I’ve recently been collaborating with my colleagues to improve customer satisfaction for one of our clients. While our approach has many aspects to it, one of the key initiatives has been to establish a new voice and style for how we interact with customers. We’ve been able to use the skills shared in a previous column to create a voice and style guide for this team. We’ve rolled the guide out to the team by weaving it into new hire and recursive training and using quality assurance to make sure it’s used consistently on every customer interaction.
While I’d love for this article to be about results, it’s still too soon to see the full impact on customer satisfaction. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more in a future column. There have been a number of insights along the way, however.
During the rollout of this new style guide, we selected an issue type or contact driver that frequently aggravates customers, leading to dissatisfaction, and facilitated a journey mapping exercise to see the before, during, and after for that particular issue type. We then had our leaders practice applying the new voice and style to a customer interaction that dealt with that issue.
While I believe journey mapping proved to be a fruitful exercise, there were some opportunities for improvement. In this article, I’ll share what worked and what didn’t work and then discuss some of the key outcomes you should see when conducting a similar session in your contact center.
Let’s first look at a few things that worked well in this journey mapping session.
We picked a very familiar issue which led to rich discussion.
The last thing we wanted was for the discussion to fall flat because none of our leaders knew about the issue that was aggravating customers. On the contrary, everyone knew this issue very well which allowed us to map out the customer’s entire journey from sign up, through to the interaction with customer service, and on to the moment where the customer marked that they were dissatisfied on a survey.
We were able to see the full customer experience, not just the customer support piece of it.
This is important for us contact center folks because we sometimes forget that there’s a whole lot more to the customer experience than customer service. By seeing the events that led the customer to contact customer service, we were able to understand and empathize with the customer’s frustrations over this experience. If our agents can understand this, they can better meet the needs of the customer during the interaction. This also helped our folks who regularly monitor quality to think less about a quality assurance checklist and more about the vital role the customer interaction played in the customer journey.
We practiced applying the new voice and style to customer interactions.
While the style guide addresses critical people skills and language to use during customer interactions, it also emphasizes ways to take better care of the customer. For example, this particular issue involved integration with a third party vendor. We were able to discuss the importance of equipping our agents with the knowledge and skills to speak intelligently about that vendor’s processes. We also talked about the importance of a warm handoff to that vendor rather than throwing our hands up in the air and saying, “It’s not our problem. You need to call them.”
What didn’t work
There were also a couple of aspects of this journey mapping session that could have been improved upon.
We failed to first define customer experience and introduce journey mapping.
My colleague and co-facilitator, Sheri Kendall had the last minute realization that our group for this exercise likely had zero background with journey mapping. We hadn’t planned to introduce the topic before jumping into the exercise and decided not to make any last minute changes. This added some awkwardness to the exercise. Even though terms like customer experience and journey mapping might seem like common sense and get talked about a lot, don’t assume that everyone fully understands their purpose. We would have been better served to take the time to introduce the concepts and their importance.
We treated this too much like quality assurance.
On our initial pass at this exercise, we selected a chat conversation to review and created our journey map based on that chat. Reading the chat together, we backfilled the steps before the customer contacted support, using both what we knew about the third party vendor they were working with and also clues from the chat. This method nearly caused the session to stall out because folks were busy trying to comprehend the chat and had trouble figuring out where the customer’s journey actually began. In the second iteration of this session, we instead mapped out what we knew about that issue and found that the chat wasn’t initially necessary. The chat conversation and customer survey feedback were still useful to help us understand the sentiment around certain aspects of the journey and pinpoint those steps that caused the most aggravation.
As I reflect back on this exercise there were several outcomes that proved journey mapping to be the right exercise for our team. If you plan to do something similar in a contact center environment, here are some areas of focus to get the most value:
- Be sure to map out the full journey, not just the customer interaction.
Chances are that your folks doing quality assurance are already very well-versed in critiquing customer interactions. Your goal is to get everyone to think about the entire customer experience and not just an interaction.
- Think about ways you can improve agent training.
As I mentioned earlier, we discovered that our agents could support the customer much better if they understood both the goals of the customer and some of the processes at work with the other vendor. Saying, “I don’t know how that other vendor does things” was clearly a huge source of aggravation.
- Identify support where we can be more helpful.
Perhaps it’s a warmer handoff to the customer service folks at the other vendor or perhaps there’s an opportunity to better educate customers. Looking at the full journey helps us identify where our agents can offer more value to the customer during interactions.
- Make quality coaching more holistic.
Quality assurance so often happens in a bubble where we take one isolated customer interaction and grade it. Training the quality team to see the whole journey helps them better coach agents on the behaviors that truly drive a better customer experience.
- Practice applying your voice and style.
A voice and style guide is critical to great customer service because it creates consistency, not only with customer interactions but also with the communication coming from other groups like marketing and product. Like learning to speak a new language, this requires practice.
- Uncover insights to improve the business.
Did the customer really need to contact customer service in the first place or could we add an article to our knowledge base to help customers self-solve the issue? What if someone at the other vendor was misinforming customers to call us and we could take the time to better educate the vendor? Was there a poorly timed marketing promotion or did programming release a buggy new feature? This exercise should naturally lead to insights that make the business and product, not just customer service, better.
While aspects of this journey mapping exercise were awkward, (understandable for a first shot) it was an overall success and something we plan to do again. In the end, it proved to be the right exercise, helping us practice applying our new voice and style, and it was a great introduction to the overall customer experience and the impact our customer service team has on it. It makes us better trainers, coaches, customer service professionals, and overall better partners with the rest of our organization.