Monday, February 16, 2015

How Big Data is of Value for Improving the Customer Experience at AARP

By Curtis Generous
VP and Chief Technology Officer

With nearly 38 million members, AARP serves a wide array of customers:  caregivers, policymakers, advocates, digital communities, volunteers, and many others.  We produce the world’s largest circulation magazine and run the country’s largest refresher driving course.  We help older adults fight financial fraud and help them save money on their home energy bills.  Through our Drive to End Hunger, we have helped donate more than 30 million meals to hungry older adults.  We provide community-based technology training.  We advocate for people 50-plus in public policy.  We advocate for them in the marketplace by selecting high-quality, high-value products and services that carry the AARP name.  We help our members get discounts.

With so many offerings for so many customers, it is critically important that we use Big Data related technologies to enhance our customer experience.

Traditional Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) technologies are focused on providing reports and dashboards for operationally- based reporting.  Today, to provide the best customer experience, we need to go further.  Executive leaders and marketers want to gain more insights about the data to understand customer sentiments, analyze voice or chat data, understand current topics of interest or trends, and combine and analyze data from a wide range of IT and external business systems.

Here are some of the ways we are meeting that challenge at AARP:
  • We are linking behavioral, transactional and customer interactional data to better understand customers’ expectations so that we can deliver the best possible value to our members.
  • We are using in-depth data to personalize our members’ experience and what we can offer them.
  • We are measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of our Contact Center agents and operations to continuously improve and deliver the best experience for our members, volunteers, and others who are seeking information from AARP.
  • We are discovering what types of services and discount offerings are most valuable to our members so that, when necessary, we can redesign our offerings and services to make them more relevant.
  • We are using Contact Center agent notes to constantly improve the ways in which our agents interact with our customers so that we provide a better customer experience and grow our relevance with our members.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Call Center Success Through the Power of Giving

By Sharon Scheckter
Director of Service

How to provide value, grow employee happiness and increase profitability

How generous is your call center?  And I'm not talking about the dollar amount of your employee holiday bonuses or 'giving it all away' to angry customers.  

Encouraging a culture of value creation and generosity in your organization might have some unexpected and exciting consequences for your employees and your bottom line.  Here's a look at some of the things we do at 

Be passionate about providing value to your customers

No customer likes to be on the phone with a call center agent that is unable to solve their problems.  Empower your employees with the ability to make important decisions and take immediate action to make things right.

There are many smart ways to provide value to your customers, but it all starts with being passionate about customer satisfaction and providing amazing experiences.  When your team is in alignment with these goals, the rest easily falls into place.

We work hard to ensure that every customer service team member is able to tackle the day-to-day challenges that arise after a customer places a complex, custom order like window coverings.

From being pro-active in alerting customers of delivery issues or unexpected back orders to spending the time required for a deep research dive on an order status with hyper-communicative updates, we train the team extensively to do the right thing for our customers and make it an easy experience.

There are, of course, moments in any business where things go wrong and customers become upset. 

This means crediting back to a customer's credit card to apologize for a much-delayed order or replacing products entirely (even if they're not under warranty!) when the situation merits it.  Agents do these things on their own, without management's approval in most cases, as we have trained them well and given them the power to empathetically take control of any situation.

Be generous to your community and have fun!

It's inspiring to see how your call center employees can rally behind causes they believe in!  One of the most rewarding programs we have implemented at is our 'Pay It Forward' customer program.  

Perhaps it's happened to you. A customer calls in and shares a personal story of a challenge or tragedy in their family that truly touches your team.  Beyond offering words of encouragement and a fantastic customer experience, what else can you offer that customer to truly make a positive impact in their world?

Our team uses the 'Pay It Forward' program to nominate customers to receive specials perks or gifts from our company within their quarterly budget.  We have sent chew toys and humorous  cards to customers who had to replace their blinds because of a naughty puppy.   

Employees have even taken it upon themselves to collect personal funds to send money to families who have lost everything in natural disasters or to help sponsor a family movie night outing to offer an evening of normalcy for children who are struggling with an parent's illness.

You can take it farther, of course, in supporting employees' favorite charities and providing nonprofit volunteer opportunities to reach an even greater slice of the world.  Allow your team to take the lead on what community initiatives to champion and celebrate their successes and involvement.  It will mean the world to your employees and to the people they impact.

Encourage a culture of giving within your organization

We enjoy an incredibly low turnover rate at (under 4% annually) in part due to a positive, collaborative work environment.

Employees give to each other on a daily basis, whether through peer training, daily coaching sessions or by mentoring each other. While there is always healthy competitiveness, especially as we openly share employees' metrics and salaries with one another, this competition also drives employees reaching out to one another to share their best practices with each other.

To drive this spirit of employee giving home, our employees share weekly 'You WOW-ed Me' cards to recognize the 'little things' that they do for one another.  These cards are distributed privately and are greatly cherished as they celebrate moments like 'you calmed me down after a rough call and that meant a lot to me' or 'you referred a sale to me and that really made my day' or even statements like 'your success this week inspired me to try new skills and improve as well!'

Imagine a working culture where collaboration and helpfulness thrive on all levels, there is a tremendous power in actively growing and participating in a generous call center culture.  You'll love the results you see!

