Get Out There!


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Practically every company claims that “customers are our most important focus” but practice shows that this isn’t always borne out. How much time do you spend listening to your customers, REALLY listening, and learning from them? Ever taken the time to double-jack with your customer service reps, or maybe even learned their job enough to handle contacts yourself? No? You’re not alone, but it’s time to change — you need to get out there!

One of our clients invited us to find ways to eliminate the need for customers to contact them (what we call “The Best Service is no Service”). While conducting a series of “side-by-side” sessions, we ran across a disgruntled customer calling late his time unable to process a simple transaction on our client’s website. Even though he quickly spotted in other agents’ notes that the customer wouldn’t be able to use branded credit card, the rep tried a number of time-consuming tricks and never solved the customer’s problem.

Upshot? Probably a more upset customer, perhaps bleeding over into his company’s relationship AND no way that senior management could ever know this type of “under-reaching”. Moreover, the rep didn’t send an error report “since IT has known about this problem for months; it’s been a “code red” but nothing ever gets done about it.”

When we reviewed this case example to our client he went nuclear. But when we then asked him how often he listened to customer calls (quite easy since the closest rep was 10 feet outside of his office!), he confessed “never”. Never? It’s so easy, and so revealing.

Here are some two tried and true processes as thought- and action-starters: (1) 5% solution and (2) a bcc program.

1. 5% solution. Just two hours per week, or 5% of your time (OK, I know, two hours is far less than 5% of YOUR working hours, but bear with me here). Not much, right? But think of the accumulated feedback and ideas you will learn by sitting alongside your best reps for these two hours per week x 50 weeks per year, or 100 hours per year. Don’t use this time to evaluate specific contact handling techniques, or conduct performance management on the customer care rep; rather, listen, take copious notes, and then talk afterwards with the rep asking questions like “Does that always happen? How many calls (or emails) a day are like this? Isn’t there a better way for customers to do this or that? What would you normally do with this customer input?” You’ll be amazed what you’ll discover in short order.

2. Bcc program. Most email systems allow you to blind copy (bcc) others on the response end, and this is another great way to “get out there”, not as personal as conducting side-by’s but the next best thing. You can also engage responsible managers in other departments (such as the marketing communications manager whose mailings keep causing customer contacts, or the head of transportation services whose carriers occasionally miss deliveries and boy, does that ever steam the customers), enabling them to keep on top of the verbatim incoming and outgoing emails on topics of interest to them. While you’re at it, you can add execs to the bcc program so that they, too, can get their Inbox stuffed with customer correspondence, and also see how customer care deals with it.

In my next blog I’ll share two or three other ideas. Let me know what you’ve done that works to “get out there” and listen to your customers.

Bill Price

Bill Price is the President of Driva Solutions (a customer service and customer experience consultancy), an Advisor to Antuit, co-founded the LimeBridge Global Alliance, chairs the Global Operations Council, teaches at the University of Washington and Stanford MBA programs, and is the lead author of The Best Service is No Service and Your Customer Rules! Bill served as's first Global VP of Customer Service and held senior positions at MCI, ACP, and McKinsey. Bill graduated from Dartmouth (BA) and Stanford (MBA).


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