Thoughts, topics of interest, points of view, stories and poetry. Some posts also feature my own photographs - here, as well as on the 'valleyguardians' blog. While I don't mind my material being used, I would ask the courtesy of acknowledgement by name or link. A thank you would then follow.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Paying customers for a return visit - an incentive to getting it right the first time

When I consider a statement, such as “Providing positive reinforcement helps create the right atmosphere for providing great customer experiences,” it irks me to think that basic good manners often do not feature in the basics of customer service delivery. Surely, giving praise where it is due and noting good work for its worth, should be part of the basics?
And it has nothing to do with training or skills development of customer service workers (and management).
Is it not, after all, common courtesy to say please and thank you, to ask before taking, as well as acknowledging a great idea, AND attribute the positive outcome from the idea to its originator?
With this, of course, comes the intent when exhibiting good manners - it is not just about being civil, or even correct, it is about saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
However, to create good customer service, teamwork is a necessity and should be encouraged within business, while performance standards, on the other hand, should acknowledge teamwork and not just focus on individual performance.
Personal experiences over the Christmas week have highlighted a lack of basic good manners, and where I have encountered good manners, it has made the lack elsewhere so much more obvious.
In helping my adult son search for a bicycle, we started with price comparisons. Apart from the price shock (there are some mean machines with hefty price tags), there were several ‘generic’ stores that did not have any knowledgeable support staff available to assist and when finally found, they seemed to be doing us a favour, rather than what they are paid to do – provide customer service.
In this category, Game just takes the cake, but consumers seem to have, over time, adjusted to Game’s seeming ‘self-help without guidance’ system, and when they really need help, off they go, looking for a staff member, often to be sent back “to wait for someone”. Perhaps the organisation will one day have to consider the negative impact of customers’ willingness to loudly share bad experiences in the store, while waiting for service in the aisles, or while queuing at checkout points and even once they’re hopping on their smart-phones to complain online.
Of course, staff from other companies simply floored us with their excellent assistance, like the lady at Cyclesphere, who told us what we would certainly NOT be doing, while offering an alternative that turned out to end our search. And it was all done with a smile, a thank you for considering them in our shopping and most of all, allowing us to feel we had received service and that a referral would be a matter of fact.
Trying to get a better deal on data bundles led me to the Vodacom shop in Windermere Centre, where the staff remembered me from previous visits, immediately assisted me in applying for a better deal and, as the process took a day or two, gave me a call back to advise on the next step.
Unfortunately, on my return, the manager (who had been off sick at the time of my visit) could not assist, blamed his staff for not doing their work properly, and then used ‘having been sick’ as an excuse for poor communication with his staff. Naturally, I had to return at another time, when the staff member who had helped me before, was available, and his usual courteous and helpful self proved to be customer service in action. I suppose the saying “third time lucky” could be applied, yet I wonder whether, in cases like these, having the company pay the customer’s costs for a return visit, would be the best incentive to ‘get it right the first time’.
There’s a lot to be learned from personally servicing customers, such as what the customers prefer or what delivery processes are effective or may need improvement, and customer service workers will only achieve this through basic good manners. In my book, a friendly and helpful attitude constitutes good manners, not just a mere please and thank you, and good service, I believe, is grounded in good manners.
Being able to effectively communicate the features and benefits of a company’s products or services should also not be the sole responsibility of staff in specific sectors either. From the owner, to directors and from the cleaning and maintenance staff, to the mailroom staff, each one sets an example for other employees on how to treat customers and if all apply the same due diligence and good manners, good customer service will result.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Business Speak; making an effort how not to

Oh boy! Don’t you just hate it when you finally get through to the right department in a company, only to be talked to in ‘code’. It kind of sounds like English BUT the person who answers the phone insists on treating you as if you have the same knowledge they do, throwing in all sorts of industry acronyms and colloquialisms.
For starters, it’s nice to have an impression that the agent knows their stuff, yet their habit of ‘talking at’ customers, in abbreviations and acronyms is a bit much. How do they know your level of English, never mind your exposure to ‘business speak’?

I thought we lived in a land of ‘many tongues’?

Let's Face it! and then Fix it!

For starters, you could watch your language…record yourself on your smartphone recorder, make some notes of where and when you use which of the ‘speaking terms’ that you’d use when helping a member of the public, (a customer, a potential lead). And then, ask a stranger, a friend, and a family member, (at least these three) to point out the business speak that has crept into your communication when you’re talking to them.
Also, don’t forget to explain the meaning of the terms. Pay your knowledge and information forward and encourage others to do the same.

