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All Places > Industry News and Best Practices > Blog > 2017 > June

Because of the nature of the industry I work in, I care a lot about how good companies are at delivering a superior experience to their customers – and how they respond when things go wrong.


This blog is prompted by a bad customer experience and an even worse complaint handling process. I hope it provides some useful tips on things to avoid when handling a complaint. As Bill Gates once said, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning", so hopefully I will be able to prompt you with some ideas or start a discussion.


I won’t bore you with all the details but I am a frequent train traveller and a very regular customer on the same line. I encountered a problem on the return leg of a recent journey.  Although I was able to show my booking confirmation, seat reservation and my outbound ticket, I could not find the return ticket when asked by the train guard. Not only did he make me pay the full fare but his comments made me feel like a serial fare evader!


So when I got home, I decided to make a complaint. And that’s when a bad situation got a whole lot worse. The experience has encouraged me to highlight some key lessons that could help companies to guarantee a successful customer outcome for every interaction.


Ensure customers can reach you via their preferred communication channel

According to Microsoft’s Richard Peers, by 2020, 85 per cent of customer interactions will be managed without people. However, while customers value self-service or multi-channel offerings, removing the human touch from consumer ‘conversations’ can be a risky approach – particularly when they are unhappy. Further research found that 53% of customers still prefer to engage with businesses face to face or over the phone. So, by removing the opportunity to speak to someone you risk upsetting over half of your customers!


I share the opinion that there is no one size fits all approach to customer interactions, so I was very surprised to find that email was the only option to complain. However, I wanted to speak with somebody on the phone. I decided to ring the general enquiries number.

Provide First Time Resolution and ensure you can measure it to improve

Unfortunately, as you can already guess, rather than being treated like a loyal and valued customer, I received a very different experience. I rang general enquiries from my mobile which is the number associated with my frequent traveller account. I may as well have rung Venus and spoken Martian. The agent showed no sign of understanding my problem. He could offer no help. He had no integration with the CRM so he could not see my frequent traveller profile or my journey and payment history. His only suggestion – yes you guessed it - was to email my complaint. This was not the First Call Resolution (FCR) I was hoping for.


First Call Resolution (FCR) is an important contact centre metric. The term is self-explanatory: a contact centre’s ability to resolve customer problems, questions or needs the first time they call, with no follow-up required. Research from The Ascent Group shows that the higher your first-call resolution rate, the more satisfied your customers tend to be.


Ensure systems you use ‘talk to each other’ and can provide agents with information when its needed

If the rail company had the appropriate systems and integrations in place, they could probably have resolved my query then and there. With the growing popularity of the self-service or multi-channel offering, contact centres need to ensure that systems they implement to fulfil this demand, can seamlessly share information between different channels to ensure customer satisfaction. In this case, the lack of CRM integration and failure to recognise my frequent traveller status, created anything but the feeling of satisfaction.


Track your customers’ interactions to ensure you can deliver successful customer outcomes every time

Receiving a complaint needs to be taken seriously. It is essential to ensure that each of your interactions with an unhappy customer is done in an excellent manner. Sending a generic automated email response that fails to recognise or respond to the individual situation, is just going to make the customer feel that the company doesn’t care about them. That’s certainly how I felt and it left me even more dissatisfied.


This also applies to agents handling complaints over the phone. Ensuring that your agents have the right customer information at their fingertips and that they are given appropriate training to show empathy for example, is paramount. Using interaction analytics software that can measure and score 100% of your customer-agent interactions, can help you asses how well your agents are doing at recognising escalation, delivering empathy, and trying to reach a successful first call outcome. You can then use that information to identify with certainty those agents that need additional coaching and what exactly they need to be trained on. Having access to all that information will help you create an overall picture of all of your customer interactions, and across different channels you use. It is clear to me that no such rigorous analysis is in place at this train company.


Unfortunately, I had to wait two months (yes, two months) to get a personalised response. There was an apology for the delay but no mention of any refund, no apology for the guard’s sarcasm, no acknowledgement of my status as a frequent customer, or the embarrassment caused, in fact nothing to make me feel like a valued customer. And, just to rub salt into my wounds, I was asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey about their response to my complaint – oh the irony!


