Thursday, September 7, 2017

Cancellation - the final step in a long and drawn out process

Dealing with customers that want to cancel is hard. I know - I'm personally in the midst of trying to cancel my Television/Internet service & trying to keep my frustration in check is difficult to say the least! - however, this blog is not about the customer experience, but rather how to ensure that the customer does not feel the way they do!

But ... that being said, my situation does make for a great case study so lets explore exactly what happened & where we are now.

I was a happy customer with my local Television/Internet provider (Cogeco) and paying about $100/mo for their services which I though reasonable.  However this price was based on a 1 yr promotion, so when that year was up and the price jumped to $189, I thought it would be reasonable to see if they would match the prices being offered by their competitors.  In addition, the promotion for new customers now was $75 or something like that, for similar services - unfortunately they were not willing to meet anywhere close to that, and the best they could offer was a $20/mo loyalty discount, bringing my price down to $169.

Well, as you can imagine, I started to look around.  While I was happy with the service, the price was too high in comparison to other businesses.

Fast forward a couple of months and I'd moved to another company and called Cogeco to cancel my service.  I was informed that because I'd taken advantage of the $20 promotion, I'd have to pay a penalty of $70 to cancel.  Doing some quick math in my head, I figured that it would still be worth it as I'd make that back in one month with the new company.  However, the "cancellation specialist" informed me that if I waited till the end of the month, I'd be able to skip the cancellation fee which seemed like a smart move for me.

Today takes us to my 2nd call to a different "cancellation specialist" where I'm now informed that I'm still going to be stuck with that cancellation fee and I've actually ended up paying for an additional 3 weeks of service with a company that I could not even use as their equipment was literally unplugged from the wall!

At this point, I'm willing to bite the bullet with the cancellation fee just to move on, but I don't want to also have to pay for those extra weeks of service as that would have only made sense if I wasn't paying the cancellation fee!  So I've asked for an escalation to the manager (which they cannot do, but promise a 24hr call back ... stay tuned).

So long story short, lets reiterate some of the pain points and issues:

  1. Special Offers - special offers are a great tool to entice new business to an organization and the discounts to get customers on board are absolutely essential.  However, when an offer ends and the price doubles, you can expect customers to leave.  You might get some people that just ignore the increase, but not too many I suspect.  If and when customers do call in to discuss the offer, reasonable discounts should be made available to entice them to stay, perhaps even enhancements to the service - Netflix for example, or increased bandwidth or something along those lines.
  2. Hold Times - I didn't really discuss it in my scenario above, but my hold time was close to 30 - 45 minutes + the time spent discussing the issue with the individual.  This did not help my mood at all, and I expect that the reason for the extreme hold time was very much due to #1 above!
  3. Copious Notes & Details + Follow Through - I unfortunately spent too much time once I spoke to the representative repeating myself with regards to the fact that my issue was not the $70 cancellation fee, but rather the discrepancy in information between the previous representative and this one and that I was now on the hook for an additional service charge for a service that I had not been using.
  4. Unwillingness to help an existing customer - despite my previous point about special offers, there is actually a cost to the business in terms of churn.  By not making me a competitive offer, not only have they lost my business now (short term), they've also lost my potential business in terms of upsell opportunities in the longer term also.  Not to mention this post and it's potential damage overall!  It would have been far simpler and better for them if they were up front right from the start and said there was nothing they could do - sure they would have lost my revenue for a couple of months, but they might have potentially had me return in 6-12 months to take advantage of any "new" customer promotions that they might have then been offering.  

So that's the scenario, what could they have done differently to not get me to the point where I'm airing my dirty laundry in public?

  1. Allow their staff to negotiate in good faith in an effort to truly retain customers.  A 10% discount on a bill is not really any incentive when the competition is offering 50%.  Something reasonable like 25%-30% would probably ensure that customers were retained, while still helping to maintain the bottom line.
  2. If $'s are not available in terms of incentives, offer additional services that the client might not even need or use as a benefit.  It's a bit of a cheat, but increasing bandwidth is a great selling point if you know that it is not going to be utilized as then the customer believes they are getting something "better" but there is no real impact to the business.
  3. Staff your queues appropriately with staff that are trained to not only defuse irate customers, but also able to look for solutions and options.  Customer service is not just about keeping someone quiet - it's about actually helping them.
  4. Remember that your existing customers matter also ... churn hurts a business and having to reacquire customers is not only difficult and time consuming, it's expensive also!  It wastes not only the companies resources, but in this case the consumer also with the reprogramming of devices + the retraining of family members on how to use the devices!
  5. Ensure that your staff provide accurate and reliable information (I'll let you know what the supervisor says if I actually get a call back) so that the message the first time is the same message the second and third!  
  6. Staff your queues appropriately to ensure that hold times are minimized and offer high tech options to customers to get them off queues.  Tools and technologies like chat, knowledge and phone system call backs are all ways of helping to reduce wait times.
That's my 2c for today - stay tuned to see how this one ends up and lets see if they can turn me around.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nine Commandments


Customer service is an integral part of our job and should not be seen as an extension of it. A company’s most vital asset is its customers.

Without them, we would not and could not exist in business. 

When you satisfy our customers, they not only help us grow by continuing to do business with you but recommend you to friends and associates (remember, that while it seems only complaining customers tell others, this isn't actually the case!).

The Key Commandments of Customer Service 

Know who is boss. 

You are in business to service customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your customers want.
When you truly listen to your customers, they let you know what they want and how you can provide good service. Never forget that the customer pays our salary and makes your job possible. 

Be a good listener. 

Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel.

Beware of making assumptions - thinking you intuitively know what the customer wants. It's key here to not only listen to the question itself but also what the questions "means".  A key example is when a customer asks

What time is the 3pm parade?
At first glance, this seems like a stupid question, but when you realize that the customer actually means:
What time does the 3pm parade ARRIVE HERE (where I'm standing)
it makes a lot more sense! (nb. this example is taken from Lessons from the Mouse - a training course that teaches Disney customer service excellence).


Do you know what three things are most important to your customer?

Identify and anticipate needs. 

Customers don't buy products or services.
They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. 
Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs.

Communicate regularly so that you are aware of problems or upcoming needs. Make customers feel important and appreciated. Treat them as individuals. Always use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. People value sincerity. It creates good feeling and trust. Think about ways to generate good feelings about doing business with you. Customers are very sensitive and know whether or not you really care about them. Thank them every time you get a chance.

Help customers understand your systems & terms. 

Stay away from jargon and industry-specific "speak".  While these terms are completely understandable to you with your years of experience - to an outsider they don't make any sense at all!  Remember, you're the expert in your field, but your customer is the expert in theirs and quite often the service you provide to them is not their core business!

Your organization may have the world's best systems for getting things done, but if customers don't understand them, they can get confused, impatient and angry. Take time to explain how your systems work and how they simplify transactions. Be careful that your systems don't reduce the human element of your organization.

Appreciate the power of "Yes". 

Always look for ways to help your customers. When they have a request (as long as it is reasonable) tell them that you can do it. Figure out how afterward. Look for ways to make doing business with you easy. Always do what you say you are going to do.

Know how to apologize. 

When something goes wrong, apologize. It's easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG! Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done.  When a customer makes a mistake, don't make them feel foolish, but rather treat them with dignity.  The key thing to remember here is the Golden Rule:
Treat Others, the way you Want to be Treated

Make it simple for customers to complain. 

Value their complaints. As much as we dislike it, it gives us an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable. Give more than expected. Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition.

Consider the following:
  • What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere? 
  • What can you do to follow-up and thank people even when they don't buy? 
  • What can you give customers that is totally unexpected? 

Get regular feedback. 

Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. There are several ways in which you can find out what customers think and feel about your services - I talk about this in a bit more detail here. Listen carefully to what they say. Check back regularly to see how things are going. Provide a method that invites constructive criticism, comments and suggestions.  Whatever issues are identified need to be addressed and not ignored!

Treat employees well. 

Employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Thank them and find ways to let them know how important they are. Treat your employees with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation stems from the top. Treating customers and employees well is equally important.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The 5 Key Requirements of a Successful Project Manager

1. Be a Leader AND A Manager: 

Leaders share and communicate a common vision (of some future state); they gain agreement and establish the forward direction. Leadership is more than just telling someone what to do - it is inspiring them and motivating them by giving real world examples and ongoing guidance  Good Leaders motivate others. Managers are results driven and focus on getting work done against agreed requirements. A good project manager will constantly switch from a leader to a manager as the situations require. .