If, though, you’re as curious about the penning of words as I am, you’d also subscribe to Grammarly (suggests corrections, alternatives, explanations), register to receive daily titbits sent by sites such as, spend time once a week looking up words in the urban dictionary, and read and write – every day. Read anything and everything and look up the meaning of those words you don’t understand.
Live and learn, in every way. The more theory you have, the easier it is to actually action some of the things you read about and if you’re discovering the meaning of some 'business speak' terminology, don’t just bandy it about. Or, at least explain yourself when you do.

Personally, I’ve subscribed to the forklift news – always wanted to learn to drive one…or a bulldozer – actually, in all honesty, I have to admit that it's only since I watched and got hooked on Transformers. But, I also follow developments in the service delivery industry (all sectors, or as many as I can think of), keep an eye on ‘movement in the spiritual world’ (wicca, shamanistic teachings etc.), and ‘got to be in the know’ about the latest sun flares, channeling, and alien talk...then there's fractal banking, developments in computer wearables, mountain-biking and climbing, 3D list is kind of endless.

Thing is, you never know what titbit of information that you’ve read could be of help when communicating with others – in your work, play or in random conversations. The latter should happen in the queue at your local store, Post Office, bank, paying fines or picking up a 'renewal of licence' form(s?), and if none of the above apply, try the lift/escalator and learn to talk again (in short bursts – kind of like Twitter).
Unfortunately, there are way too many of us ‘talkers’ only doing the talking online, and unlearning how to deal with face-to-face conversations in the process of ‘hermitising’ – are we learning ‘webspeak’ (?).
Had a picture of me spending a Saturday morning in the streets, store – everywhere – just like in the TV advertisement(s), sticking post-it notes, (with messages such as ‘Talk to me’, and ‘Let’s have a REAL conversation’ written on them), smack on people's foreheads (people whose conversations I eavesdrop on, or interrupt with my own opinion). Ok, so if you know me, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t done it yet? Soon…

Friday, 6 December 2013

Business principles - to live by?

What if we apply the same principles used in business – we do stuff because it’s necessary where it’s most needed in a systematic way, governed by procedures, policies, protocols, NOT RULES. We substitute the monetary value with products and services, enforce a strict talent management system, and then build communities the same way we build business for…a ‘profitable’ outcome.

The idea of profit here is not the implication of having more than we need – it’s about having what’s necessary, not just nice. In discussion, it seems my idea may be simple rhetoric, good BUT, the base principle of profit is more than it takes. In other words, in order to have a product, I need the basics but I don’t need to be incentivised with more than the product I am consuming – no trimmings and trappings. It’s the idea of ‘infinite wants’, which is just a fallacy.

However, I believe that the actions of applying these ‘business’ principles will keep a lot of people busy, on a ‘ginormous’ and quite complex level, with sub-levels and extensions that can be looped back to ensure the sustainability of the entire ‘community of communities’.

We can start by matching everyone to establish their best habits through the Shadowmatch system, the psychometrists can follow by testing everyone to establish their characteristics, and the talent management sector can then step in, with arranging and monitoring people according to where they are best suited to contribute to a better world for all.

Or have I lost it completely and gone beyond mere idealism?

Surely we all have a contribution to make and will not be happy simply having our basic needs met (food in the cupboard, a cupboard for the food and a home to house the cupboard, clothing, education, health etc. – basics) and then…sitting around watching movies, playing games, sleeping?
Mankind is not inherently lazy and the happiest people I know, are those who do, and act, and live lives that require them to be actively involved where they make a difference, are rewarded with positive outcomes and selflessly give of their time and themselves.

In working together, we can make a difference in everyone’s lives and even though my head sometimes goes where others fear to tread, I believe collaboration’s time has come (again) and we now have the tools to implement the best ideas for the best possible reasons – our future and our children.

So yes, what if…?

