aside NUTTY CONSUMER’S 3RD RANT AGAINST “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS

In some cases the call center prototype is adequate for companies to optimize their profits and to retain their reputation for good customer service as is the case for companies selling one time purchases, reservations for airline tickets or car reservations, etc.  The consumer’s purchase of  an airline ticket, etc. can be managed under the standard call center  prototype because the vast majority of purchases or reservations can  be  completed during one phone call while requiring  a minimum level of customer service follow up. It is easy for  any agent to take over the next call with no documentation on the record for their clients.  For example, the adjustment of rental days  is a one step adjustment based on the existing record showing previous dates. It is not too difficult a task to track the  results of these transactions regarding sales, customer service satisfaction and the performance of the agents.

Problems arise when the call center marketers sell this same “cookie cutter” call center system to companies selling more sophisticated products which is where what is best for the company, their customers and their employees gets lost. For example, an insurance, bank, mortgage and/or financial advice company deal with more complicated products than companies selling a one time purchase. The standard call center prototype without modification is  not adequate in the following instances:  (1.)when satisfactory  customer service may require multiple calls from the consumer at a relatively high frequency in order to obtain a resolution on any of their issues; (2.) the product has a high price tag and your company wants the client to maintain or renew year after year; (3.) the company expects future business from current clients as in the form of upgrades and the purchase of future products.  These companies are supposed to be attempting to encourage a long term relationship with their clients in order to expect them to have some loyalty. In short, when a company does not consistently treat their customers with respect and consideration for the consumer’s valuable time and with a sense of fairness and integrity, they will not be rewarded with the clients’ loyalty IN THEIR future business dealings.  Customers do have choices and competition is fierce.

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It only makes sense that a company strives to increase profits in order  to be a viable, successful business. This is the reasoning behind most businesses reticence to deviate from  their “cookie cutter” call center culture. If company leaders were to look at the bigger picture, they could ask themselves, is it possible to modify the culture of the typical call center to better please their clients and their employees while not sacrificing the increase in productivity and the increase in profits due to cost cutting measures? Other companies like American Express, Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Zappos are already doing this while also showing a tremendous increase in revenues as well as an improvement in all their parameters across the board. Companies  which step forward and lead their companies in adapting to a modified model of streamlining operations to reduce costs while also catering big time to their clients and employees will be the winners.

There can be unintended consequences when a company selling more sophisticated products buys into the “cookie cutter” call center syndrome without any customization and business planning. One of them is that you definitely will not obtain a true reading as to who are your star employees. You will know how many calls each agent takes and what their average handling time is. In the year 2013, an insurance  sales representative from a very reputable company told me that the amount of monies she brought into the company and/or the actual number of products she sold was NOT  tracked and was not part of her performance review. This same company did keep track of how many times her clients purchased new products within a three month time span after the initial contact. Can you believe these figures did not have any impact on her performance evaluation?  It was more important that she took her breaks and lunch at an allotted time, had a record of  shorter call handling times, took more phone calls during her work schedule; and was able to report a high number of client sale referrals for the possible purchase of additional products. The production of a high number of sale referrals was greatly valued even though there was no tracking as to whether all these referrals ever resulted in a sale. She stated that every day she received sale referral transfer calls from different divisions within the same company with the customer being oblivious as to the reason for the transfer. In addition, agents who sold one policy per client as well as a bank account with a minimum deposit was as highly rated as the agent who sold 5 policies along with products from different lines of business. This was true even if the client never used the bank account and only signed up to benefit from a multi- product discount. I have never heard of a company claiming to have a legitimate sales organization not keeping track as to how many policies and/or products one sold as well as how much money they contributed to the company’s coffers. It is mind numbing to think that a company would not track and reward the sales agent who sold 50 policies per month versus her peer who sold 25. In addition the agent who sold 25 products per month is more valued because his/ her  average call handling time (AHT) for the month would be less than the agent who sold significantly more. In this case the (AHT) is not the best way to measure an agent’s productivity.

images another planet customer serviceIn the year 2014, this same company is now tracking the total sales of each agent per client as well as their referrals (cross selling) which result in a sale. It is no longer okay to create for example, a bank account which is never used and have that count as a sale. When a client calls for customer service, the agent is no longer required to make a sales referral (cross selling). It is important for companies to focus more on results of the actual products sold and monies produced per agent. A gifted sales person can bring in a lot more funds in half the time of other agents who look really busy.                                                                                                                                    

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How does the company culture lead to situations where a company like GM does not openly deal with an in house known problem for 13 years even after many customer lives are lost, or Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase recently being accused of falsifying mortgage loan documents?  The answer is easy. In both of the above cases, the customer was not the priority. Bottom line cost cutting in order to increase profits was partly what ruled the culture in both these companies. I am sure the individual employees in most cases would not want to act unethically but somehow both companies created the environment and conditions which caused employees to act without integrityA major red flag indicating a problem  work culture is when your company’s front line folks do not feel safe to confront, question, talk to, share important information with their direct management without fear of paying a high personal price. Does your company provide a known safe way for an employee to disclose serious issues involving their direct supervisors while maintaining anonymity? If your frontline folks live in fear of retaliation, not being promoted, not receiving plum assignments; not being valued and respected for daring to do their jobs by informing management of  potential costly issues, what can you expect? If you can describe your company as an entity which does not suffer from this dysfunctional work place then you are self insured against the high costs of loss of reputation, loss of branding and the resulting loss of clients, monies and market share.                                                                                                                                                                                                  As a case study, it is interesting to note that the CEO of GM, Mary Barra is the lone survivor after having testified at a U.S. Congressional hearing. She is the only one who arrived at the hearing with a clear vision that GM was burdened with major work cultural problems but she had concrete plans to change this. She has dealt with the negative publicity head on while taking full responsibility. Those harmed are being properly compensated. GM has managed to do well despite this tsunami of bad news because of her handling. Contrast this with how General Eric Shinseki of the VA Administration and Director Julia Pierson of the Secret Service presented themselves at the recent 2014 U.S. hearings, where they both discounted the existence and depth of the systemic work culture problems within their organizations. They did not grasp that the events being discussed were not simply isolated events which could be fixed with a new procedure, practice, study, office, new department head, etc. When General Shinseki resigned, it became obvious that he did internalize how dysfunctional the VA work culture had become and he felt so disheartened; however, I do not believe Director Pierson is even admitting that there is a cultural malfunction within the Secret Service. In both cases, they did NOT see the red flags warning them.

In a Forbes article published 5/29/2014, by Joann Muller, Mary Barra, CEO of GM, was interviewed with the following  question and response:

“Forbes: In a recent Town Hall meeting with employees, you lamented that there’s still a “culture of fear” within GM, a fear of rocking the boat. How do you convince people it’s ok to speak up?

First, it’s having programs like Speak Up For Safety. If someone picks up the phone and says, “Hey, I’m worried about x, y or z, it’s important that you answer them, either to say, ‘Wow, thank you for raising that issue,’ or ‘Hey, that’s not an issue and here’s why,’ so they don’t leave thinking, ‘I tried, and they didn’t listen to me. They just ignored me.’

It also is me demonstrating the culture and making sure the leadership (follows through). Because they can hear me, they can even believe me, but what is their daily work experience like? What is it like in their department?

We rolled out our three core values last year – the Customer is Our Compass, Relationships Matter and Individual Excellence is Crucial. We’re now getting an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of them because they’re seeing from me, from Dan, from Mark, that we mean it. It’s our continuing to be consistent.”

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR COMPANY TO BE FACED WITH THE FOLLOWING NEWS REPORTS?

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