So why am I telling you this story? Because it need not have ended like this. I believe many companies out there could benefit greatly by combining state of the art contact centre technology with insightful analytics. This would allow them to capture the true Voice of The Customer and improve interactions at every step of the customer journey. It would help them to recognise which channels customers prefer to use and to resource accordingly. And, it would help them to provide the training their agents need to deliver successful outcomes and enhance customer loyalty. Will I use the same train again? I already have. Not because I want to but because I have no choice. Will I recommend the company concerned? Only negatively. And when the franchise comes up for review, will this company have built-up the customer support it needs to for success? Not if my experience is anything to go by.


So these are my top tips for guaranteeing a successful customer outcome for each interaction.  What are yours?


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I know you get asked to take surveys all the time, because I do. Even the shortest business trip results in at least 5 surveys: Delta wants to know about your flight; Hilton wants to know about your stay; Enterprise asks about your car rental and on and on. But the most prevalent of all surveys is that one at the bottom of your sales receipt, the request from Apple, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Target and virtually all retailers to “tell us how we did.”


So last fall, two of my analysts and I set out to measure the quality of those point-of-purchase surveys (Point-of-Purchase Survey Study). We thought it would be interesting to know what level of science and engagement the nation’s largest retailers bring to their surveys. The surveys say they want to know about our experiences as a customer, but do they really want to know? Or, is this just PR spin?


Well, friends, unfortunately… it’s PR spin. The nation’s largest retailers run tragically poor customer satisfaction surveys, they’re bad for customers, bad for companies—they’re a waste of time and money all the way around..


So what are these big retailers, like Amazon, Apple, Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, and Target, doing wrong? Are there lessons that can be learned from their mistakes? And how can you make your survey better than some of the biggest companies in the world?


Let’s look at the two main problems: First, the vast majority of the surveys were riddled with biases, so we can’t imagine they provide anything but highly skewed data. And second, most of the surveys failed to show they care about their customers and the experiences they had.


Let’s look at the problem of bias. There were five types of biases in these surveys, each negatively affecting data accuracy in different ways.

1.  Leading Questions— Known within psychology as priming, leading questions are designed to elicit a particular response. Ace Hardware asked: “How satisfied were you with the speed of our checkout?”


This question is phrased in a way that assumes the customer is at least somewhat satisfied.


2. Forced Wording—The Gap asked customers: “Rate your agreement with the following statement: The look and feel of the store environment was very appealing.”

“Appealing” is a weird word. It’s probably not how customers think about their experience in a store like Gap. They’d be more likely to think “it’s a mess,” “that was fun,” or “it’s well-organized.” Furthermore, the question would seem to have an agenda behind it—as in Gap executives want to hear that their store environment was very appealing.


3. Faulty Scales—Wal-Mart asked its questions on a 1-10 scale. This scale introduces two problems: first, there is an even number of selections and therefore no true midpoint:

walmart-customer-satisfaction-survey-scaling.JPGSelecting a 5 would imply a lower than neutral score, while selecting a 6 would imply a higher than neutral score.

The second problem with Wal-Mart’s scale is that there is no zero and some experiences are just that, zeroes, not sort of poor, plain old bad.


4. Double-Barreled Questions—This is where one question asks about multiple topics, usually that’s two questions compressed into one. Lowe’s asked customers: “Were you consistently greeted and acknowledged in a genuine and friendly manner by Lowe’s associates throughout the store?”


Here, we see four questions in one. Yikes! Does Lowe’s want to know if the customer was greeted OR acknowledged? And was that greeting/acknowledgement friendly OR genuine?


Imagine Lowe’s finds that 85% of customers say “No,” they were not consistently greeted/acknowledged in a genuine/friendly manner. Obviously they need to make improvements—but what? Their greetings or their acknowledgements? How friendly they are or how genuine they are?

The best survey questions provide clear and actionable insights. To improve, Lowe’s should instead divide this question into four, or even better, consider what they really want to know and devise a clearer way to ask it.


5. Question Relevance—Ace, Gap, JC Penney, and O’Reilly Automotive all asked about their associate’s product knowledge (e.g. “Please rate your satisfaction with the employee’s knowledge of parts and products)—and none of these retailers offered the NA option. It’s likely that a large portion of shoppers didn’t ask a question of any associate and so would have no way of accurately providing customer feedback.

