Friday, May 13, 2016

Delivering Insanely Helpful Customer Service

By Ed Ariel

Vice President
Customer Service


Customer acquisition and customer retention are two sides of a coin that, if done properly, can lead to organizational success. Traditionally, customer acquisition has been the domain of the marketing and sales departments. Customer retention can live anywhere from that same marketing group, a churn department, the revenue retention team, or even a small team within the customer service department.

To show true retention results and to reduce costs, successful companies need to use customer retention tactics in every customer service experience.

At ezCater, we define customer service as successfully anticipating the customer's needs and making their lives easier. That’s right. The goal is not to make only their experience with ezCater easier. The goal is to make their actual lives easier.  You will notice I didn’t say that we “Wow the Customer” or that ezCater’s goal is to offer “World Class Customer Service.”  These industry buzzwords sound great, but do not offer enough specifics to drive the right action.

At ezCater, we take two primary approaches to create a lasting relationship with our customers:

  • We use automation to replace activities that were previously the responsibility of the customer
  • Or, when automation doesn’t work, we encourage our team to be “insanely helpful” in everything they do

Using Automation to Replace Customer Activities

ezCater is the only nationwide marketplace for business catering.  When our customers are looking for catering options for their business meetings, training sessions, or business events, ezCater provides nationwide choices through our website.

Previously, if a business had a catering need, they were faced with a time-consuming process: try to find a caterer, place the order, contact the caterer for any changes, confirm the order the day before or day of, and then work with the caterer on any issues that arise.

ezCater automates most of that process.  A little under half of orders placed through our website are 100% automated. As ezCater has grown, we have been able to increase the percentage of orders that are 100% automated.

We’ve managed to automate many elements of the ordering process, including sending the order to the caterer, getting confirmation of order acceptance, making changes to the order, and receiving a confirmation the day of the order.  This saves time and makes the ordering process easier for both the customer AND the caterer.

Being “Insanely Helpful” When Automation Doesn’t Work

When manual customer service intervention is needed, we keep our core principles in mind.  The actions we take at this point must anticipate the customers’ needs and make their lives easier.  If a caterer tells us that they can’t fulfill a specific item, we get the available replacement options and call the customer with those choices.  If a caterer tells us the delivery truck has broken down and they can’t deliver an order at all, we find two or three different caterers, confirm they can do a last minute order, and contact the customer with the alternative options. Without ezCater, the customer would need to take time to research these issues themselves. ezCater anticipates the customers’ needs and makes their lives easier.

In these non-automated cases, we take the opportunity to build the relationship with the customer.  Our customer service agents are the best in their field and they are comfortable spending a brief portion of the call establishing a relationship with the customer.  We are there to help the customer, we love doing it, and we want the customer to know.

Does Transforming the Customer’s Journey Give ezCater A Competitive Advantage?

Does it ever!

Once a customer experiences our refined and improved customer journey, he’s hooked. Among customers that have used our service at least three times, the re-order rate is well above the industry average.

We encourage our customers to rate and review the caterer after every order and then use this data as part of our caterer rankings on the website.

We also ask our customers to rate ezCater on Trustpilot, a third-party review site.

Almost 87% of the ezCater Trustpilot reviews are five stars and 98% of our Trustpilot reviews are four or five stars. Many of these reviews point to our “insanely helpful” customer service as a differentiator.

ezCater has created a competitive advantage in the area of customer satisfaction and customer retention by ensuring that every feature we introduce, every change we make, and every employee we hire is focused on maintaining our core values. We keep our focus on building the customer relationship, using automation whenever possible, and delivering “insanely helpful” customer service. Everything we do is in service of making our customers’ daily jobs easier and improving their lives—and that has given us a huge competitive advantage as we continue to rapidly grow.

Ed is a Customer Service Expert with over 20 years of success driving profits, quality and customer satisfaction to record levels.  His background includes customer focused leadership roles at Fidelity Investments and AT&T overseeing multiple teams and projects designed to improve efficiencies and add value to customers.

