Create a Branded Service Experience

By Susan Hash

Companies spend millions each year on marketing and advertising to create very specific consumer perceptions and expectations about their brand's unique personality. Yet most companies undercut those efforts by offering a generic service experience when customers call. A generic customer experience may not be bad, in fact, your frontline agents may be highly efficient and professional. But if customers can't differentiate the experience that they had with your center from other call centers, it's not likely to inspire loyalty.

"Many organizations view their service delivery standards as good or bad—did I satisfy my customer or not? But as research shows, satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal ones," says Janelle Barlow, Ph.D., president of TMI US, and co-author of Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge.

What is it that turns a good service experience into a branded experience? A branded experience is primarily emotional—the key is to stay focused on the emotional engagement, says Barlow. She suggests service leaders consider, What do we stand for? "Define how you are both emotionally and rationally different from your competitors in your market place, in your service category and in your product category," she says. "What is the experience you want to create for your customers, and how are you going to deliver this experience? Define that very precisely, and in terms that frontline agents can easily understand and integrate into their delivery style."

The contact center's hiring, training and management processes will also need to be aligned to ensure that you have the right staff in place with the personalities and skills to support the brand, and the processes and metrics to support your staff. The following are just a few of the components that will need to be in place to drive a branded service experience.

Recruiting and hiring. "Not everyone is capable of representing a brand, and not every brand is appealing to everybody," says Barlow. "You need people who like the product, and like what your company stands for. If they aren't passionate about it, then they should be working someplace else. Getting the right people is half the battle."

Education. Delivering a branded experience over the phone is not easy. Frontline reps will need to be educated on service competencies and techniques to engage the customer, says Barlow, which is very different from the type of skills training that service reps generally receive.

Communication. Does the staff know the story of your brand? Do they know how that story translates into service delivery? "Many organizations think that they can just tell the staff to show up and deliver an emotional product. But the brand has to be sold emotionally to the staff, as well as to the consumers," says Barlow. "That is absolutely critical."

Empowerment. Frontline staff must be empowered and encouraged to make decisions on their own to satisfy customers. The problem is, most companies send conflicting messages to frontline agents by focusing too strictly on efficiency metrics, like handle time. "If you put those types of measures in place, your people will behave to match those markers," she says. While most centers can't do away with handle time, make sure that your staff clearly understand the experience that you're trying to create with the customer, and empower them to decide when they need to spend a little more time with the customer.

Engagement. "Many times, customers are much more engaged with the brand than the staff are, and that's a huge disconnect," says Barlow. "When you buy something, you really want that staff person to be as excited for you as you are about having just made that purchase." Disengaged staff tend to deliver generic service, and actively disengaged employees can actually damage the business by devaluing the product to customers.

INSIDE VIEW: OnStar

Most call center agents don't have the opportunity to impact their customers' lives the way that OnStar's advisors do. Whether it's providing navigation assistance to a lost motorist, remotely unlocking the doors for an owner who has left his keys inside the vehicle, or staying on the line with a frightened accident victim until help arrives, OnStar provides its customers with the reassurance that a caring, helpful professional is always just one button push away.

OnStar's backend technology provides customers with instant access to the call center 24/7 in emergencies (99.9% of air bag and Automatic Crash Response emergency calls are answered within 1 second), and with a single touch of a button for less urgent service requests. Once customers are connected with the call center, though, the approach is refreshingly old school, personal customer service provided by caring individuals. For someone who is stuck on the side of the road or involved in an accident, being able to speak with a helpful, empathetic human being can be incredibly reassuring.

Read the full story here.


 

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