Back in 1972 Robert DeNiro stared in a comedy about two warring Mafia gangs in New York. The movie is forgettable but the film’s title has crept into popular culture lexicon. Use of the phrase is somewhat frequent and generally applies to situations where people/customers are disappointed (over and over) by the treatment they receive whilst interacting with a company or organization. It’s an alternative way to express the sentiment that “it seems that everything they do is a real mess and they can't get their act together.”
A member of our leadership team recently had a horrible customer experience with Apple computers. A few weeks later and upon receiving a somewhat lengthy survey including room for comments, Apple got feedback with double barrels. After taking the time to respond to the (Net Promoter Score) survey including detailed comments, nobody ever reached out to find out how the brand had missed the mark on delivering acceptable service. Total radio silence. Sometimes even great companies shoot themselves in the foot with compromised customer experience delivery. And then they shoot themselves in the other foot: “You’re going to intrude on my day, ask me what I think and then ignore my answers?” Really? Experiences like these can make people go from loving to hating a brand in no time at all.
Another Trase Miller team member talks about his recent really bad experience with a Fairmont Hotel (Chicago) and the arrogance and indifference of several of the hotel’s staff. The story is too long to print here but definitely in alignment with narrative assigned to situations in which we say “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”. We share stories of horrific customer experiences like these amongst ourselves at Trase Miller to reinforce how important our contact center role is in representing a brand. We also share tons of good service stories to reinforce our “we’re here to help you” promise.
We measure customer experience satisfaction here carefully and take it very seriously. We can tell our clients how great we are but feedback that we solicit from their customers is far more interesting and useful. Our CSAT approach is different than many leading brands. We simply don’t believe it’s fair to ask people to surrender a bunch of time or cognitive overhead when answering questions about their experience with us. In fact, 60 seconds is all it should take. We explain this to customers upfront when we field a survey we often get over 15% of all people we survey to participate.
Was the Agent you spoke with helpful?
How would you rate your overall experience with us?
Would you recommend us to people you know?
One of our airline clients greatly values our CSAT approach. In real time, we respond to survey comments that would indicate people are dissatisfied or had a bad experience in any way. Customers are shocked to hear from us within a day of submitting their survey/feedback and these are almost always moments of brand redemption. Our founder Jim Miller has said it often and we see this truth every day. “A brand is its people and it’s as simple as that.”
2014 is here. This is the year our company turns 20. It’s been an incredible odyssey for us as we have made a discreet but distinct mark on the travel industry landscape. We’re special and not many companies have a story like ours - more than half of the managers that work here have been here for over 10 years. Ten people on our management team have been here since 1994. This aggregate tenure makes our culture specific and very family like.
Just before the craze of Christmas and the excess of New Years Eve, our management team gathered for our Quarterly Quality Forum or as we call it QQF. We have blogged before about our QQF and believe it’s a best practice and a wonderful tradition that is as old as our company. The forum sponsor (our own) Katia Goodhart organized a great meeting which was followed up with some big holiday cheer. The mood was both festive and reflective as we talked together about the busy year we had come through.
Something else big happened in the final days of 2013. We were informed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office that the tagline from our company promise is now officially registered. As such you will notice on our website that the ® symbol is now next to "we're here to help you". We own it legally and what it means is owned in the hearts and the minds of our team members.
To the ten committed people that have stuck with us since 1994, that have used our tagline phrase more times than they can count and that have helped us prosper – A special toast: Frank, Sarah, Debbie, Kelly, Gayle, Anne, Launa, Melissa, Nicole and Quetha – Happy New Year!
♩♪♫♬ “Over the river and through the wood to Grandmother’s house we go”...
Many of us remember this Thanksgiving song that was written originally as a poem in the 1840’s. The song of course reminds us of our own Thanksgiving traditions of gathering, feasting and traveling. For those people that choose to fly and brave the modern day realities like the TSA and airline delays, it’s a big week. And at the writing of this blog, hysteria is building because of current severe weather systems in some parts of the USA.
So yes – Our contact center is really busy because many people that were hoping to get to grandmother’s house are simply stuck. When we are talking with a customer that is stuck
the tone often times changes as the conversation goes on. At very least we try to express empathy and often times that’s what people need the most.
There is a new customer experience paradigm which is that a customer’s primary desire
is an effortless, rapid solution to their question or problem. Our agent team is oriented to this. We incorporate this understanding into all of our training curriculum as well as our quality scoring platform. Our agents just get it and customers truly value our ability to help - Especially when they are stuck!
Happy Thanksgiving – We’re truly thankful for our clients and their customers and we’re here to help you. 24/7/365
Several of our team members are new card carrying members of an organization called the Customer Experience Professionals Association or CXPA. The organization concerns itself with the advancement of customer experience management practices and was co-founded by bestselling author Jeanne Bliss. Bliss’s book “I Love You More Than My Dog” was written after a 25 year run as a customer experience executive in five major US corporations and has some great messages that we have discussed before in our blog.
As a level-set, customer experience (CX) is best simply defined as a customer’s perception of how they were treated whilst interacting with a company. CX is also an entire discipline. And sadly (perhaps) it is a current business buzz word. Forrester Research fielded a survey to top executives at major companies. 2/3 of business leaders surveyed have goals of using “customer experience” as a competitive differentiator but most don’t have a strategy to make it happen. Lots of executives are talking about it but many executives not really doing anything about it.
CXPA sponsored an inaugural annual event this week called CX Day “Celebrating Great Customer Experience and the Professionals Who Make it Happen”. It was a well coordinated global virtual event and included a webinar with Dan Hesse who is the CEO of Sprint. Hesse is credited with one of the most significant customer experience turnarounds ever. Hess and team have closed 30 contact centers on the premise that “great service costs less”. By assigning reason codes in contact centers and studying root cause analyses, Sprint was able to create opportunities to improve quality and services. Many of Sprint’s closed contact centers were offshore and though it has not been publicly discussed, we speculate that there is a correlation between Sprint’s turnaround and customers not being forced to speak with offshore agents who often just can’t simply get context and comprehension right.
Scott Bell is Trase Miller’s Vice President in charge of Client Development and often talks
about the tortured customer experience of speaking to offshore agents. Scott shared a story with the team on his recent experience with United Airlines. “United Airlines isn’t a client of Trase Miller, but if they cared enough about their customers they would hire us. I called UAL to get information about coordinating International travel for two elderly relatives (86 and 91 years old) – The agent couldn’t answer a simple question about US customs so I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor also couldn’t provide the information I needed and so I asked him to transfer me to the US. His reply was that he couldn’t do that and recommended that I should hang up, call back in hopes of getting a US agent. What I heard was ~ call back and if today is your lucky day someone will help you”.
There’s more to the story and Scott shared how United Airlines created a memorable moment and perhaps brand redemption. “I actually went to O’Hare to pick up my relatives and explained to Customer Agent Harry P. my frustration of speaking to the offshore contact center. Agent P’s response was nuanced with acknowledgement that my poor experience happens often enough. Harry provided me with a gate pass to get through security and inside the terminal to collect my family. It all ended well but the stress caused by United’s offshore contact center agents who could not get context and comprehension right isn’t something I am going to forget.”
As Jim Miller our owner/founder has written, “A brand is its people and it’s as simple as that.” United O’Hare Agent Harry P. gets an A+. United Airlines Offshore Contact Centers = FAIL. An open invitation to United Airlines – We’re Here to Help You.”
We have blogged a number of times about the wonder of flight. We are emotionally tied to the airline industry which so happens to (in good part) pay our wages, in many ways shapes our culture and clearly feeds our appetite to fly in discovery of the world. We can’t help ourselves but to be sentimental about the industry.
A documentary is in the works called “Across the Pacific" which is based on Pan Am and the adventure of flying across the ocean in the days/years leading up to World War II. The film is based in part on a narrative about just how tricky flying could be in those early days. Navigation was not a sophisticated science. The cockpit was a place where precise communication was critical and calibrations (i.e. triangle test flying) enabled success. Crude instruments were the norm and routinely flights were forced to turn around after many hours in the air if the fuel seemed likely to run out prior to landing at a desired destination. Pilots relied on a "how-goes-it" chart, with pre-computed time vs. distance curves. These chart’s calculations acted as guidance to make critical decisions on the go.
Reading about the making of the documentary made us reflect on our own odyssey in the travel
contact center space. Navigation of our narrowly defined business specialty remains somewhat tricky but the various instruments we use to guide our journey are really very reliable and sophisticated. And we have our own "how-goes-it" charts that help us guard against bad things (akin to running out of fuel).
Pan Am is also celebrated as a great customer service company. We don’t accept the idea that great customer service is something of the past. “We're flying better than ever” was one of several slogans Pan Am used through the years and the one that spoke to their quality pledge. We don’t have a slogan but we do have a company promise that speaks to our commitment to quality. Our contact center is committed to providing the kind of service that people still talk about from Pan Am’s glory days. Within our company promise of “we’re here to help you” is our commitment to quality; it is not a slogan but a tagline that is based on the phrase our customer care agents actually often say.
On an ongoing basis, we survey customers about their experience with us. The most recent results indicated that 97% of surveyed callers rated their Trase Miller Agent as “helpful” and 95% of survey respondents indicated that they would recommend us to “anyone” they know. We accomplish and sustain these very high CSAT scores by doing some of the same things the Pan Am pilots did in the old days. Everyone that works here knows that this is also a place where precise communication is critical and “we’re here to help you” is a precise way to communicate what we stand for and at the same time to convey a universally embraced assurance to people that are in need of assistance. And though we don’t fly triangle patterns as calibrations, we do indeed do monitoring calibrations to measure our agent’s success.
We’re approaching 20 years and at the 30,000 foot level – our “how-goes-it” chart is looking pretty good!
Nearly 50% of adult Americans make one or more resolutions at the onslaught of a new year. And they break them. In any case, physiologists assert that making resolutions is a healthy practice and that making resolutions is useful. People who make thoughtful explicit resolutions are TEN times more likely to reach their goals than people who don't make specific resolutions. We’re going to make a few here. We as a company are quite resolute in the way we conduct our business so ours is a short and sweet list.
1) Live Our Promise 24/7/365
At the heart of our identity is the phrase “we’re here to help you” which is articulated in our company promise and is in fact the essence of why we are here. It is not a slogan – It is a tagline that speaks about our company, but more importantly about the people that work here. Our Agents use the tagline “we’re here to help you” to help communicate what we stand for and to convey a universally embraced assurance to people that are in need of assistance.
“We’re here to help you” is our promise that as a customer you will be completely satisfied, as a client we will help you grow your business, and as a company Trase Miller will be a great place to work.
2) Double Down
A gambling/blackjack term, “double down” describes a strategy for players who are confident of the strength of their hand whereby they can choose to double their bid. Of course we know this is a circa 2010 corporate buzzword but we’re going to use it anyway because we mean it and we’re doing it. This week we welcomed a new Director of Customer Care, Perry Terronez. Perry was a supervisor at Trase Miller many years ago but most recently he was at SITEL where he was the Process Improvement Project Manager focusing (via Six Sigma) on improvements of the overall call center experience for both SITEL’s employees & their clients. Perry has held management positions at Conoco Phillips, Omni Air transport & AT&T where he has been an analyst, Director of Business Development and National Distribution Sales Manager. We are delighted to welcome Perry back and hold his return out as just one example of doubling our bets in 2013.
3) Think Big and Creatively – Act Humbly
Our third 2013 resolution is important as a fast growing company. And we are resolute about the way it cascades through our fast growing organization. Growth can be painful but less so if all team members think big and creatively but act humbly.
Next week, the Leadership team meets in Tulsa to carefully review 2013 plans and ponder the years beyond. The tone of our executive planning meetings is an interesting mash-up; supportive, analytical, serious, playful, direct and respectful. In the meetings we think big and creatively with each other but always act humbly toward each other. Our Leadership team is a close knit group that communicates often and openly about business issues of today and the future of our company. Our General Manager, Frank Silzer has much to do with our culture and by the way, this week marked Frank’s 30th anniversary with parent company JFM Enterprises. Congratulations, Frank ~ Our clarity of purpose is sustained by your leadership. We all strive to be like Frank in the way we think and act. Big and creative but humble…
Our last two blogs were dedicated to recognition of people’s achievement here at Trase Miller. If you watch even a little television, you are subjected to the commercials/infomercials that annoyingly push silly products upon us. Near the end of the ad is the enticement “but wait – there’s more”. Generally the offer is double the stuff.
Before paying tribute to 2012’s top achievers, we wanted to discuss the notion of how people here get pulled into the achievement cycle. It begins with employee engagement which we have discussed many times in this blog. Those employees that are the most engaged tend to be the most loyal. One measure of loyalty is tenure and the average tenure of this year’s high achievers is 10+ years. No kidding!
So on the topic of achievements here at Trase Miller – WAIT, THERE’S MORE...
Pam Shelnut – The 2012 Awesome Achiever Award Winner
To say that Pam exceeds expectations at Trase Miller would be an understatement. As an Operations Analyst, Pam continued to teach herself how to build tables to make our reporting top notch. This year, Pam’s talent was recognized and she was promoted to Sr. Operations Analyst. Pam works very closely with other members of management and she truly thinks outside the box. Her ideas and suggestions often involve ways for our company to be more operationally efficient. At the same time, Pam makes the workplace more inviting by her contribution of her time as The Trase Miller Employee Club Coordinator. She has in fact revitalized our TMEC program in many ways. Pam is the epitome of great attitude. She inspires everyone around her with her dedication and caring. On behalf of everyone who has benefited from her phenomenal work ethic and service, Pam Shelnut is very deserving of the 2012 Awesome Achiever Award.
Eugene King – The “we’re here to help you” Award Winner
“We’re here to help you.” is our company promise that is really a very important message however those who deliver this message are what make it so special. The message is mission critical and our leadership created an award for the person that most enthusiastically embraces its importance. This year the employee honored (first time recipient) is known for always going the extra mile to show care for fellow co-workers and our customers. He is always willing to lend a helping hand and consistently raises spirits. He has a passion for training and helping others learn. He was a valuable member of our sup assist team and I am grateful to say he is now a fellow member of our Supervisor team. Congratulations Eugene!
We get double the stuff from our people because deep in their DNA is the understanding that the attitude of “we’re here to help you” is not only a meaningful tag line and differentiator; it’s how we view our place in the world.
Thanksgiving is next week. The holiday doesn’t likely mean just one thing to anyone. It is about a bunch of things. Turkey, football, family, feasting and reflection are perhaps the most popular thoughts and themes. In the last couple of weeks we celebrated our 18th anniversary and feted the one year mark of living in our new building. We also welcomed a new client. In the last 90 days, we have hired 46 people to join our work family. Just in time for the holidays.
We have blogged relentlessly about our special culture here at Trase Miller. “Family-like” is how our own employees often describe the work environment here. So the holidays (beginning with Thanksgiving) are important times for us as a work family to reflect on the things for which we give thanks. And above all we are thankful for the trust our clients put in us to help manage their customer relationships.
Thanksgiving is a North American holiday. Most of the world’s countries that have a robust contact center industry don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. India and Thailand (as examples) have certainly proposed their services to brands that we represent but for a variety of reasons good companies reject these proposals. Our client roster is made up of good companies that truly get it. They understand the value of first call resolution and know that it is maddening for customers to have to call back because their issues are not being taken care of. Our clients do the research and they know that offshore agents provide first call issue resolution (FCR) to just 42% of customers, compared to 68% domestically. (CFI Group - 2009) By the way - Trase Miller’s FCR is even higher than the domestic average.
Trase Miller is open 24/7/365. We’re here to help you – Even on Thanksgiving!
One of our clients flew into Tulsa this week on a glorious and classically beautiful autumn day. Debbie Greene, our Managing Director of Operations took the airline executive for a stroll outside our operations center and in between business talk both Debbie and our client swapped a few personal stories. Debbie later shared highlights of their discussion with our leadership team but the thing worth mentioning that they simultaneously wished was that it was the type of day perhaps better spent at a tailgate party.
Some weeks ago, Trase Miller executives did engage in a little tailgating with clients. It was a memorable night, to be sure with not all parties wanting the same outcome in the competition. Fall and football just seem to go together and the ironic thing is going to ball games with clients might be the only time that we don't want the same outcome. We work very hard at keeping our interests always in alignment. At the game, we cheered and groaned and applauded good blocking and tackling. In between all that we shared personal stuff and had a great night altogether.
We go to great lengths to ensure that every single person that works here as part of our work family understands what an "alignment of interests" means. It begins with Trase Miller L and D explaining and new team members subscribing to the reason people/customers call us:
Customers call US to feel good about their travel purchases and about themselves for their purchase decisions.
Our agents align their interests with callers by providing expertise, efficiency and empathy on every single call. And our company aligns our interests with our clients interests by getting all this right within agreed upon service standards. It's simple but it's not always easy.
This week our Tulsa operations center exhibited the distinct hum of an enterprise on double overtime. Our L and D group was busy with three simultaneous training classes. Everybody around here is working fiercely hard at getting it right. We know that blocking and tackling matters and our clients know that we do it exceedingly well.
The national political scene is consumed with debate about jobs. Apparently, politicians from both parties have a plan that will create jobs. We try to stay clear of politics in our blog musings but here’s the thing – We (not pols) are creating jobs right here and right now in Tulsa by growing our business. This week we’ll be making offers to approximately 20 quality people to join our company. It’s not because we lost 20 people; it’s because we are growing our business.
These 20 people come from diverse walks of life. They answered ads and successfully navigated our screening, testing and the specialness of our culture. They decided that this is the kind of place that they want to spend 40 hours of week working because our work makes a difference in so many people’s lives. They decided that our company promise of “we’re here to help you” is a phrase that they themselves will easily vocalize when they are taking care of customers and their travel needs. And they will be carefully trained over the next 4 weeks to think and talk and type at the same time. They will be taught to anticipate why people are calling us. By the end of their training they will know with certainty that people call us to feel good about their travel purchase decisions and about themselves for making those decisions. People call us to feel good because that emotion rarely comes forth when a booking is made online from their computer.
Lastly, our 20 new team members will be indoctrinated (as the rest of us are) into quality assurance evangelism. They will learn that as brand ambassadors, delivery of quality customer care is the best way to influence customer loyalty.
In about 30 days we will be celebrating our 18th anniversary and at the same time we will be celebrating the graduation of these 20 new team members. We’re excited!