How To Create An Innovation-Based Service Culture

By Martin Hill-Wilson

Brainfood Consulting

It’s a truism that we live in a world of change. Within customer service there is a never ending conveyor belt of new things to digest. For instance, at an event I recently attended, a Director of Global Contact Centres shared that his team had been presented with over 800 change items to absorb over just the last twelve months!

When I think about the most disruptive technology for contact centres, my current vote goes to a product which is a mash up of some powerful, maturing technologies such as natural language, machine to machine learning, semantic search and predictive analytics with extra spoonfuls of AI pixie dust to boost performance.

This tech is already in play. It’s what the self service mandate has been crying out for. In some sectors, up to 45% of live interaction has been transferred to Intelligent Assistants. In other cases, it’s been used to initiate a customer interaction before dynamically transferring caller and their collected information to a live advisor for more complex discussion.

With that in mind, I’ve been asking audiences recently to consider what this means. How many staff are you going to need after downsizing? What will this mean for the space you currently occupy? What’s the new operating model? Where will you reinvest the savings?  Tough questions to answer against a background of relative stability in the core contact centre model over the last 25-30 years.

The facts suggest contact centres are just as prone to being disrupted as the organisations they serve. If so then an important question has to be asked: How are you going to survive when your industry’s version of a fintech disrupter comes knocking on your door?

If Anyone’s Going To Disrupt, It’s Going To Be Me!

My answer is to take your medicine early and get into the game of disrupting your own service organisation. However, this time professionalise your approach.  Here are some pointers.

I know from three years of taking teams through the P&Q Challenge that the current command and control culture that underpins the efficiency agenda within contact centres smothers creativity by encouraging conformance. I also know there is an almost instant response from front line teams as soon as the leash is removed and they are invited to become co-creators in the greater mission of achieving service excellence.

They hear the customer voice every day. Why has that not been a prime source of innovation over the years? One of the answers is that we hold very narrow views about what a productive person does during their working day.
Adobe has recently rediscovered this latent creativity. They launched Kickbox to empower all employees to become innovators. It works like this.

  1. Any employee can request one and managers cannot veto a request

  2. Recipients are sent a red box containing an innovation 'toolkit': a chocolate bar, a  $10 Starbucks card, Post-it notes, a notebook, a step-by-step innovation manual and a pre-paid credit card with $1,000 to spend as they wish (no receipts are required)

  3. Recipients are challenged to use the toolkit to help them present an innovation idea to senior colleagues. After trials that proved the ROI, in January 2015 Adobe made Kickbox public, enabling anyone to download the materials for free.
This new face of employee engagement moves everything up a notch. 3M has been doing it for years of course. We have Post-its as a result. Google famously allows individuals time to innovate using their own agendas.

If we tend to have our best ideas in the shower or during a walk or run, how can we trigger this creativity for the reinvention of customer service? To answer that, we need to be prepared to disrupt what we assume are the ‘untouchables’ in the customer service environment. The way that time is used. The way we use information. The organisation of the working environment. The goals that we set.

Let the Force Be With You

I’ve just read a fascinating interview with Hilary Scarlett who translates the latest neuroscience into change management tactics. She makes a lot of great points. Many of which I’ve learned over the years as a practitioner, but it’s great to see them validated.

She rightly says that top down change triggers a survival response which starves the thinking and feeling part of our brains. This makes us distracted and unproductive. We all know how weird we are after being excluded from a meeting. We start to worry despite the fact that when we are included it’s often boring and all we want to do is escape!

So, in tune with my own instincts, she is a big fan of co-creation. Let everyone get involved as early as possible. Shaping decisions helps us feel in control and remain part of the tribe rather than becoming a fearful outsider. It is also interesting that she notes the negative impact words such as transformation and change have on us. Fight/flight takes over. Instead talk about doing things differently.
She also makes important points about the psychology of success. We like to win. And do so frequently since it boosts self esteem and motivation. Short sprints really work so maybe there is something in the current fascination for agile behaviour!

