Wild about Jeopardy! Is that YOU Max?

About NRG Communications

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Santa Cruz, California, United States
I am the founder of NRG Communications, and have been working with Customer Service Reps and Leaders since 1989. My training organization, NRG Communications, caters to helping CSR's find ways to dealing with the Toughest of Tough Customers and for creating a positive customer experience. Check out www.nr4g.com for more information.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Finding that Human Touch with Customer Service Representatives

Are you worn out with having to deal with automated customer service?  Have you had your fill of pressing buttons only to find your question doesn't get answered?  If so, this article entitled Where Have All the Customer Service Representatives Gone? from the Chicago Tribune by Problem Solvers Kristin Samuelson and Jon Yates may be of service.  It offers some tips on how to get a live human.

It was Saturday afternoon when the Problem Solver opened his phone bill and discovered a minor billing error.

No problem, he thought. He’ll just call the phone company and clear things up.

Silly him.

After dialing the toll-free customer service number, it took him 12 key prompts just to get to a computerized voice that allowed him to scream into the phone a verbal command: “CUSTOMER SERVICE AGENT.”

Of course, by then it was past 4 p.m. and all the customer service agents had left the call center.

“Sorry,” the computer told the Problem Solver. “This office is currently closed.”

It took considerable restraint not to slam the phone against his kitchen wall, but after a few moments, his calm returned.

The reality is, getting through to an actual person at many companies’ customer service departments can be a little like discovering the lock combination to a bank vault. Hit the right numbers, and the world is your oyster.

Thankfully, there are ways to game the system.

Websites like GetHuman.com and DialAHuman.com list hundreds of companies along with their phone numbers and instructions on which phone prompts to punch to more quickly get to a human being.

GetHuman.com, the more elaborate of the two sites, lists multiple phone numbers for many of the largest companies, and includes average wait times on hold, along with user ratings — from “horrible” to “good.”

Roland Via, the former mayor of Holly Hills, Fla., started DialAHuman.com five years ago in a fit of aggravation after calling several companies and having trouble reaching a living, breathing person.

“Time, to me, is valuable,” he said.

Wading through the dial prompts just to get patched through to a recorded message is a terrible waste, Via said.

Both GetHuman.com and DialAHuman.com are monitored by actual callers, who contribute tips on how they got through to a human being, along with warnings about particularly bad phone numbers or uncaring companies.

“Sometimes the companies find out (about a number being on the site) and then they’ll change the mechanics of the number,” Via said. “The viewers of the website will let me know.”

While each automated phone system is designed differently, Via and Walt Tetschner, GetHuman.com’s founder, said there are tricks that often work across all systems.

If you’re dialing in circles and can’t break through the computerized system, try playing dead. Many automated systems rely on input, so if you don’t punch a key, they get confused and transfer you to an operator. Some systems also include a default for folks who still have old rotary-dial phones. After a certain length of silence, the call is automatically transferred to an operator.

If waiting doesn’t work — and the system accepts voice prompts — try speaking complete nonsense. Blather on in words the system can’t identify and it might just think you’re crazy. Turns out, most automated systems can’t handle crazy, and many of them will forward you directly to an operator.

If neither playing dead nor speaking gobbledygook work, try the most obvious move: hit zero. Some systems use another number, like 2 or 6, so try all 10.

You can also do an end-around and avoid the automated system altogether. To do so, search for the company’s corporate headquarters, then find a number for the main offices. By avoiding a call center, you often can reach an actual employee. Even if that person is not qualified to help you, often they will patch you through to a customer service agent, if for no other reason than to get you off the phone.

Once you do reach an actual person, ask him or her for a direct line to get back in touch. Getting a direct-dial phone number is worth its weight in gold, allowing you to avoid the endless prompts and automated directions.

“I do believe, nowadays, people want personalized service,” Via said.

Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s up to you to find it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater Rocks the Boat...ummm....Plane

390806 06: A JetBlue Airways jet sits on the tarmac June 19, 2001June 19, 2001 at the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The low-fare airline based in New York announced at the Paris Air Show today that it had signed a contract with Airbus for the purchase of up to 48 additional new A320 aircraft. Valued at more than $2.5 billion, the new aircraft order covers 30 firm orders, options for five aircraft and purchase rights for an additional 13 planes. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
For those of you who heard about the now legendary Steven Slater, then you are aware of his grand departure from a frustrated workplace.  On August 9, 2010, Slater reached his tipping point while on duty as a JetBlue steward.  A passenger was being difficult to say the least.  After the plane landed, Slater grabbed the mic and shared his feelings.  He then grabbed a beer or two, opened the emergency hatch and slid out of the plane and into customer service infamy.   You can see the story here at an abc news site.