There are two ways to ensure questions are relevant to the customer. One way is to use survey logic and gating questions such as “Did you ask an associate for help?” Only customers that respond “Yes” will be asked about the associate’s product knowledge.

Another way to do this is even simpler: offer the N/A option, this way, when the question is irrelevant, you won’t have bogus responses clogging up your data.


On top of the myriad data accuracy issues, our Point-of-Purchase Survey Study showed that retailers have little regard for their customers.


For example, Walmart asked 4 introductory questions irrelevant to the customer’s experience, and required the input of 2 receipt codes. Really? That’s a hassle.


But the biggest, most consistent engagement mistake? Many of the surveys were just too long—the average length was 23 questions. A survey should certainly never take longer than the interaction itself, in fact, it should take less time.


Family Dollar asked a whopping 69 questions in their survey—with 10 seconds a question that’s over ten minutes spent reflecting on items that cost a buck.


Designing a quality customer satisfaction survey is a process, requiring multiple edits to reach the best version. Throwing in every question is how NOT to design a survey. Think about what you want to know, and carefully craft your questions.


It’s also important to set expectations at the outset, communicating how long the survey will take, and then meeting that expectation. Nordstrom advertised their survey as 2 minutes, but with 25 questions it took closer to 5 minutes.


Most retailers didn’t provide any estimate of survey length, and instead simply let their customers click into the abyss.


To execute a customer satisfaction survey that’s better than just about every major retailer, get serious about accuracy and engagement:

  • Ensure your survey collects accurate and actionable data. Eliminate biases such as leading questions, forced wording, and faulty scales.
  • Make every question clear and relevant to the customer.
  • Show the customer that you respect and value their time by designing a survey that only asks what's necessary and that states at the outset how long it will take.


If you follow even a few of the guidelines we’ve provided here, your survey will be leagues ahead of the biggest companies in the world. For additional hints about how to improve the quality of your customer feedback, get our Genius Tips. And if you’re interested in more about the first of its kind, Point-of-Purchase Survey Study, check out the 2-minute video or ask us for the complete report.

Defining call center training methods


Like in any professional field, training provides a neutral environment where staff can learn and practice their skills. It is important to provide employees with the best tools to ensure they can perform their tasks to the best of their ability.


Over the years, call centers have seen the development of numerous industry-specific training tools and coaching practices. As customer expectations are constantly increasing in terms of call center performance, so must the training methods evolve. Below are some of the benefits of deploying effective training methods for your company.

Why implement call center training?


As previously mentioned, the target of focus for call center is primarily to meet customer expectations. However, there are a number of reasons your organization should implement call center training. These include:


  • Helping agents feel comfortable with their day-to-day job: providing employees with a safe place where they can practice and hone their skills is primordial.
  • Educating the team about goals, targets and objectives: training is the perfect time to ensure all employees are clear on their role in the company. Being transparent about these objectives can help them innovate through their own methods for achieving these goals.
  • Offering tips and techniques on how to achieve these objectives: another great advantage of the training place is that it fosters communication and discussion between team members. Some might even suggest their own ideas that could resonate with other staff.
  • Promoting employee morale by showcasing past successes: training time is an excellent space to rally morale and help inspire staff members, especially when faced with concrete examples of positive results and behaviour by their peers.
  • Helping agents feel secure in their job: providing training let’s agents know that you have their best interests at hand. It takes effort and there is a cost associated with training which makes agents feel good about the investment you are making in their success.


The most efficient call center training methods

There are a number of tried and tested training methods managers can rely upon. Below are some of the ones most consistently found in the call center world.

Implementing regular sessions


The emphasis here is on the idea of regularity. Some managers might organize weekly or monthly meetings, based on preference. By letting employees know when the next session is coming, it will help them stay on top of the numerous areas of improvement in the workplace, whether they are new policies, procedures, IT upgrades, or safety and regulations programs.


Using online training tools

From video conference to webinars and online streaming websites, the Internet offers a wealth of resources that demonstrate the best and worst of customer service and techniques. The advantage is that this information is accessible by staff members at all times so they can learn at their own pace and get the most from the training.


Providing data, metrics and analytics

An increase in the sophistication and usage of call center analytics software has helped to make training more effective. While in the past, certain metrics were hard to quantify, with speech and customer engagement analytics solutions, managers can now provide employees clear numbers for things such as First Call Resolution, Average Handling Time or Customer Satisfaction. Call center agent performance metrics can help staff see their progress and witness how the right practices truly impact these results. Insights from analytics can also help tailor training and coaching to specific groups or agents. It can also provide motivation and guidance for self-coaching.


Some employees learn a lot faster by witnessing the best practices first-hand. An efficient way to demonstrate exemplary professionalism is to let them  “shadow” more experienced staff members. While some managers might dismiss the method as old-fashioned, it is still a highly efficient method, which also offers the selected “mentor” employees an important responsibility.


Bringing in top performing agents

Empowering top agents can hugely impact on the morale of new employees, showing them how to enhance their performance by example. This is all the more effective if your call center applies workplace incentives, rewarding employees for working more efficiently and delivering better results. Also, speech analytics can help you identify the top performers and what they do differently to be so successful. This allows managers to incorporate this insight into training.



In a field as customer-focused as call centers, it is highly important that employees can understand what it feels like to be on the other side of the line. This is where role-playing in small or big groups can be such as powerful training method, helping them place themselves in the customers’ shoes. Did they feel welcome and listened to? Were they keen to give a good score in an post-call poll?


Final thoughts

In conclusion, call center management can benefit from tried and tested training methods to improve the efficiency of their call centers. But they should not forego tools like speech and customer engagement analytics, which have shown tremendous, results in the past years.


Whether call center managers decide to make full use of online tools, powerful analytics and metrics tried and tested method, there is no shortage of methods that can benefit organizations relying on call centers for their customer-facing operations.


What training methods have been the most successful for you?




Gamification has hit every industry over the past few years, and we've seen myriad ways you can use it. What has recently come to the forefront is using gamification to boost customer loyalty. And just in time. Customer loyalty programs have been flagging recently - and recent publications have argued it's because loyalty programs aren't building emotional connections with customers. That connection is critical, as buyers who are emotionally tapped into a brand are likely to buy more and recommend it to their network.


Gamification may be the solution to the emotional disconnect. So how can call centers use that to increase their customer loyalty?


Know Your Benchmarks First

We've talked before about the importance of knowing what business goals you'd like to reach before you begin. This will ensure your gamification strategy offers the right balance of fun and results. In addition, by identifying your benchmarks beforehand, you'll be able to tweak the parameters of the game faster if you realize you're not hitting your mark.


Entrance the User in a Story

Inc. writer Jessica Stillman reported on several pieces of research that revealed our brains love getting immersed in a good story. You can apply that lesson to your customer engagement strategy: Instead of creating disconnected levels that users might abandon, create a story for them to follow. If possible, incorporate multiple levels into your story to make it a quest.


Creating a story as part of your gamification strategy will increase customer engagement.


Random Acts of Gratitude

Take a lesson from Candy Crush: In a recent article analyzing our addiction, Harvard researchers identified the reason we can't put our phones down - we can't determine ahead of time when we'll get a feel-good burst from beating a level. The randomness is key. We keep playing, hunting for that endorphin rush again. As a result, we develop a strong relationship to the game. Give your customers the same feel-good burst with an extra reward. For instance, give customers double the points for reviewing a product - a behavior they already do - as a thank you. To customers, it will feel like appreciation and make them want to do it again. And who doesn't like feeling appreciated?


Make the Rewards Tangible

Ah, the classic customer loyalty problem: When users can't connect their coins, rewards or points to a tangible offering, they're less likely to actually redeem them. On top of that, customers will likely disengage if they need hundreds of thousands of points to get their rewards. It's hard for customers to mentally compute the time necessary to get those rewards in hand - and that may cause them to abandon too soon. To counter that problem, use the data your customers have provided to offer customized rewards.


Successful gamification campaigns bring with them much higher levels of customer loyalty. It also gives businesses the opportunity to gather more information about their customer base. The magic happens when a gamification strategy strikes the right balance between the two objectives. So, game on.


How will you make the most of gamification?