This also implies that if we encourage people to innovate we need to reframe those outcomes. Some will work, some won’t. Some for now, maybe some for later. None of them however are failures. Everything learned has a value in the world of innovation. 

Parting Thoughts

So, get a head of the curve and start to challenge your own service organisation to see its future through new eyes. Unleash the innovative spirit you are currently blocking and help people nurture their creative instincts with tangible ways to innovative as Adobe’s Kickbox showed.

Consider the tips that Hilary Scarlett makes about how to establish the right culture to nurture innovation. I think she’s on the money.

Martin Hill-Wilson  is a customer engagement and post-silo business strategist. He is also an author, international keynote speaker and chair.  Working under his own brand, Brainfood Consulting, he delivers a range of master classes and interventions. Current topics include empowered service cultures, omni-channel design, automation and self service, proactive service models, mobile and social customer service.  All targeted at delivering disruptive service innovation.

Planning for the Future of the Customer Contact Center: Top 10 Take-Aways from 12th Annual Customer Contact, East: A Frost & Sullivan
Executive MindXchange

The challenge of serving an increasingly empowered customer and the ongoing technological transformations affecting call centers were just two of the key issues participants discussed at 12th Annual Customer Contact, East:
A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange
, Transformational Customer Engagement was the theme of this year’s event.

Here we present just some of the take-aways our highly engaged participants discussed. Be sure to leverage them at your own organization to prepare for the change and disruption the Customer Contact industry is currently experiencing, and to more fully serve your customers today…and tomorrow.

  1. When it comes to great customer experiences and contact center development, you need to be thinking about what the day after tomorrow will bring

  2. It is important to integrate all CX platforms to create a seamless experience and leverage VOC to drive your strategy

  3. Excellent customer experience comes from transforming the company from product -centric to customer-centric

  4. Empathy is the key ingredient for creating a culture of authentic and engaged agents

  5. How do you change the future? Change the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in

  6. Effective Net promoter scores start with getting your team to evangelize, and making sure your agents understand what you and your organization are trying to do

  7. In this era of techno consumerism and the Internet of things, heralding higher customer expectations and demand, you must provide self-serve solutions to meet the demand of always being connected

  8. Don't underestimate the value of customer data! Use it to implement and create value for your customers!

  9. Customer service departments deserve much praise for their huge impact on business and clients and we must pay more to improve business outcomes

  10. We must create a data-centric, self-optimizing world where we can get the right data at the right time to the customer
Don’t miss the 12th Annual Customer Contact, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange. Taking place in Tuscon, Arizona. Click here to learn more and register.

How Can Employee Motivation Turn Into A Competitive Advantage?

By Nina Bjørlo
Head of Customer Service
DHL Express, Norway

We have all experienced good and bad customer service, and we know what effect this has on us as consumers. We all remember past experiences when we need to contact a company repeatedly. If the service was really bad, we will most likely try the competitor. Working with customer service, this is something we are very much aware of and we are therefore working every day trying to ensure that the customer is happy and satisfied. But how do we do this? How do we make our customer service so outstanding that the customer never wants to use anyone but us?

We always have to start with our people; our employees. The people that serve our customers, handle our products, sell our products, care for our customers’ needs and represent the company. To ensure that they deliver the best service quality possible, we as managers need to focus on our employees and their motivation. We need to nurture the diversity in our workforce, give recognition and good training and lay the ground work for further development and learning. We need to be available, approachable and present for our team.

Training is essential whether you work in customer service or any other department. A good initial training is vital, but continuous coaching and learning is a key factor for employees to thrive.  The goal of the manager should be to increase the competence and confidence of the work force. And it is not enough to say the right words. We need to mean it, and live it. And it starts at the top. Managers need to lead by example, be open to suggestions and feedback from everybody, every day. The feedback needs to be precise and with examples of the impact; on you, the customer or anyone else affected. We need to show that we care, not only in words, but also in actions.

