medical Call Centers

Advances in Agent Performance Can’t Overcome Deficiencies in Backend Systems

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center

Whenever I place a phone call to a business, I carefully observe what happens. After spending most of my adult life in some aspect of the call center industry, I can’t help it.

Based on my observations, I’m happy to say that I’m encouraged by the quality of the agents I interact with. They are more personal and professional than agents who used to answer the phone even a few years ago. They have a positive, can-do attitude. Most of the time, I enjoy talking with them.

Unfortunately, quality agents don’t automatically make for satisfying phone calls. The technology that’s supposed to help them do their job better continues to hamper their work. Based on my experience, this is most pronounced in the healthcare industry. Other industries appear to be dealing with this frontend/backend disconnect with varying degrees of success, yet healthcare—for all its technology—still struggles to produce satisfying outcomes for their patient callers.

I wish I could say this article is the result of one bad experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is a result of several bad experiences. It’s a saga of multiple calls without resolution. At this point, I’m prepared to never experience a satisfactory outcome. In case you’re wondering, it’s a billing snafu.

Part of it hinges on faxes sent multiple times but never received—or at least never connected with my account. In the day of digital communications and electronic health records, why are we still using faxes anyway?

In case you’re interested, faxing started in the mid-1840s, only a decade or so after the telegraph. Yet we’re still using fax technology today. (Thankfully we’re not using the telegraph. Can you imagine looking to hire agents who know Morse Code?)

Anyway, how can agents do their job with excellence when they’re using technology that’s over 170 years old? While other technological hurdles agents face aren’t as old, these obstacles still present a cumbersome challenge and thwart attempts at customer service.

Today’s call center technology can integrate incoming channels, but in the healthcare industry, it’s still challenging to integrate the various information silos with any degree of success.

Let’s applaud our call center agents for the job they do, despite technological roadblocks. Then let’s work at fixing backend system integrations so agents can do the job they want to do and serve patient callers the way they expect—and to do it on one phone call. It’s first call resolution (FCR), and it’s time for the healthcare industry to embrace it.

Imagine what your healthcare call center traffic would look like if you could achieve first call resolution on every call. It would change everything.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

9 Keys to Self-Publishing Success

It’s never been easier to publish a book, but that doesn’t mean we should

Self-published book

I once read a self-published book, a novella. I read it for several reasons: it was recommended (which turned out to be a bad reason), it would be a quick read, I’d never read a novella, and it was free (I got what I paid for).

On the plus side, the opening captured my attention, the storyline was intriguing, and the ending was a delightful surprise. On the negative side, the book did not flow smoothly, was poorly edited (or not edited at all), contained many errors, and was poorly converted into e-book format. Overall, the great ending did not overcome all the negative elements.

Self-Published Book Success

For a self-published book to be successful, it needs what all great books need:

1. A Promising Idea

If you don’t have a great story idea or theme, don’t start writing. This novella did, but its implementation fell short.

2. A Compelling Opening (a Hook)

The opening didn’t grab me, but it was sufficient to make me want to read more.

3. Great Writing

I felt I was reading a rough draft. Elements of good writing were present, but they were too sparse to be effective.

4. Professional Editing

The novella may have been self-edited (never a wise idea) or done so on the cheap, but the result wasn’t even close to professional. While publishing perfection is hard to achieve (if not impossible) the goal should be to get as close as possible.

5. A Satisfying Ending

The ending of the novella was superb. It was the most notable element of the work. But one good line does not make a good book.

6. A Memorable Title

Some titles are hard to forget and others are hard to remember. I can’t recall this novella’s title.

7. An Attention-Grabbing Cover

The cover didn’t hurt the book, but it didn’t help either. If I were judging this book by its cover, I would have passed.

8. A Pleasing Layout

In print, a self-published book shouldn’t look self-published. (We can’t always define it, but we know it when we see it).

In electronic form, the formatting should flow smoothly with no glitches, misplaced text, bad alignment, or floating words or titles. In any good book, the interior design should be innocuous.

When people notice the layout it becomes a distraction.