Meeting customer demands can be a struggle for today’s businesses. Their expectations change from day to day, and customers expect results before they even contact you. Technology plays a leading role in these high expectations. The business community is embracing technology across all aspects of their operations. It streamlines communication and makes tedious tasks more efficient, but businesses that don’t use it wisely fail to deliver.  When you don’t deliver what your customers’ want, the customer experience is less than desirable.


Customer Experience

Experts predict that customer experience will outweigh price as the key differentiator consumers crave by 2020. If you don’t make the customer experience your priority, customers will slowly move on to companies that do.


Customer experience (CX) includes every interaction a customer has with a business throughout their relationship. According to Harvard Business Review, nearly half of businesses view customer experience management as a strategic priority. Yet, few get it right because they focus on internal operations instead of their customers.

A positive customer experience occurs when a customer feels like their interactions are valuable, easy, and enjoyable.  How do you know you are delivering a positive customer experience if the customer doesn’t openly express their feelings? The answer is customer data. Tracking customer data and using it to make better business decisions gives you a competitive edge over your biggest competitors.


The Importance of Data in 2017

When it comes to data, experts are buzzing about its importance, and every business is trying to figure out how they can use it to be the best. When used the right way, it unlocks a plan to deliver an exceptional customer experience.


How Data Benefits the Customer Experience

The first critical step to using data is to track it. Speech analytics or customer engagement analytics software enables businesses to capture and transcribe every conversation with customers in one central location. Tracking and analyzing the right types of data give you a better understanding of customer expectations and makes it easy to deliver what they want.

Trending Product Issues

  1. Identify poor performing products.
    If customers consistently contact you or share feedback that your product or service has issues or doesn’t work as expected, it can cost you future sales revenue and brand reputation. Actively reviewing data, particularly information gleaned from conversations with your customers, makes it possible for you to identify these problems early on.  In return, you get the opportunity to proactively make updates or pull your product from the market until you fix it.
  2. Identify process steps where customers struggle.
    When a customer struggles with a new purchase, it is common for them to contact your business. Tracking customer interactions reveals trends in product implementation that negatively impact your customer experience. You can make a proactive change in your customer onboarding process to minimize the negative effect moving forward.


  1. Track individual agent performance.
    Analytics software can automatically calculate a customer experience score based on the metrics you establish. This score provides insight into which contact center agents deliver a great experience and which consistently don’t. Speech analytics can also track which agents have a track record of converting unhappy customer to happy customers. Use the score to educate agents to deliver a better customer experience or reassign those that don’t improve.
  2. Look for common scenarios.
    Sometimes businesses think they have everything handled internally. They hire strategically, invest in education, and empower call representatives to make decisions based on the customer needs. And then they look at the data and discover that similar conversations across multiple agents resulted in a less than acceptable score. This data shows you what you need to change about your employee education and gives you ideas for scripts and talking points they need to be successful.

Customer Needs

  1. What do they call in looking for?
    Do your customers consistently call in looking for a specific product functionality or service? What are their likes and dislikes? Are they referencing competitors’ capabilities? Analyzing what your customers are saying can have a positive impact on product and service improvements, leading to a greater customer experience.
  2. What are they struggling with?
    Customer analytics also tell you what struggles your customers have, unrelated to the use of your product. By reviewing conversations, you can pinpoint common mentions to fuel ideas for innovations.


Customer Journey Insight

Are your customers calling your contact center multiple times for the same issue?  Speech analytics can help you identify long, arduous customer journeys and track the customer experience across those multiple interactions. It’s a common misconception that speech analytics only captures information from phone calls. The truth is, you can track and transcribe information from all communication platforms including voice, e-mail, web chat, text messaging, and social media.



In the past, businesses had a false belief that if every caller is happy, then everything is great. By analyzing all customer interactions, even those on social, you gain valuable insight that make it possible to identify shortcomings so that you can create an action plan for improvements. Why does it matter?



In our technology-driven world, data is exploding and quickly becoming the most important trend to follow in 2017.  The right data and insights will help you improve customer experience. By making customer experience a priority, you will develop loyal customers that want to keep doing business with you. Over time, loyalty results in increased revenue, referrals, and profits.


What are you doing to make customer experience a priority for your business?

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