When employees feel that they are heard, taken seriously, trusted and respected, they will also go a further step in performing their own tasks. They will take more ownership and personal interest in delivering top results and great quality. They will feel sick to the stomach if something goes wrong, and do all in their power to fix the problem. If the agents are also empowered to fix problems for the customers instead of always needing to get approvals from their managers, they feel motivated, trusted and valued. When they are involved in decisions, trusted to represent management and themselves in meetings and other forums, they will take their service to the next level.  The customers will notice this and feel valued and respected by the employees. Seeing that the service and communication is top notch, the customer might leave the interaction feeling more like a business partner rather than a customer. This means they will not even consider using the competitors; it will make your company the only natural option and first choice.

For the company, it is all about creating the customer experience. How does the customer see you as their partner with no other options? The quality, the service and the human interaction is the key to everything. Training is essential; everything needs to start with a great induction. The platform should not only consist of the actual task the employee needs to know, but should include cross-functional knowledge, cultural understanding of the business, and historical knowledge of the company - they need to feel the company under their skin. Why? Because they need to know in order to understand the company from top to toe. This will benefit the customers every time they are in contact with your company. Let the employees know that the initial training is only the beginning, it will continue. The employees need to know that they are important to the company and that they really have an impact on the customer’s lives. The workforce should both know and feel that they are the currency of the company and that the company’s best interest is for them to grow, learn and improve. For the customer, this means that their experience will be filled with knowledgeable, polite and helpful agents, wanting to give the best service every time, every day. 

By coaching and developing your employees through feedback, interactive meetings, and on-the-floor presence from management, you will increase their knowledge and reduce the errors made and unlock the employees’ potential. You will build confidence and uncover areas that need improvement faster. And by setting goals and celebrating successes and achievements, you will engage the employees to help pull for those great results and that great service. Always be open with your employees about your strategies and what you want to achieve, make them involved and understand how you want to work. Listen to and ask for their ideas, and make sure you as management stick to the strategy and road map at any given time. 

If you as a customer are in contact with a company where the employees take pride in their work, have fun at their job and have a personal interest in making you as a customer successful – you will never want to be a customer anywhere else. You might even end up being proud of choosing a top notch and high quality product for your business. And if we manage to make the customer proud of picking our company – we have an upper hand on our competitors that they will have a hard time fighting. And, we all want to have a competitive advantage, don’t we?

Nina Bjorlo has built her career on a genuine interest in customer experience, employee engagement and motivation. Nina focuses on her skills in change management, coaching, learning and development. She enforces a balanced respect and result driven leadership, with a focus and combination of both. She has a strong belief that if you empower and respect your employees, you will get the results you need.

Three Times You Can Get in the Way of Your Customer’s Journey

By Ashley Conway
Senior Director
Customer Experience


WeddingWire recently created a cross-functional Journey Map of our wedding professional clients, our B2B customer base (engaged couples are our B2C audience). The Marketing team printed out this colorful, impressive document and placed it on my desk for feedback. I circulated this document to my Management team for any additional commentary. Not long after, one of my managers hurried over with water dripping off the edges of the paper, colors bleeding together. “I ruined the journey!” she panicked.

While we like to tease her about this innocent spill, the real moral of this story is that it’s usually the company that ruins the journey, not the customer. Below are three examples of “fail fast” moments that can steer your customers in the wrong direction.

Leaving Your Customer at the Altar

Your product experts are likely your own employees. They interact with and think about the product all day long, so it’s easy to misinterpret how intuitive that product or service is or what success should look like. WeddingWire identified that our customers were purchasing our product, but didn’t necessarily understand what tools were available within their accounts and how to utilize them. To solve for this, WeddingWire created a Customer Success team to ensure that customers received a formal onboarding of tips, tools and best practices; this maximized the value of the customer’s investment and increased membership renewal rates. Providing a valuable service, without instruction, works against both our and the customer’s goals.

