Customer Experience News & Trends

Customer experience is getting better — and this is the reason why

Customers agree: The experience is improving these days — and there’s one good reason for it.

You might be surprised to know that customers don’t credit omni-channel service, faster technology or ease of access for improving their experiences. Instead, they chalk it up to the people at the front of it all.

Nearly 60% of customers say that their relationships with companies are “enhancing and improving,” according to a recent Strativity Group Inc. study. The top reasons behind the improvements to their relationships with favorite companies are the culture within the organization and commitment of the people, the study found.

“The people side of the equation is the most important part,” said Lior Arussy, CEO of Strativity Group. “However, that is the area companies are less likely to put their resources. Instead, they often focus on other areas like technology when they should be investing in people.”

Award-winning training

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s Retirement Solutions unit is one that gets the importance of investing in the people. Continual training, high customer service standards and a reward-driven environment has helped it create an award-winning program.

Just recently, the service team was recognized for the third year for providing An Outstanding Customer Service Experience by the J.D. Power Certified Call Center Program.

“We put a lot of stock in our people,” says Kim Flemm, VP and head of operations at Guardian Retirement Solutions. “But what we put out, we get back 10 fold from them. And our customers get the best of that.”

The major key for Guardian: A strong training program for customer service professionals. Here are the keys:

1. Start strong

New hires are usually recruited through a temp agency that identifies employees with strong customer service skills, not necessarily industry or technical knowledge — because the latter two can be taught on the job, but a positive service attitude can’t be.

A trainer takes them through some classroom training that covers Guardian products and services and the technical side of handling customer inquiries and issues. It’s no cakewalk, though. New employees get piles of information a little at a time and are quizzed so they retain it for when they’re on the job.

Then they sit side-by-side with a trainer or a veteran service rep for around two weeks, first observing how the job is done (and done well), then helping some customers.

When Flemm and her trainers see that the new reps can handle at least the most basic contacts, they let them take on more responsibility, handling customers by themselves — but never without help close at hand.

2. Back it up

Here’s where job aids come in to play. Flemm and her team create and constantly update an online “library” with the newest company and industry information and even the basics that can fall by the wayside as time goes by.

They update the internal online library, plus the old-fashioned written tools that reps keep at an arm’s reach.

3. Provide support

Like any business, Guardian’s products and services change or are updated quite a bit. Naturally, reps need to stay on top of that evolving information.

So when a new product is launched, about five reps are put into a group and pulled from handling customers as demand allows. The trainer goes over the information, and when time allows again, another group is pulled together to learn.

That information is backed up while reps are on the job by “subject matter experts” — usually veteran reps who can roam the contact center and be called on for some help if a rep on the front line needs it when working with a customer on the new product.

4. Give time to grow

The learning doesn’t stop in the customer service center, either. To help reps expand their knowledge of Guardian and avoid burnout, Flemm schedules them time off phones and email every day to follow up on some customer issues or cases that they alone couldn’t handle at first.

They use the time to either call, work online or visit folks in other departments who need to be involved in fully resolving the customer issues and cases. At the same time, they get to see how other departments operate and understand all the processes within the organization.

“It helps them recognize areas they’d like to work in,” Flemm says, “perhaps it’s Finance or Processing. It’s an eye-opening experience for them.”

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