Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

An Interview with Diane Berenbaum, Part 2

Posted by Becky Carroll on July 5, 2007

customer-service.jpg In the second and final part of the interview with Diane Berenbaum, Senior VP at Communico, Ltd. and co-author of the book How to Talk to Customers, we discuss listening skills for customer reps, tht 33 Points of MAGIC, the worst mistakes made by contact centers, employee loyalty, as well as a few success stories.  Here is the first part of the interview, and here is a great summary of it from the blog CallCenterScript by Michael Moser.

Many thanks to Diane for taking the time to share with me and with my readers.  Diane, you rock!

Listening Skills


Becky: We were talking about one of the most important relationship skills being listening.  One of the things I blogged on in my book review was your “Four Levels of Listening”, and I would like to know if you agree or disagree with me.  I read the first three levels as a continuum for call centers to follow, Level 1 being a basic call center, then moving to a better-working call center in Level 2, and Level 3 being a best-in-class call center.  I am not sure that Level 4 fits in with a call center, and I wanted to get your opinion on that.

Diane: I totally agree with you.  Level 4 listening is very rare.  It is the intuitive kind of listening; you barely have to speak, and the other person truly feels as if they have been listened to.  Sometimes we like to call it “silent surfing”; you are on each others’ same wavelength.  Because they listen to you so well, they know you well, and all you need to do is just be with them, and you feel special.  In some of our training groups, we have asked people to highlight, anonymously for their own personal growth, relationships they have in their company, in their families, and other places.  This all relates to personal relationships as well.

Becky: When do you think it is appropriate to use Level 2 or 3 in a call center?

Diane: We suggest that call centers or contact centers aim for a Level 3, as this is the level where empathy really comes in.  When customers feel this warmth and perception from an organization, they are going to feel like they’ve been listened to and cared about, and they are more likely to want to have another contact with you.  If you only operate at Level 1, it is just about information going back and forth, and there are plenty of other places I can go for that.  But I kind of feel special when I talk to ABC Company, they really get it!

B: Right, Level 1 is more about the transaction rather than the relationship.  Just yesterday, I was on another blog called Church of the Customer.  One of the authors, Jackie Huba, was going to be speaking for a large wireless carrier soon, and she was looking for examples of outstanding customer service in a call center in a telecom or wireless.  This was hard to find!  She was asking for stories, and in the comments, there was one person who shared a call center experience that really struck me.  He said by the time he was finished talking with the rep in the call center, he felt like giving them a hug and saying, “Hey, when can we get together again?”

D: Sometimes, I will say you even want your greeting to be so welcoming that the caller will say, “Hey, let’s do lunch!”

B: That’s how this caller was feeling.

D: That’s terrific!

B: It is terrific!  I thought you might find that a fun example, and it reminded me of your empathetic listening.  That’s probably what that call center rep was using.

D: Oh, I see their blog right here from your site; I will have to check this out.  And yes, that call center rep wasn’t just “going through the motions”, they were really caring and listening.

Using the 33 Points of MAGIC

B: So, let’s talk about the “33 Points of MAGIC”.  My first impression when I read the book was that is a lot to remember!  It is very detailed, which is wonderful. How can it be used in a call center operation?

D: Many organizations use this as a standard, and that is the key.  If an organization doesn’t have a standard for service, you can imagine what level of service is going to be provided.  The key is consistency; it only takes one interaction for someone to make a decision about the individual, the company, and whether to take his business elsewhere.  Consistency is really key.  Although 33 Points may sound like a lot, people are doing many of them already.  It is about understanding the finer points and behaviors that will help them stand out, the things people tend not to do.

B: This is really tweaking the call center rep’s performance and making improvements.

D: Exactly.  The 33 Points are arranged in the flow of a call, so what a lot of companies do is use this as their performance form (what we like to call observation form versus a monitoring form).  The beauty of it is these points are behavioral and specific.  Instead of other forms that are vague (Were they courteous?  Were they nice?) – those aren’t easy to determine – the 33 Points form is very specific and behavioral, which makes it more objective and more measurable. 