When Data Becomes the Ol’ Ball and Chain

In a world where many organizations have data on their data, it’s easy to look to reports and dashboards to inform companies how to map out their Customer Journey. In WeddingWire's case, our data was telling us that feature adoption was a significant needle-mover on reducing churn rates. Feature adoption rates grew at a steady clip - our customers were using everything! Why then did feature adoption stop correlating to lower churn rates? It turns out that while we were emphasizing what the data said was important, we stopped asking the customer what was important - the journey is only useful if the customer actually wants to take it. When we blended customer goals along with the data, we found that specific product engagement mattered a lot more than exposing them to everything the account had to offer. The Journey Map was adjusted to account for the “why” a customer was using the features rather than simply the usage for usage’s sake.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Something B, Where’s Your Something C?

In traditional B2B organizations, it’s easy to consider the relationship for its transactional value. We are actually all C’s - even if we are a B. Businesses are comprised of people, who have wants, needs, perspectives and emotions (even in a business setting); it’s essential to keep the person who consumes your product or service in mind as well as the business that benefits from it. We believed that if the product produced results,that meant a strong business relationship. What we were missing was the personal relationship they wanted to have with our brand - they wanted to be heard, to be part of the process. We’ve strengthened the relationship with our customers by proactively asking for feedback and closing the loop with product updates. This confirms to them that we’re a valuable business partner with a personal investment in their business -- that they have been heard and are an equal part of the process.

As our understanding of the journey evolves, we continue to update our mapping and processes to match. Don’t print out your journey - it might get wet.

Ashley Conway serves as WeddingWire's Senior Director of Customer Experience — responsible for the team actively focused on onboarding, product usage, best practices, training and developing long-term relationships with WeddingWire customers. Ashley holds a B.S. in Finance from Miami University.

Frost & Sullivan 2016 Customer Service Excellence
Program Continues—Apply Today!

Complete your application now - it takes only a few minutes and there's no cost whatsoever! Our customers are excited and responding with great interest to the recently announced launch of Frost & Sullivan's 2016 Customer Service Excellence Recognition Program and we don't want you to miss out on the opportunity. This program identifies and recognizes best-in-class companies, organizations, and leaders for their excellence in customer experience strategy and implementation.

Digital transformation of customer experiences is a major strategic initiative for B2C and B2B organizations across industries. Based on our research, we have identified five key areas that businesses are looking at to drive differentiated customer experiences in 2016 and beyond. These are:

  1. Omnichannel Customer Experience
  2. Mobile Customer Care
  3. Web Customer Care
  4. Social Media Customer Support
  5. Customer Engagement Analytics
Best-in-class brands continue to raise the bar for highly personalized and effortless customer experiences in these areas. These experiences help cement long-term customer relationships and build greater brand loyalty and advocacy. As a result, these companies are able to attract, retain, and grow more customers than their competitors, while keeping service costs lower.

Companies will be vetted through a rigorous two-stage evaluation process. The first stage will involve completing an application questionnaire. The questions posed will cover a range of customer engagement capabilities and business outcomes.  Responses will be scored and graded against other applicants within each of the five categories.  Companies can choose to apply in one or more categories, provided responses are complete for each section.

Companies that qualify will then move to the second stage for evaluation by a judging panel. The panel of judges will include experts from the industry and Frost & Sullivan research analysts.

Selected winners will be recognized at the Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact West Executive MindXchange in October, 2016.

Recognition Categories Overview

  1. Omnichannel Customer Experience: This category will recognize companies for excellence in Omnichannel Customer Service strategy and implementation. This takes into account current and future customer engagement capabilities in traditional and digital channels.
  2. Mobile Customer Care: This category will recognize companies for excellence in customer care in mobile customer interaction channels. These include mobile apps, messaging, and integrated self-service and assisted service capabilities.
  3. Web Customer Care: This category will recognize companies for excellence in online customer engagement. This includes web self-service, chat, and integrated customer collaboration and support capabilities.
  4. Social Media Customer Support: This category will recognize companies for excellence in social media customer service. This includes internal channels such as customer communities and support forums, as well as external channels such as Facebook and other social media sites.
  5. Customer Engagement Analytics: This category will recognize companies for excellence in leveraging analytics to deliver differentiated customer experiences, while driving improvements in operational KPIs for the organization.
Nominate your company today to be considered for this honorable recognition. Visit: