Great Customer Service Starts with Great CSRs
In today’s highly competitive catalog arena, service has become a make-or-break proposition for many companies—not a nicety.
To stay in the game, it’s imperative that catalogers provide real service to their customers, not just lip service. “Service should benefit the customer, not just be a marketing tactic for the company,” says telemarketing consultant Liz Kislik, of Liz Kislik Associates.
“Failing to meet this need by providing inadequately trained and/or non-service oriented [customer service] reps will guarantee failure,” adds Frank Fuhrman, director of sales, customer contact services, for DialAmerica Marketing, a telemarketing firm in Mahwah, NJ. The firm works with catalogers in the giftware, accessories and clothing markets. He notes that by providing appropriately trained reps who are focused on exceeding customer needs, catalogers can ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Two service-oriented trends Kislik sees impacting the industry right now: More catalogers trying what she calls a “service-y sell” on the phone, and catalogers tying their call centers to their Web sites to provide another avenue for serving customers.
A Case Study in Service: Lands’ End
At Lands’ End, the Dodgeville, WI-based catalog well known for its customer service, Jean Ballweg, Internet business analyst, says, “Customer service is our highest priority and always has been since I’ve been here.”
Ballweg, an 11-year veteran of the company who used to work in the telemarketing area, says that the company still operates under the customer service philosophy originally adopted by founder and chairman Gary Comer and preserved in Lands’ End’s Eight Principles of Doing Business.
The Eight Principles are posted in the call center and throughout the facilities, as well as on the Web site. Ballweg calls special attention to principle five, which states, “We believe that what is best for our customer is best for all of us.”
“Everyone here understands that concept. Our sales and service people are
trained to know our products and to be friendly and helpful. They are urged to take all the time necessary to take care of you. We even pay for your call, for whatever reason you call,” Ballweg says.
Says Ballweg, “We view customer service from the customer standpoint rather than a business standpoint.” According to Ballweg, Lands’ End doesn’t give great service as a marketing ploy just to make itself look good. It really wants to serve its customer so that it can keep them happy and loyal. She continues, “We’re not looking to achieve certain numbers goals, other than perhaps some business basics like striving to answer over 90 percent of our calls in less than one ring. Our CSRs are not measured by numbers like how many calls they handle.”
Well-Trained People Are the Key
Lands’ End’s CSRs receive extensive training. “We try to train them to give each customer the ultimate in special treatment,” says Ballweg. Preferential treatment on the phone includes communicating the feel of the fabric—”things you can’t really do as effectively online or in print,” adds Ballweg.
To facilitate this, training includes 70 to 80 hours of product and systems instruction. An additional continuing education program, of two to four hours a month, provides Lands’ End’s teleservice reps with the information they need to communicate effectively with customers.
The company also has what it calls Specialty Shoppers—in essence, second-tier product experts in the call center. “They are available to answer detailed product questions, such as ‘will this sweater match those pants,’” Ballweg says. These reps have all the products available to them in the room where they sit, and regular reps can ask for their advice or transfer a call over, she explains.
Lands’ End operates all of its telemarketing and Web customer service in-house for a very good reason, says Ballweg. “Very simply, it’s a service reason for keeping our call center and customer service in-house. We want to control the level of quality.”
Ballweg relates the gist of a sign that hangs in the call center: “’You will never be reprimanded for doing something for our customer.’ Sometimes our reps bring that one to our attention when they’re handling a call for a customer!”
A Dash of the Web for Good Measure
“The Web has given our customers alternate channels to reach us, and we want to make it as pleasant and service-oriented an experience as possible.” One feature Ballweg highlights is called Lands’ End Live, which was implemented on the Web site in September 1999. Customers can click on the Lands’ End Live icon for collaborative shopping via live chat or a return phone call. “We can even walk them through the site—when they allow us to,” she says.
The company uses a mix of dedicated reps and cross-trained reps to handle its customer service needs on the phone and Web. “Telemarketing and Web customer service are always working together, hand-in-hand with each another,” says Ballweg. “It’s taken a while to get there, but it’s important moving forward if we’re going to service our customers.”
Along those lines, technology still in development may one day make Lands’ End’s customer service even more seamless than it already is today. “We’re presently looking at a major new technology investment that will treat each customer individually,” says Ballweg. “It would help to support our one-call concept to empower every rep to handle any kind of call that comes in at any time.”
3 Steps to Getting the Best from Your CSRs
Here are three tips from Frank Fuhrman of DialAmerica Marketing to ensure CSRs provide good customer service on the phone:
1. The first place to start is with the CSR selection process. By focusing on the needs and expectations of your prospective customers, you can determine the key attributes that you will need to look for in potential CSRs. In addition, determine if any special background or skills (e.g., industry knowledge, sales acumen, etc.) might enhance the contact experience. Then find the best-qualified people to meet the profile you have created.
2. The next step is to develop and implement a training program that will equip your CSRs with the tools and knowledge to succeed. At a basic level, this training should be formalized so that the information provided is consistent and that the expectations of your customers are continually addressed. Product/service knowledge needs to be learned and proficiency-tested. Role playing should be an integral part of the training program. CSRs should have seen their toughest customer in training, prior to answering the phone.
3. The third and most critical step is to implement a thorough, quality-enhancement process for the customer service program. This goes beyond monitoring calls to putting in place a system that evaluates each part of the CSR’s contact with the customer. Once this is in place, share the process and the expectations with your CSRs. This way they will know what is expected of them and how they will be evaluated. This will help to ensure that each call is handled with the same high level of service that your customers expect from your company.