[bctt tweet=” Before you self-publish your book, make sure you include these 9 requirements.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

9. Effective Marketing

The above items all relate to the quality of the product. (There are more elements to consider, but these are the main ones.) A quality product requires effective marketing. A stellar book with no sales will not be a success, nor will great marketing of lousy writing work out.

If you’re considering self-publishing, be it in print or e-book, make sure you cover all nine of these items before proceeding. Your book’s success will depend on it.

Bonus Content

Here’s a resource I recommend from Jerry Jenkins, How to Publish a Book.

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Categories
Writing and Publishing

Grammar Checking Programs

Grammar checking programs

I once signed up for a trial of grammarly.com. It’s a most impressive grammar checker.

The problem was that it was too sophisticated for me. It flagged many things to check, but I lacked the needed background to comprehend the issues. Many of their suggestions were beyond me. However, I recently took a fresh look at it, and it seems they’ve made it easier to use.

Regardless, the built-in grammar checker in Microsoft Word is a great place to start. Though this still requires the writer to decide which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject, it’s easier to manage. While this won’t catch everything, it covers the basics.

In my experience as a publication editor, most of the submissions I receive could benefit from doing this basic grammar check in Word before they submitted their work. It seems many people have turned off this option (I once did), and some don’t bother to run spell-check either. Don’t make that mistake.

Categories
Call Center Articles

What Kind of Customer Experience Do You Provide?



Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword—It’s the Path to Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

People love to share their stories about their experiences when interacting with various companies. They post things online, which can have a far reach and may go viral. They also tell people face-to-face, which doesn’t have the reach but has more impact.

The types of stories they like to share seldom fall in the category of typical. Instead they pick outlier examples to tell others about. These are either interactions that went amazingly well or ones that went shockingly bad. The normal experiences are just too average to warrant much attention.

Instead they want to share extreme examples, which are far more fun to recount.

Negative Customer Experience

Most of the time, extreme customer experience examples are not positive ones. This may be because companies let us down more than they delight us. Or it could be because bad news garners more attention. If you doubt that, just watch the nightly news. Better yet, don’t watch the news, and take my word for it. Rarely does the news include any feel-good stories, even though they do exist.

The more horrific the customer experience, the more interesting it seems, and the more it resonates with everyone who hears it. Revealing their bad experiences to others results in a shared experience of customer service gone awry. We’ve all been there. We all have our stories. We tell them in person to our friends and families, and even strangers. We post them online, forming a permanent record for all to see of how poorly a company treated us and how badly they wronged us.

When we vent, we feel better. This may be the only redress we’ll ever receive for the wounds inflicted upon us by some company. It doesn’t correct the mistake, but it does lessen the sting—just a bit. Unfortunately, the company who stands as the villain in these stories can suffer much and suffer long, especially when the stories are posted online.

Positive Customer Experience

Much less common is a positive customer experience. Though it’s possible they may not happen as often, it’s more likely that we aren’t so compelled to share them. We gain more traction by sharing our horrors than our delights. Even so, astounding customer experiences happen every day. It’s just that we’re less aware of them, because people are less inclined to take the time to share them.

Yet when shared, these stories serve to create a positive bond between us and the company. These tales create loyalty, and they produce repeat business. This is true for us, and it carries over to positively affect the people who hear them.

Just as negative customer experiences have a harmful impact on the company, positive customer experiences create the opposite.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

The customer service bar continually rises. What consumers considered excellent service five years ago is now the minimum standard. Furthermore, what was the acceptable standard five years ago may have now degraded to unacceptable.

Just to stay even, we must seek to enhance the customer experience. And to gain ground, we must go beyond merely enhancing customers’ experience to overhauling it.

We don’t achieve the needed changes by making incremental improvements. Tracking metrics and seeking to improve them seldom correlates to enhanced customer experiences. Instead, we need to rethink all we do in our customer-facing interactions. This includes knocking down internal silos of information and control, empowering agents to do what’s right to best serve customers, and integrating communication channels.

As we do these things to overhaul our provision of customer service, we will enhance the customer experience. But remember, enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek.