The Customer Service Killers.

Welcome to my first blog post in a long time!

I have been very busy launching my new business over the past few months and many of my experiences during this time have inspired me to write this latest post.

I want to share some thoughts about customer service and importantly in my view, how automation, from automated dialing systems, to far to heavily scripted call centre protocols is literally killing the ability of many organisations to provide an acceptable level of customer service.

Over the last few months I have experienced some shockingly bad customer service from various customer service call centres of organisations which provide pretty standard services to my business.

bad customer service.jpg

I have to say these bad customer service experiences weren’t due to the call handlers themselves being deliberately rude or unwilling to help, in fact its more to do with the way the service has been set up and the fact that customer service (certainly in call centres) has become more of an admin type function which completely defeats its purpose, which in my view should be to provide excellent customer service!

A good example of a bad experience due to automation is the start of the phone call when you get bounced around an automated dialing system… for what seems like ages, then occasionally you press the wrong option and have to start the whole painful process again. By the time you actually get through to speaking to a real person (which often is not even an option these days), you can be so annoyed and frustrated that the call handler is already on their back foot before they have even had a chance to speak.

This brings me to my next point, in a few of my recent experiences the call handler has appeared to be so focused on reading whatever script they use, they are not actually listening to what I have been asking them. Listening is one of those very basic soft skills that literally makes or breaks people in business.

“Good listeners tend to get on well in business, in fact in life in general!”

I have noticed that most of the call handlers I have dealt with have been taught to paraphrase in order to demonstrate they understand my request, this makes perfect sense, unless of course they weren’t actually listening in the first place.

Here’s an example of a recent call I made which demonstrates how this can go so horribly wrong so fast (In this case my call was with a bank).

Me: “I would like to cancel a standing order please”

Call Centre Agent: “Thank you for your call, allow me to understand, you are calling because you want to cancel your credit card…”

Unbelievable.

What followed was a long winded and completely scripted discussion where every question I asked was repeated to me often incorrectly, causing me to have to repeat myself and then have it once again repeated back to me followed by (nearly every time) such comments as thank you for your patience, are you fine to be placed on hold, please hold the line, thank you for providing this information… blah blah blah (All delivered in a very robotic and insincere way).

I have a great suggestion for companies that operate in this way. Why not change the name of your customer service helplines, instead you could call them customer processing hinderance lines.

I found the below quote on a website about customer processing technology.

“This both speeds the back-office operation and makes customers feel that they have received a more customized and responsive service”

Rubbish. The way the vast majority of organisations are currently deploying this technology makes me feel like a number, it doesn’t feel customized in any way, and to top it all off it wastes my time.

I personally find it totally shocking that many service providers (often major multinational brands) have basically commoditized customer service which is generally the back bone of any organization whether B2B or B2C.

“Just because we can automate certain processes doesn’t mean we should”

Whatever happened to old school customer service, where the person on the end of the phone was a fully trained customer service professional who proudly represented their company and were regularly trained and constantly upskilled in order to provide exceptional customer service every time!

These days as business becomes more and more competitive I believe the winners will be those organisations which provide great customer service every time by ensuring their people are competent at providing exceptional customer service.

Those companies will build a reputation for excellence, they will win business by word of mouth and will ultimately be successful.

How did we ever get to this point in the world where companies feel it is good business practice to remove as much of the human aspect as possible from their frontline people to people interactions.

We use technology and install automated systems in order to be more efficient and to save costs and to supposedly to provide a better service to our customers. Using scripts for call handlers makes sense to ensure the messages shared with customers are consistent and professional but this has got totally out of hand as many use scripts in call centres as a quick fix to enable them to hire cheaper labour who they don’t have to train properly yet still keep some kind of uniformity across the business.

If doing so causes your customers to leave then its completely counter productive.

I am not saying its wrong to use technology, we should embrace it, but we should also use a bit more common sense, don’t try to cut corners and just use it sparingly.

Focus more on caring for your customers, focus on training and developing your employees to be exceptional and show them you care about their careers. In turn your employees will become amazing ambassadors for your brand, your customers will love you, and business will take care of itself.

I would love to hear about any organisations who have found the right balance between using customer processing technology and real life people to deliver outstanding customer service.

Please share your comments, lets give those companies the credit they deserve.


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Out with the old and in with the… “Who?”

There are tons of highly qualified and experienced Supply Chain & Logistics professionals ready to work for your business immediately.

Yep that’s right, there’s not really a skills shortage, in fact there is an abundance of amazingly qualified and experienced people ready to join your organization today.

These very same people also bring vast networks and business relationships and can not only develop and improve your operations based on their first hand experience but its likely they could also bring new business.

Oh, and that’s all in addition to training their own successor!

Supply Chain solutions experts and Professional Logisticians, Project Logistics experts, Supply Chain Management and Optimization experts, Procurement, S&OP, Demand Management experts… the list goes on and on…

Sounds too good to be true right?

Well these are facts, and the unfortunate truth in this politically correct world in which we live is that whether anyone is prepared to admit it or not there is an entire under utilized Supply Chain work force of senior professionals who often aren’t being given the opportunity to continue working, yet aren’t even close to thinking of stopping work. Add to this that there are only a very limited number of people from the younger generations who could take their place and we have a significant problem.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the more mature experienced people would command only the very highest levels of salary and benefits, but in my experience from a cost to company perspective that is often just not the case, many of these people have minimal overheads and no dependents and therefore don’t necessarily have the need for a package with all of the bells and whistles included. Don’t get me wrong they know the value of their experience and qualifications and would expect fair compensation for their efforts, but it’s a fair yet realistic compensation which they expect.

Of course in the developed countries Anti-Ageism or Age Discrimination laws prevent companies from not employing the more mature workers… right?

So obviously there are no issues there because anyone at any age has an equal chance… Hmmm.

I mean no one was ever rejected from getting a job because of their age were they?

I would bet there are plenty of examples of more senior or dare I say it older applicants who have been told in the past that they just didn’t… somehow… fit the profile of a job they had applied for yet they have worked in the very same type of job for their whole career.

Anyway my point here is not to argue the politics it’s more about encouraging the leaders of organizations to seriously consider how utilizing the skills of older generations could benefit their business whilst we still have the chance.

Bear in mind when these people are completely gone we cannot replace their years of knowledge and experience which translates to major problems in a global supply chain, and that’s a looming disaster!

The skills shortages do exist in the mid age range and below but this will never improve if we don’t get a move on and start training and developing more young professionals whilst keeping in mind that the older generations which should be heavily involved in passing on knowledge are those who are often being asked to sit on the side lines.

We need to stop the brain drain immediately and start utilizing the skills and experience of the experts in order to properly train the next generations of Supply Chain & Logistics professionals.

Brain Drain.jpg

If someone is ready to put in another 3-5 years before they finally wish to consider finishing work then surely that’s plenty of time for them to join a business, take a future successor under their wing and show them the ropes whilst imparting valuable knowledge.

Give it a shot and you might find your business advancing far faster and more efficiently than it ever has before.

There are no substitutes for vast networks and experience!


 

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The Networked Supply Chain Professional

Ensuring you remain well networked within the People Supply Chain is key to success for many Supply Chain professionals.

Networking experience and ability should be a no brainer for people in commercial management roles, but what if your whole career to date has been focused on operational management functions in the Supply Chain and you haven’t been making a conscious effort to build your business networks.

The truth is that if you are a Supply Chain professional with a pure operational focus you are probably already an excellent relationship builder and networker as your working week will involve dealing with many stakeholders both internal and external, including people from Government entities to MNC’s, local organizations and SME’s.

You will have been regularly building working relationships as well as influencing, supporting, and also challenging people in order to keep your part of the Supply Chain running smoothly.

I am willing to bet that when a Supply Chain professional has made significant improvements to an organisations Supply Chain it has been largely due to their ability to foster relationships and positively influence people from all walks of life.

Facts, figures, and overall analysis provide the visibility to know what needs to be changed or what can be improved but the only way to successfully implement these things is by winning over the people.

