11 Best Practices for Online Chat Sales and Customer Service
Online chat is gaining attention as an effective customer service delivery method.
Like many bloggers, I get hacked off at all the thinly-veiled spam posing as "comments" on my posts. Here's a recent one: "Interesting News! I just now printed Coupons of my Favorite Brands and saved!! search "blahblah" online and save instantly, it is free." (I took the liberty of replacing the company name there. Hey, if you want advertising on our site, you should pay for it.) I also am bugged by the folks who go wildly off topic.
But a recent comment on my post "Why Most Customer Service Sucks" angered me for the opposite reason. It completely supports my point about how a lack of appropriate information, policies and processes prevents front-line agents from offering good service. That's unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which because it's those agents - not the suits who won't invest in the necessary systems - who bear the customers' wrath. From a reader named Joshua:
I currently work at Best Buy and for the last two years I have been dealing a lot with customer service issues, so I do have some experience in the matter. For the most part customer service is the most abused department in the store. We rarely deal with happy people and are constantly being told how stupid we are, getting yelled at, cussed out, and often many of us get death threats. Basically we slowly resent customers because for barely above minimum wage we take the abuse for the entire company, and many times we are made to be the bad guys so that management can come in and break the rules and play hero, thus adding insult to injury as abusive customers get what they want and we just get thrown under the bus. ...
No employee should get death threats - especially for something that likely isn't even his or her fault. I've been critical of Best Buy before, for offering a far better level of service via social channels like Twitter than it does in the traditional service channels like stores that are used by the majority of its customers. Customer Service Matters blogger Bruce Temkin uses a term I like, "social schizophrenia," to describe this phenomenon.
Based on my colleague Susan Hall's miserable experience with Best Buy's in-store pickup service, I suspect the company has some work to do in integrating its systems so customer information is consistent across multiple channels like the Internet, the call center and stores. As I wrote last spring, information that never leaves departmental silos is a major customer service shortcoming. As I noted in that post, however, even companies with integrated systems don't always give agents the tools and authority to actually help customers.
What's even more frustrating is that Best Buy can do better. It even does (sort of) in Europe. It owns a 50 percent stake in Carphone Warehouse, a European retailer that just won a Gartner BPM Excellence Award. When I interviewed Ian Gotts, CEO and founder of Carphone Warehouse technology partner Nimbus, and Nigel Kilpatrick, SVP, Major Accounts Europe Nimbus Partners, I found that Carphone Warehouse focused first on improving its customer-facing processes.
To that end, it created standard operating procedures for more than 1,800 processes and rolled them out to more than 7,000 employees in 815 retail stores. Employees can easily access the processes via a PC or other device. In essence, it's like having an operations manual at their fingertips, as seen in a video on the Nimbus site that features a Carphone Warehouse employee pulling up the step-by-step process for a product return. The employee can drill down for more information, if necessary, at the click of a mouse. It uses a similar system in call centers.
Gotts told me:
Standardizing liberates people so they can apply their energies to delivering exemplary customer service. There are no struggles to find the right document, or the right policy or the right system.
Not surprisingly, Carphone Warehouse's retention rate and internal employee feedback scores have both improved - maybe because employees are getting fewer death threats.
I was especially ticked off by Joshua's comments about management breaking rules and throwing customer service employees under the bus. At Carphone Warehouse, employees receive incentives based on customer satisfaction scores and on store performance and profitability. Such a system would seem to encourage teamwork. It also requires a certain kind of process support. Carphone Warehouse tracks user complaints with Nimbus Control and shares the information with an operational excellence team, which collates store complaints, addresses the commonalities in real time and provides a quick process fix.
Applying BPM to customer-facing processes is a trend that is really starting to take off. It was the major theme of the PegaWorld conference hosted by Pegasystems earlier this week. As I noted in a post written at the event, Pegasystems CEO Alan Trefler during his keynote presentation said BPM and customer relationship management "share the same DNA."