Customer Contact East Webinar Recap

By Lindsey Walker
Integrated Marketing Solutions Coordinator
Frost & Sullivan

On January 28, 2015, Frost & Sullivan’s Principal Analyst in Customer Contact, Michael DeSalles, led an engaging panel discussion titled: Dynamic Customer-Centric Strategies: 10 Strategies in 20 Minutes. Michael was joined by Cippy Seidler, the Call Center Director at Banner Health, and Sean Albertson, the Director of Performance and Technology at ViaSat. Both presenters delivered their insight on how to engage your customers, and interestingly enough, many of their tips started with engaging your employees first.  Below, are each speaker’s biggest takeaways from the webinar.

1.    Focus on the journey of your employees

Siedler’s main point was that any successful company and leadership team should focus on the journey of the employee by “engaging their hearts and minds,” helping them transition from an “agent” to an “ambassador,” while moving away from the “transitional job” stigma that call center jobs often carry. Creating a supportive employee environment, with an actively involved leadership program, is one of Siedler’s critical recommendations for supporting her employees. “By giving them the tools they need to be successful it provides a lot more opportunities down the road.” Siedler invests in the journey of her employees, and focuses primarily on creating trust and a sense of accountability by setting clear expectations for both sides. This, inherently leads to employees being more likely to participate in advanced training, peer training, and in turn, becoming an “ambassador, or role model,”  for their company.

2.    Capture the voice of your customer

Albertson’s insight provided another look at focusing on the customer experience, and capturing the true voice of the customer, while searching through an over-saturation of data in the information age. Albertson believes that sorting through the seemingly endless amounts of data “noise” to find value, is extremely important to understand and find the main voice of the customer. The key, is finding “anecdotal data at a human level” and “leveraging resources to support this data statistically” to add value to the business. An organization perceives the voice of the customer program differently amongst each department and sales channel, so it’s important to understand each department’s needs, and “report effectively” by bringing in real examples of customers’ specific stories. When simply using surveys, employees only get a broad overview of a customer’s level of satisfaction. With a little “elbow grease” to dig up the actual experiences and additional feedback from their customers, employees are able to see trends in what specific customers are looking for, and then to appropriately tailor their approaches to increase customer satisfaction and retention.

Visit to hear the rest of Cippy and Sean’s dynamic customer-centric strategies, in addition to their answers from the audience question and answer session!  Additionally, you can gain real world insight and experience by meeting  the presenters in person at the 11th Annual Customer Contact 2015 East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange on April 12-15, 2015, in sunny, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Visit for more information and instructions for registering for the event.

A Customer-Centric Culture Begins from Within

By Shep Hyken

Chief Amazement Officer
Shepard Presentations

There are many great companies that are considered “rock stars” in customer service, winning awards and accolades – Amazon, Southwest Airlines and for example. But for me, one company stands out above the rest, and that shining star of customer service is Ace Hardware.

It’s no secret that Ace Hardware offers outstanding, helpful customer service – the JD Power award is very public recognition for a job well done. But if you look at Ace Hardware stores and then compare them to the competition, you realize that it is a different kind of success story. It’s David vs. Goliath. Ace competes against “Big Box” stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot with larger stores, more inventory and bigger advertising budgets, and Ace is still able to compete and prosper in the market. The secret is in the customer service. Ace Hardware relies on its special brand of helpful customer service – and that service starts from within.

I have talked and written a lot about how to create a customer-centric culture. My basic premise is that you must start on the inside, with the employees. To be the best place to shop, you must first be the best place to work. It comes down to this:

Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated – maybe even better!

I call this the Employee Golden Rule, and it is the key to creating a company that is customer-focused. Ace Hardware understands this and lives it every day. Before Ace retailers expect their employees to deliver helpful customer service, they embody that same type of engagement for the employees. Managers are encouraged to get to know their employees and find out what’s going on in their lives and offer support and assistance. In turn, that is exactly what the employee is to do for each customer who walks through the door.

There are some other steps to follow to complete the process of creating a customer-centric culture. Here are some of the basics:

  • Define the culture. Ace strives to be helpful. What type of service do you want to offer? It could be a word or a phrase, but you need to put into words what kind of experience you want to deliver to the customer before you can begin to make it happen.

  • Hire the right people. You have to look at more than education and skills if you want employees who will embody a customer-focused culture. Attitude and personality have to be the right fit as well.

  • Communicate and train. Translate your ideal customer experience into simple terms. Formulate a simple, memorable statement that everyone will understand, and then share it with your employees. Your employees come to you with varied skills and experience, and it’s up to you to train them in your core values and customer service expectations. And this means everyone – management included.

  • Be an example. Everyone – but leaders in particular – should step up their customer service and be role models for those around them. Management should treat the employees with the same respect and dignity that should be afforded to the customer, and employees should serve each other as well.

  • Empower employees to succeed. You have hired the right people and trained them in your customer service expectations. Once they have the tools, trust them and give them the freedom to meet your expectations in their own individual style. Don’t overburden them with rules that get in the way.

  • Celebrate success. Let your employees know when they are doing well, both individually and as a group. Everyone loves appreciation. It could come in the form of an awards dinner, recognition in the company newsletter, or – do this one often – simply by saying “thank you”. Recognition is a great motivator and will encourage employees to continue doing a great job or even step it up to a higher level.

Remember, what gets rewarded and reinforced becomes part of the company’s culture. The internal culture of a company is the secret to delivering customer service. You can have all of the tools and techniques in the world, but they won’t make a difference if customer service isn’t deeply rooted in the company culture.