If you take the Supply Chain on a local, regional or even a global level I don’t think we see enough operational Supply Chain professionals actively networking with their counter parts in other organizations including those from their competitors in order to understand if they are sharing the same challenges or can support one another to run more efficient Supply Chains.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Supply Chain focused events and conferences going on constantly around the world where SC professionals get together and briefly network during the breaks between presentations and panel discussions, there are also plenty of steering committees and industry bodies which promise to champion the cause of Supply Chain (Only a few manage to do this effectively).

That’s all good, but my big question is this…

How many people in operational Supply Chain management functions make a point of getting together with their counterparts in other organizations on a fairly regular basis just to catch up for a coffee or a bite to eat and chat about the Supply Chain in general?

For the cost of a drink and some of your time I am sure there will be good advice to share and you might also highlight some  challenges which could be overcome through sharing experiences or taking action together.

The more networked Supply Chain professionals we have in the sector the better, and with enough people having these kinds of meetings a bigger picture outcome could well be improvement of global supply chain efficiencies and standards in the future!

So if you aren’t already an avid networker then please don’t just wait for the formal industry conferences and events, I would suggest being proactive and reaching out to some of your counterparts with the aim of getting together for a chat once in a while, if nothing else I am sure you will be able to share some useful information about the market!

The Supply Chain only works because of the people involved!

Networked People


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I’m giving you a blank cheque!

There’s a story behind this one, so bear with me…

A couple of years ago myself and Darryl Judd the COO of the Logistics Executive Group ran a workshop in Doha for IATA’s world cargo symposium which was attended by an audience of  “future air cargo executives” the next generation of leaders.

Some of the worlds most important people in air cargo were sitting in the room that day as these are the people who are going to be running the sector in the years to come.

In order to deliver the workshop so it would be best received by this particular generation (See Education… Aligned.) we decided to run a forum using snap polls (a simple show of hands), encouraging some lively discussion along the way.

After debating a range of topics we eventually came to the subject of continuing education and personal development.

We asked for people to raise their hands if they had worked towards a formal degree qualification over the past 12 months.

About half the room shot their hands up.

We then asked who had taken part in any soft skills training in the last 12 months…  just two or three hands popped up.

Ok… so its evident (for whatever reason) that soft skills weren’t at the top of the training agenda.

We were now warming up to the killer question.

“If we gave you a blank cheque that you can use to pay for either a degree course or soft skills training… which would you choose?”.

$$$ Degree or Soft Skills? $$$

$$$ Degree or Soft Skills? $$$

Silence… for a few minutes, then discussion backwards and forwards, the room is divided… and with a final show of hands its a 50/50 split (I guess if you were personally very aware of a soft skill area where you would like to improve then you would be one of the soft skills choosers).

Their was clearly a demand for soft skills training in the room which hadn’t been identified by their employers (remember only 2-3 people had raised their hands earlier).

So is it more important to pay for the degree or better to fine tune your soft skills?

Well if you want to be leading people and growing a business and if you are going to be one of the future senior executives in an industry then you are definitely going to benefit from having highly mastered soft skills.

Ah but hang on though, will you ever get those opportunities without the degree? Could you handle a senior executive post without the hard skills gained whilst getting a degree?

Would qualification by experience also be enough instead of a degree?

There is no real right or wrong answer here as too many different factors are involved, but I would add that in a challenging jobs market you need to have as many strings to your bow as possible to give you the edge on your competition.

If you have the means and ability to get a degree then you should do it…. but also keep on honing those soft skills!

Education… Aligned.

Advances in technology and workplace culture and environment are changing faster than ever before.

Education needs to be better aligned to suit each generation, and this comes down to understanding what makes each generation tick.

The gap in experience between generations is vast and we cannot afford to lose the skills and experience of the mature and experienced professionals or we are facing disaster. With this in mind each generation must be provided for in a flexible way which appeals to their differing learning styles.

The Gen-Y’s (Millennials) should be accommodated  for with their technological and flexibility requirements with online & apps based training, brainstorming, group workshops etc.

For the baby boomers and previous generations classroom based learning may prove more effective.

In my opinion, we must understand that today’s workplace has people working together with vastly differing age ranges, values and experience. One solution which is slowly being adopted by a growing number of organizations is training on generational awareness in order to create a better understanding and more effective internal communication. It’s time to get savvy and adopt technology, build creative brand energy, and be open to new ideas.


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