Monday, 2 December 2013

How to navigate Customer Service through collaboration

There is no doubt that we are experiencing ‘the age of the consumer’. Research shows that, as those responsible for service adjust to and anticipate changing customer behaviour, business and IT staff are re-engineering end-to-end business processes, while acquiring and deploying suitable supporting technologies. This requires a shift to new ways of working and thus, organizational changes on executive level.
In a Forrester report earlier this year, Kate Leggett looked at top customer service trends that should be taken into account to deliver customer service excellence, assisting companies in understanding key business trends expected to unfold over the next five years.
Among the trends discussed, it was found that the quality of service delivered is improving through collaboration, with the adoption of collaboration having increased considerably in recent years, and expected to surge in the future. The biggest trend highlighted by the report though, is that collaboration is becoming a corporate mindset.
This affects the call centre industry, as it is believed that agent to-agent collaboration will assist in diminishing agent tier structures that are too rigid, for an environment that is more collaborative, subsequently increasing first-contact resolution rates. It is further felt that by relaxing agent tier structures it will promote more knowledge sharing.
Companies, through activity streams, around sales opportunities, customer service cases, and even content, are adopting real-time collaboration. The report points out the expectation of companies to better connect communities with customer service technologies, to encourage customer-customer, customer-agent, and agent-agent collaboration. This, in turn, achieves better incident closure rates and higher satisfaction. Leveraging activity streams, that are now part of CRM technology, allows for the adoption of “collaborative environments that cross functional organizational silos”, which allows interaction of the right resources in ‘near real time’, to drive business results.
The thinking, that effective collaboration can draw distributed teams and customers closer together, which in turn, leads to better efficiency and stronger relationships with customers, is corroborated by several research reports.
 On the other hand, Jesse Wilkins, in an Aiim report titled ‘The Rationale and Requirements for Collaboration’, asks why so many organizations are deploying collaboration tools or considering them? The report points out that collaboration, without the necessary culture in place, cannot be forced. As a matter of fact, time and money will be spent without any substantial benefit, when companies compel users to apply collaboration tools and requirements.
The Aiim report cites Mike Gotta of Burton Group who, in a blog post titled “Categorizing Collaboration”, identifies several reasons why individuals collaborate:
Individual processes require user engagement. Technical support analysts collaborate with each other to resolve customer issues more efficiently. They might also collaborate with the sales staff to ensure that customer questions are answered effectively.
Shared activities motivate collaboration. Project management: everyone has to succeed in order for everyone to succeed. Another example is that of an orchestra—everyone plays different notes at different times, but it all must work together or it is just a cacophony of instruments.
Community participation induces contribution. Good examples of this include popular wiki projects, both public and internal; many listservs also support this dynamic.
Remember too, that collaboration happens for other reasons as well. These may include individuals wanting to share by illustrating their expertise on a topic, or membership in and the associated status of many social networks. The common factor is that this is cooperation and collaboration among individuals that are like-minded. Whether ‘accidental or inadvertent’ collaboration can consist of information created for a specific reason, which is then used again or repurposed.
What is more important, is that customers want to collaborate with companies.
Collaborating with Customers
Organizations, in collaborating with customers and partners, may be provided with even greater benefits than when collaborating internally; existing processes can be made more efficient, as can the creation of new products and services. More important, a community that cares about the organization and what it does, is built through effective collaboration with customers and users.
Don Tapscott notes in Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, “There are always more smart people outside your enterprise boundaries than there are inside.”
Companies can channel the energy and expertise of customers’ through developing knowledge bases and maintaining frequently asked questions (FAQs). Regardless of how established a business’ support processes, users who have figured out a way to work around issues encountered can provide vital feedback.
In this respect, Wikis are a good platform, as they allow quick delivery of corrections and updates, while also supporting security and access at different levels of, for instance, partners vs. end users. Inclusion of their expertise into a knowledge base or listing of best practices will specifically be appreciated by partners. A marketplace for ‘partner-developed templates, widgets, or integrations could be created by extending this idea; there are already several vendors who support their partners in this type of approach.
This type of collaboration makes it both easier and cheaper for partners to find best practices and reusable tools, while it benefits the business in allowing an exchange of knowledge and information. By inviting users and partners to collaborate in this fashion, a very loyal community can be created.

Figure 1 Collaboration technology and tools, internal and external uses and means
Source: Aiim whitepaper – Jesse Wilkins
Internal Project updates
Configuration updates
Notification of changes
Project documentation
Technical documentation
FAQ/Knowledge base
Contract drafting
Presentation development
FAQ/Knowledge base
(Wikipedia, LyricWiki)
RSS Feeds
Sales leads
To-do Lists
Lightweight integration with other systems and tools
Blog, Wiki updates
Repurpose data from other systems and tools
Instant messaging
Bring in additional assistance for sales
Technical support sales
Realtime updates
Schedule meetings
View availability
Schedule resources
Schedule meetings
Synchronize calendars
Presentations to staff
Product demos
Presentations to clients
Desktop sharing
Technical Support
Product Demos
Technical Support
Availability for collaboration
using other methods,
such as phone and in-person
Availability for collaboration using other methods, such as phone and in-person
Shared workspaces
Project documentation
Research resources and references
Document sharing
Product/service development and testing
Document sharing
Virtual meeting
Virtual meeting
Discussion Forums/
Bulletin Boards
Threaded discussion on
particular topics
Comments or
suggestion lists