Many companies use that to assess their level of service and to provide further development for some of their reps.  Individuals who have a real desire to help build a service culture will give developmental coaching.  They might work with a rep, saying “Here, let’s listen to some calls”, then go through the 33 Points, and ask them what they think is working, what do they need help on, and get agreement.  “Let’s work on your Tragic phrases.  I heard you say ‘I’ll try’, and that can have an impact on the customer.”  It helps the organization identify areas where there is a need for further development so the reps feel they are getting the tools and support they need to excel.  They know what it takes from the form and the 33 Points, they are getting the coaching, and if they are getting the recognition as well – it’s a beautiful thing!  The organization ends up with a culture where people are all scoring, say 29-33 (out of the 33 Points).  This is a culture that is really going to stand out.

B: You are tying the incentives all the way through that: this is the goal, this is how you get there, and then the reps are incentivized based on how well they are doing on the 33 Points.

D: Many organizations do that, and it becomes their standard.  We can also tailor the 33 Points as well.  Some organizations may want to have a great focus on some behaviors they have noticed, such a slang or cross-selling.  We can adopt the 33 Points for your organization so it fits your needs and your customers’ needs.

B: That makes a lot of sense. 

Worst Mistake for Call Centers

B: Diane, what would you say is the worst mistake you see in call centers?

D: I think it relates to what we were just talking about.  I think the worst mistake is they undervalue the middle management level.  They don’t recognize the impact and importance of team leaders and supervisors.  For example, most of the time, the team leader or supervisor is someone that was a really good rep and was promoted.  They know their stuff on how to handle the call and how to work the system.  They don’t necessarily know how to coach others.  Yet, that is what their new role is. 

A couple of different things can happen.  When they are coaching, they can end up using what I call evaluative or punitive method of coaching.  For example, “You missed points 4, 5, and 6 again today.  I told you last time we met, and you missed them again.”  Versus developmental coaching, where it is more of a partnership; you are asking them questions and collaborating with the rep to really help them progress.  Organizations don’t realize their impact, they don’t give them enough training around how to be a coach.  Lastly, also related, they don’t give them time to be a coach.  They are fighting fires!  I hear this all the time: “We are just so busy fighting fires and taking escalated calls, we don’t have time to coach.”  Coaching is going to be the key to success.  Not only will their measures improve, their associates will feel better about working there, they will stay longer, they will deliver better results, and everyone’s happy.

B: So the organization is saying they want some proactive coaching, but they are not really building that into the staffing model.

D: Exactly.  They just say, “Team leads, make sure you get the numbers right.  We don’t want calls waiting; watch the abandon rates.”  They don’t realize the importance of this role.   The supervisors and team leads are in direct communication with the reps, who are the also the ones in the most direct contact with customers. 

B: And because they used to be a rep, they already have a rapport, or relationship built with the other reps.  So a friend is telling them these things.

D: That can be awkward, too.  We help them through the process of how do you establish a coaching relationship?  This is very rarely done.

B: That is a great insight, and it is not one I would have guessed.  I agree with you that they are undervalued, and I think this is missed a lot.

The Journey

B: Let’s talk about how long this process typically takes.  When a client comes to you and says, “We know we are in pretty bad shape.  We are Tragic; help us move to MAGIC.”  What does this journey look like?  What does it take for them to do this?  When we first started talking, we discussed whether or not there is alignment with the customer and the employee experience.

D: There’s not a specific answer to how long this will take; it will really vary.  It depends on a few things: a commitment, particularly from the senior team, as well as where they are starting from.  If you have a culture that has been embedded for many, many years, and you’ve got a massive organization, it is really not easy to change a corporate culture.  If you have a pocket or department with an enlightened leader, you could see results fairly quickly, in a few months.  The biggest thing is to get the buy-in of the senior leadership up front.  If they continue the communication around the importance of the service initiative, and there is follow-up through training and after, to make it part of the culture, you can see results more quickly. 

There is a service vision, leaders model it, they have a consistent delivery of service because they have a standard, they do developmental training and coaching, and lastly, they are looking at their systems and reinforcing it regularly, then you get results.

We’ve worked with small pockets that embrace it very quickly; they have what we call “MAGIC Champions” inside who are looking for ways to be sure it is reinforced and looking for drivers to keep it going.  We have seen companies make a difference in literally a few months.

B: That’s great! 

D: But others can take years.  Pockets can go quickly or can take longer.  I was working with an organization where a bunch of different companies were bought, but each of the companies was still run a bit autonomously.  A year or so later, I am reconnecting with them as I had heard some areas had customer sat scores which were up 4%, other areas were up 10%.  My contact told me it was all about the active leadership.  Areas where there was active leadership and support, they got the results and were keeping it going over a year later.  In other areas, they could go back to square one where they hadn’t followed it up.

B: And put the right incentives in place…

D: Yes.  If they don’t talk about it but instead reinforce other measures, not much happens.

Success Stories and Employee Loyalty

B: Tell me about one of your most successful customer service transformations using MAGIC.

D: I think one of my favorites is a company called DST Systems.  It is not a known name, perhaps, but what they do is provide record-keeping services for investors in some of the nation’s largest mutual funds.  When you are calling Big Name Fund, you may think you are getting them, but you may actually be getting someone from DST Systems.  They are the ones helping customers.  The beauty of this industry is they have an outside measure called the DALBAR report which compares service levels among mutual fund companies.  When we started with DST, they were rated towards the bottom, as was another mutual fund company.  They wanted to make improvements, so they partnered with us.  They got a lot of support, embedded it in the culture, and ended up winning not just a lot of DALBAR awards but also won the highest award granted by DALBAR called the Quality Tested Service Seal.  That is not just excellence in service to customers but also excellence in service to distributors and employees.  Internally and externally, they saw a dramatic shift!  They credited MAGIC and their training for the success, they celebrated together, and they still continue to win DALBAR awards.

B: That’s fantastic.  Sounds like they really kept it going.

D: They did.  It shows you can be at the bottom and with commitment and the right focus and approach, you can rise to the top.

B: How long did it take them to do that kind of turn-around?

D: It is in terms of when they are measured, how often they measure.  It took about one year, but they have kept it up, which I am even more pleased with!  It was a very special turn-around and a big effort.

B: That must have been fun for you to work with.

D: Yes, and I did some of the training myself there.  I certified several folks there so they could keep it going.

B: Thanks for sharing that story!  Anything else you want to share with Customers Rock! readers?

D: If you come with a belief and a mindset that there is MAGIC in everyone, and you bring a service mindset to everything you do, you’d be amazed at the results in terms of relationships – not just with customers, but with other people you know.  For the book, we asked our clients to share some stories, and some of them shared these very touching stories about their family.  One lady reconnected with her dad.  She said she knew about MAGIC (she was a facilitator), and she decided to use it to approach her dad differently.  There was a whole new relationship after that.

B: That sounds very powerful.

D: It is really powerful.  I had a person, a gentlemen whose wife was pregnant, and after day one, he said he was a different person in the way he was relating to his wife.  Another one, a hotel client, felt it was so important they trained everyone – including housekeepers.  We were told the story of one of the housekeepers who was kind of reserved, walked around with her head down (“I’m just a housekeeper”), and she went through the training (which made her feel special), and they treated her differently.  She wrote to the person who delivered the training and said, “Thank you.  You are my hero.  I now feel so important.”  She ended up winning awards for her contributions because she had a whole different mindset about who she was, and it showed in her work.

B: Investing in your employees like this, while it is an expense, goes a long way towards employee loyalty and getting them to feel, “I am valuable, I am an important part of this, and everything I do affects the customer”.  It helps change their mindset.

D: Absolutely!  It’s worth it.  If you don’t do it, you have people running around who may not care about themselves.  It really is worth taking the time to invest in your employees.  Actually, that’s another mistake companies make: not investing in training for their associates.

B: That’s a good one, too. I would agree with that!

Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with me and my readers!

D: It was my pleasure.

(Photo credit: guyerwood)

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2 Responses to “An Interview with Diane Berenbaum, Part 2”

  1. Interesting interview :)

  2. Thanks, Daksh!

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