2. Be A Team Builder AND A Team Leader: 

Because projects are often cross-functional in that they use people who may not have worked together before. It is up to the project manager to set the ‘tone’ of the team and to lead them through the various team development phases to the point where they perform as a team. Often, the team individuals have their own line manager, and so the PM has no implied authority – yet still needs to motivate the individual. This is particularly true in a ‘Matrix’ organization.

3. Be A Problem Solver: 

This is a skill that can be learned – it just needs a little ‘detective’ work up-front! You will want to first identify the possible ’causes’ that lead to the problem ‘symptom’. I talk a lot about the difference between Incidents and Problems here, but the key thing to remember is that causes can come from a variety of sources. The next step having found the root causes is to analyze possible options and alternatives, and determine the best course of action to take. Take care to agree what ‘best’ really means here!

4. Be A Negotiator AND Influencer: 

Negotiation is working together with other people with the intention of coming to a joint agreement. It doesn’t have to be the eye-ball-to-eye-ball power struggle you may be thinking of! For example getting one of the team to work late to meet a deadline when they would prefer to go to the Ball Game. And for all these, you need to have some influencing skills. Influencing is getting events to happen by convincing the other person that your way is the better way – even if it’s not what they want. Influencing power is the ability to get people to do things they would not do otherwise.

5. Be An Excellent Communicator: 

Being a communicator means recognizing that it’s a two-way street. Information comes into the project and information goes out of the project. A good way of summarizing this is that all communications on your project should be clear and complete. As a project manager, you will have to deal with both written and oral communications. Some examples are documents, meetings, reviews, reports, and assessments. A good mental guideline is “who needs this information, who gathers and delivers it, when or how often do they need it, and in what form will I give it to them”.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

DEALING WITH IRATE AND DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you will receive complaints from customers.  Sometimes these are warranted and sometimes not.  Having the skill and patience to deal with these types of issues is what makes (or breaks) an excellent customer service, technical support & help-desk team.

People working the Customer Service and Helpdesk fields are often at the sharp end of having to deal with angry customers.  One the one hand, some of these customers are just looking for fault or being extremely picky or even those (shudder, dread) chronic complainers who just like to hear their own voice.  I'm not going to discuss those types of people in this post, as although they exist, generally, people who complain about a product or service are ones that have NOT received what they have paid for.  Most people don't enjoy complaining and find it a difficult (and to be avoided) process, so keep this in mind when you are speaking to them.  They are NOT trying to just make your life difficult - they DO have a genuine issue that should be looked into and hopefully addressed.

Difficult customers come in several varieties including (but not limited to) the following: Angry, Impatient, Intimidating, Talkative, Demanding, Indecisive etc... and any (all) combinations you could think of.  Dealing with these extremes is not easy and shouldn’t be considered such, but the key is that they must be dealt with and must be dealt with in a Professional Manner! Just like you cannot change someone else, you cannot control someone else’s behavior.  You have control only over yourself and your own actions. You can, however, influence how customers respond to you though, and I hope that my suggestions below give you some ideas.

Realizing the Issue
Remember that the majority of customers in the world are reasonable people. They may get "difficult" from time to time if they feel they've been let down. It's how you handle them that'll determine if they continue to be a problem or if you can turn them around. Difficult customers and situations usually occur because something has gone wrong.  It's what happens then that'll decide whether they deal with us again or bad mouth us to other people.  As I've mentioned in previous (& will be mentioning again in future) posts, is that the problem you are facing is not the one individual on the phone complaining about their problem.  It is the 10 or more customers that have left without speaking to you because they are dissatisfied!  A very good phrase you see advertised frequently - which you should always keep in mind - goes something like this:

If you are happy with our service, please tell your friends.  If you are unhappy with our service - please tell us!
This should be more than just a trite phrase that gets thrown around.  Companies need to actually believe, understand and live this statement.  The only way you are going to ensure that your customers are happy is by talking to them.  While a customer may be berating you, you still have an opportunity to win them over.  I cannot count the number of times that I have been able to do this and not only keep them with my company, but transform them into my biggest advocates.  Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It's estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.

Turning them Around 
OK, if I've not scared you away already, here’s what you need to do.  The steps below are laid out in a fairly logical fashion (and you will see that some of them overlap in terms of how they work) and is illustrative of most of the cases and situations you will come across.

  1. Control Yourself

  2. Listen

  3. Empathy

  4. Identify the Problem/Issue

  5. Don’t Blame Someone Else!

  6. Resolve the Issue
Let’s explore each of these in a bit greater depth below.

Control

The easiest way to do this is to remember that it’s not YOU!!  When a person complains about something, it’s important to remember that they’re not attacking you personally. It’s the problem they've encountered which is causing the irritation.  This correspondingly maps quite closely to the feedback you should be providing to your staff when they are not performing well and as mentioned in my review of the One Minute Manager .  Never argue with customers when they are angry, displeased or complaining. If you allow a customer to push your buttons and lose control of yourself, you've lost control of the situation. You can lose a good customer if you show boredom, irritation, disdain or displeasure. Remember if a customer is being abusive and difficult, it’s NOT YOU!!  If you can keep this in mind, dealing with them will be significantly easier ... it’s crucial you maintain a respect for the person even if you don’t respect their behavior towards you.  Remember and repeat ... they are NOT mad at YOU!!!  Apologies for the repetition, but this fact is extremely important and more than one Help Desk Manager has gotten flummoxed by the fact that they are taking the issue personally.

Listening

If an angry customer is explaining the situation to you ... let THEM talk.  Do NOTinterrupt them mid-flow to argue a point.  This sounds easier than it actually is as everyone wants to justify themselves or bring up some rationale for a fault ... don’t do it!  Once you've asked the person to explain their problem or issue to you, it’s then crucial that you simply listen without any kind of interruption whatsoever until they've finished. This is the only way that you will get a full picture of the issue from the customers’ point of view.  Remember they are upset and in their eye’s justifiably!  You cannot take that away from them – regardless of what you say.  Its your actions after that will determine how they feel at the end.  More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it's going to die down a little, and that's your opportunity to step in.
Say, "I can tell you're upset..." or, "It sounds like you're angry..." then connect to the customer  by apologizing, or empathizing. When you say something like "I'm sorry that happened. If I were you, I'd be frustrated, too." It's amazing how much of a calming effect that can have.

Empathy

OK, we've already touched upon this a little bit above, but let’s explore this in a bit more depth here.  Put yourself in the customer's shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective. Don't try and cut him off, don't urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.  Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.   Once they've finished their diatribe, it’s important that you try to look at the situation from their perspective. Having not interrupted their flow and by listening intently, it’s already sent a signal to the person that you have listened and that you care about them and the situation they’re facing.

Identification

Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you'll be able to latch right on to the problem because it's clear-cut. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken.  Once you have identified what the problem is, it’s important that you reiterate it to the customer so that they are sure that you have heard them correctly. If you've assumed correctly, the customer will say ‘yes’ and then you can move on. If not, this is a good place for some specific questions. Ask the customer to give you some details. "What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised. What is his situation at the moment?" These kinds of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts. So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation.  Eventually, you will get to the heart of the matter and at that point, you should reiterate to them to ensure you've got it right and then you can move on to the next stage.  However ... remember this ... you MUST apologize for the problem caused by the customer and the impact that he has felt.  This is NOT an acknowledgment of fault or wrongdoing, simply another part of empathizing with your customer.

Blame Game

I don’t know how else to say it but to be frank.  This is NOT the customer’s fault.  NEVER blame them for coming to you with a complaint.  You should be thanking them for giving you an opportunity to excel! This might also not be your companies fault either, but it is still proper and correct for you to apologize.

Resolution

Now it’s time to try to resolve the situation. There is never going to be a successful outcome every time here and what may be a satisfactory resolution for one customer may not appease another but what is important is to go about trying to resolve the problem in the correct manner.   You won't always be able to fix the problem perfectly. And you may need more time than a single phone call. But it's critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem. You may need to say, "I'm going to need to make some phone calls." If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: "Later this afternoon." Or "First thing in the morning."

Then do it. Whatever your commitment has been to the customer it is IMPERATIVE that you keep it.  If you do not, you will have them angry at YOU for not fulfilling your promise and this time they would be justified!   Even if you don't have all the information you need, call when you said you would and at least let him know what you've done, what you're working on and what your next step will be. Let the customer know that he and his business are important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you're working hard to get things fixed.

If you are not going to be able to resolve the situation to the customers satisfaction – as them how they would like it resolved!  There is no harm in asking that simple question, and even if their response is not something you can do, perhaps it is something that could be done at a higher level of the organization. By taking all of these steps, you’ll have done your job to the best of your ability and in a manner which is likely to resolve most issues.

You have the Power!

It is important that you remain calm in the face of your customer's anger.  This will allow you to think rationally and eventually win the customer around.  The moment you start reacting to them is the the moment you've lost the plot and the control of the situation.  You will not succeed in your intent if you do this.


The more you encounter difficult customers, the easier it becomes to deal with them and the more you’ll experience satisfactory outcomes. As long as you adopt an approach similar to that above, you’ll win more than you’ll lose.

Nevertheless, always bear in mind that you’re never going to win them all.  Don't get disheartened ... if you have treated them with respect they will REMEMBER and chances are good when you competition causes them grief, they will be back!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

CSI & Benchmarking

As an IT professional, it is incumbent upon you to continue developing your skills and knowledge as that is the only way to ensure that you are current with what is considered "best practice".

After all - while you might think of your skills at work as being similar to Wolverine's, you'll realize that he didn't get that way without continuous and ongoing training in the Danger Room to ensure that he was able to meet and surpass any situation!

Now you might wonder about why I've gone into this tangent about comic book hero's and their struggles, but I assure it will all make sense.  In my own personal life I'm currently working on my ITIL Intermediate set of certifications so that I can eventually have an ITIL Expert designation.  

The one that I'm currently on which I'd like to share with you is called CSI (Continual Service Improvement) and while some people might consider that acronym to refer to Crime Scene Investigations and the host of shows that have followed that theme, in reality, it's not about looking at a problem after it's happened (the crime) but rather proactive planning and organizing to ensure that the problem never happens in the first place!

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (pinball)

CSI is a very large and complicated subject - in all honesty, so far its the one I've had the most difficulty with in my ITIL Expert journey - and it has quite a few different elements.  

As an IT Professional, ITIL generally makes a lot of sense to me and in most cases, I've implemented or worked on quite a few areas that are covered in the ITIL guides.  

In fact without boasting, many times I find that the ITIL books seem to be quoting something I've said!


One part of ITIL that I've not really explored or covered in my career, however, is that of benchmarking.  

Simply put - 

Benchmarking is a comparison of a specific element or process in your organization with that of other external companies/parties that have similar processes and products. 

Comparing your support responsiveness for example (Average Speed of Answer) if you're a manufacturing company versus a bank doesn't really work.  You need to (as much as possible) compare apples-to-apples.

How to Benchmark - some ideas!

  1. Focus on your key business drivers. These are the processes that underpin the success of your firm and will vary from sector to sector and business to business. If you provide a service, customer care is likely to be a key business driver; if you are a high-volume manufacturer, production-line speed will be a key business driver.
  2. Decide who to benchmark against. Your local Business Link or trade association should be able to suggest benchmarking partners. Pick firms of a similar size and with similar objectives to help work out industry yardsticks, but also compare with firms outside your sector who excel in areas you want to measure - importing their approach could help you leapfrog competitors.
  3. Assess the efficiency of your processes. Look at the mechanics of your business - the production techniques, quality controls, stock management and so on. How effective are they? How well are you using your technology? Are other businesses benefiting from new ways of doing things?
  4. Analyze your allocation of resources. Are you putting resources into the same areas as your benchmarking partners? Do they have more employees or fewer? In which parts of the business? Have they invested more in IT and other equipment? Are they spending more on marketing?
  5. Calculate sales per employee. This will provide a straightforward measure of productivity and efficiency. If your sales are comparatively low, investigate the reasons; you might find the problem is not with your sales staff but your product, or that you are pitching to the wrong market.
  6. Measure your customer service standards. Customer service is a key battleground for businesses with similar products or services. Working out the proportion of sales accounted for by returning customers will give you a picture of your service levels, as will the number of complaints you receive and the time it takes to fulfill an order.
Now is benchmarking always a hallmark of success?  Stay tuned for a subsequent post discussing why you shouldn't benchmark!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

THE HELPDESK

What is it?

In its simplest form, a helpdesk is a group of people assigned to assist customers in solving their problems.  There are many different types of helpdesks and they are called by a variety of different names depending on the function that they serve, however the main point to make clear is that their purpose is to resolve a specific issue for a paying customer.

Types of Help Desks

At its simplest you could break down Help Desks into two main types. There are definitely sub categorizations within each type and quite often they are called different things, but from an end users point of view there are really only two different types:
  • Contact/Customer Service - this type of helpdesk is generally more administrative in function and scope. They would provide customers with account information and perhaps act in a sales capacity with regards to new services and other offerings that might suit the clients needs.
  • Support & Technical Operations - break/fix or tech support or network operations or the NOC. The names are many and varied for this type of team, but their primary purpose is to resolve a specific incident or problem and restore the customers service in as timely a manner as possible. Frequently this team is considered 2nd level and is senior to the Customer Service team but this is not always the case.

Customer Service Helpdesks

 Often referred to as a Contact Centre, these types of teams are more administrative in function and responsibility.  They are frequently called upon to provide customers with account information or deal with billing concerns.  While they may arrange visits with or escalate issues to the technical team, these individuals do not generally have the skills in-house to troubleshoot and resolve customer "problems".
Quite often you will find that companies outsource this function to other companies and even other countries as it is more of a generic job then Technical and Operational Support.  However in recent years this trend has been reversing as regardless of the cost, companies are striving to present customers with a more intelligent and higher quality of service.  Please note, outsourcing is not inherently bad by any means - if done properly, customers will receive a faster reponse time and all the information that they require to resolve their account issue.  However - to provide this level of support, companies need to provide the outsourcer with a significant level of access into their own internal systems and customer records.  In addition to this, the training that the outsourcer provides to their own staff is generally at a lower level than that provided internally - hence the quality of the answers provided are generally not at the same level.
In addition to the quality issues mentioned above, companies are actually using the fact that they provide service "in house" as a selling point, hoping in some cases to garner more customers simply based on "national pride".

Incident & Problem Management

As mentioned previously, these teams are known by a variety of different names, but probably the most accurate name for them is the Service Desk. Based on the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework, the Service Desk is a component of the Incident Management team and they are responsible for resolving Incident's and escalating Problems.

What is an Incident?

Simply put, an Incident is anything related to a customer contact (Incidents are also reported by automatic means via monitoring toolsand I will discuss those types of incidents in greater depth in later posts).
Please note - Incidents are not restricted to technical teams, but can be something that a Customer Service team deals with also.
Incidents related to customers can be anything really – Information requests, Account Updates, Issue reporting are all examples of Incidents.
Incidents can also be reported through a variety of different methods – this could include the phone (probably the most common), email (a close 2nd) and even chat. As mentioned previously, automated monitoring tools can also generate incidents.
All of these different Incidents coming from/through different sources would get routed to your Incident Management tool. For smaller teams this could be something as simple as a spreadsheet but in larger organizations either in-house customer built applications or enterprise level tools prevail.

Incident Management (in a nutshell)

Your helpdesk is responsible for reviewing the information in each of these incidents and checking if there is an appropriate solution already available to the customer.
For those instances for example where the customer wishes to update their Account Information, the helpdesk would look at the Incident, obtain the correct new information (& assuming that all appropriate security questions had been reviewed) log into the customers account and update the information. Once the information had been updated, they would inform the customer and then close the Incident. This is probably one of the simpler examples of an Incident from start to finish.
If the customer is reporting a problem or an issue, the Helpdesk staff are responsible for updating the Incident with all the relevant details as supplied by the customer. If the customers issue matches a known fix they are able to inform or supply that fix to the customer, however, if that is not the case they would need to escalate the issue to the Problem Management team. The simplest way to think of the Incident Management (Helpdesk/Tier1) team and the issues they resolve is that if a "band-aid" exists they can apply it. If more drastic attention is required they will need to call the Doctor!

Problem Management

Problem Management is where the interesting work really happens. Incident Management due to its repetitive nature can get tedious and is definitely a drain on the more skilled staff in your organization ... if you have people like that, think about moving them into Problem Management if you have such a team or create one if you don't!
Problem Management is more in-depth. It's where more often than not a single Problem is the cause of multiple Incident's from multiple customers ... as such you want your best people at this level. Generally you would consider this Tier 2 or Tier 3 from an escalation and staffing perspective and dependent on your product or service you would have some very technically oriented people there.
Their goal is not to just provide a band-aid, but rather to find out why the problem happened in the first place and fix it. Ideally they should be looking at ways to fix it in such a way as to ensure that it doesn't happen again!!

KPI's & Metrics

Regardless of the type of Help Desk you are running or dealing with there must be specific requirements in place to ensure that they are performing to peak efficiency and that they are resolving customer enquiries in a timely manner. A common industry term for these metrics is KPI - Key Performance Indicator and there are hundreds of different ones depending on the product and service you provide as well as what you want to measure and what is most importatn to your business.


Now each of these teams would have different metrics in place. However some that are common to both Customer Service and Technical Teams are as follows:
Response Time - Obviously your team (Incident Management/Customer Service/Helpdesk) needs to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Their goal as already mentioned is to fix it, fix it fast and move on. A band-aid will not always reattach the finger though, so it's up to the Tier2 team to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly which obviously takes a lot more time as you don't want the surgeon doing a shoddy job!


So with that analogy in mind ... you want to have an aggressive goal set for your Helpdesk – try to work with the 80/20 rule (The Pareto principle) ... 80% of incidents responded to in 20 seconds (If you have the resources, otherwise maybe 20 minutes? Or 20 hours (that's less than 1 day so might still be good – especially if you're doing email support)? Or 20 days ... well that's probably not really worthwhile) but hopefully you get the point? You want to set a specific goal for measuring how quickly your customers are getting a response.


Resolve Time – notice that I have separated these out. As much as you'd like to be able to resolve 100% of issues at that first contact, its not always going to be possible. However you can have another measurement in place that tracks this which is the Resolve Time (sometimes called MTTR (Mean Time to Repair)).


The Goal here is also to get that band-aid on as quickly as possible so you need to ensure that your Incident Management system has some sort of a knowledge base which helps your staff find the solution to commonly placed issues/questions. If they have the answer every time, then a 100% resolution at 1st contact is achievable! If not however ... it gets a bit more complicated because all of a sudden your Incident Management team becomes the customer and the team they go to is the Problem Management team. Guess what? They have a different measurement for Response Time and Resolve Time too!


Problem Management Response Time – now as previously mentioned these are generally your more senior staff and as much as you'd like them to be available 24/7 unless you have an extremely large organization this is probably fairly unlikely. So you are going to have build or determine some relevant response times based on their availability.


In addition, as these escalated issues are generally issues that cannot easily be resolved, your resolution time is going to be extended also. Pick some appropriate intervals that meet your customers SLAs.
Your main goal for this team (in addition to resolving the problem of course) is communication, communication, communication!!! They must inform your customer facing agents what the issue is, what they are doing to resolve it and when they expect to have it resolved. If they cannot provide an estimated resolution time, they MUST provide your Tier1 team with an estimated update time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL SLA'S

A very important point to remember at all times is that you need to have a more aggressive Internal SLA vs. the one that you are offering to your customers. 

I know it sounds self evident doesn't it, but there are no end of organizations that I've dealt with where customers are offered a 4hr SLA on a 24/7 basis and the engineers that can actually fix the problem are either unavailable till the next business day or NOT even on call!!! 

 Let me state this once again and very clearly so that there is NO CONFUSION ... If you are offering your customers an SLA of 'X Hours' and your Engineering (or Development or Project Management or ... etc...) team is only offering you an SLA of 'X + Y Hours' ... YOU WILL LOSE MONEY and YOU WILL LOSE CUSTOMERS!!! 

 It is imperative that your internal SLA be better than the one you are offering to your customers and you need to ensure that your Sales team and Senior Management are both on board with this. 

Remember, also, that this must go all the way up the chain ... your Engineering team has agreed to an internal SLA of 'X – Y Hours' (woohoo!! That will solve 80% of your problems) but the Development team is only offering them an SLA of 'Z' (assume 'Z' is a multiple of 'X + Y') ... for those 20% of customers and problems that cannot be solved by your Tier 2 (Engineering team in this example) group ... you are still going to be in trouble. 

The question, now becomes how much are you and your company willing to invest in protecting yourself from that 20%? Just like everything else there are things you can and cannot do, and you need to decide what your investment will be to give you the best "bang for your buck".

Cancellation - the final step in a long and drawn out process

Dealing with customers that want to cancel is hard. I know - I'm personally in the midst of trying to cancel my Television/Internet serv...