Now there is a tailwind of customer service stories on the world wide intergoogle.  You can check out some interesting tidbits on overworked and stressed customer service representatives by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest authors of Who's Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan, in an article entitled Jet Blue's Steven Slater Strikes a Chord with Overstressed Workers; Customer Service Authors Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest Offer Resiliency Tips.

Suttle and Vest share their insights into preparing customer service folks for difficult customers.

Don't be shocked, be prepared – The surprise of being treated rudely can shut down the reason centers of the brain and produce a fight, flight, or freeze reaction.  Businesses who regularly conduct "war game" meetings empower employees with a plan of action to protect themselves. 

Sidestep Last-Straw Syndrome – The issue isn't always what it appears to be.  Mounting pressures can cause an employee to lose control. Service providers need a place to share their frustrations constructively and learn stress reducing strategies. 

Train now or pay later – When budgets are tight, stress-management, resilience, and customer service training may be the first programs to go. People can work well under pressure when they have the emotion management tools to succeed. 

Define Limits – When a customer crosses a line into dangerous and abusive behavior, employees who do not feel supported are more likely to snap. Put a plan in place for managing customers who cross the line from difficult to abusive.

All in all, to me, this story exemplifies a sign of the times.  Stressors are on the rise along with the population count, perpetual conflicts ranging from office disagreements to unwarranted wars, and an oh-so-crappy economy. There are less resources yet more demands, waning patience and waxing intolerance. It's not a surprise that Slater is becoming a hero.  He is simply acting out the fantasy of many folks who are reaching their tipping point yet know that rocking the boat...er....plane could land them in jail, without a job (hence without a paycheck) and create a bigger mess and more misery than what already exists.  It's a pick your battle situation and most customer service professionals know that blowing up at the customer has a long term detrimental impact...still...it's kind of fun to live vicariously through Slater, the man who rocked the plane.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reach Customers in 140 Characters, All of Them Free

By: Twitter Buttons

The New York Times

Published: May 26, 2010

Does Twitter still leave you scratching your head?

Many businesses are struggling to make sense of Twitter, but even if it strikes you as an enigma or hype, consider this: many of your customers are already there.

Twitter has more than 100 million users and is becoming a free forum for business. Companies are using Twitter to engage in highly personalized interactions — sometimes right to the phones in our pockets. Twitter recently introduced a program of “promoted tweets” that will display ads in some search results, although this program remains limited to a select group of Twitter partners, including Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull and Sony Pictures. Eventually, Twitter plans to offer advertising more broadly, but until then small businesses can continue to make productive use of the service.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

7 tips for great customer service

Businessman talking to woman at ticket counter in airport

This is a useful article by Herb Weisbaum
msnbc.com contributor

Sooner or later, everyone will have a customer service problem. It could be a rude salesperson. It could be a website that doesn’t let you complete an online transaction.  It could be a product that doesn’t live up to its marketing claims.

Even the best company can do something that upsets you. What counts is how the company handles the situation once you complain. Were they defensive and blow you off or did they apologize and try to correct the problem?

Read More 

More Dynamic Listening coming soon!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Dynamic Listening: Impulses that Prevent Effective Listening

People flying kites in shape of eye, ear, hand and mouth
Well, I'm a bit behind in my posts.  I was hoping to post a video about Dynamic Listening, but I'm not quite there yet.  Hopefully soon!  In the meantime, I'll simply write about it.

Dynamic (also referred to as Active) Listening relates to a productive activity with another person; a combining of energies. When engaging in Dynamic Listening, it is essential to focus on the speaker and to remove any desire to talk about yourself in that moment. This process helps you to partner up with the speaker and to coach or support him/her on whatever situation or problem s/he brings to your attention.

Dynamic Listening most simply put is Acknowledgment. Acknowledgment is a core human need. Humans have an innate desire to be heard and witnessed. Acknowledgment helps to create an empathic relationship. So, with Dynamic Listening you are accomplishing three goals: 1) helping to meet a core human need of the speaker (acknowledgment); 2) understanding the situation or problem more clearly and 3) creating an empathic relationship.

Impulses that Prevent Dynamic Listening

In many ways, our impulses minimize the speaker to the point they feel unimportant. The following list includes the impulses that prevent Dynamic Listening from occurring:

  • Agreement – without truly understanding the speaker’s emotional content
  • Objection – usually through defensiveness, explanations or excuses
  • Dismissing
  • Finishing – completing speaker’s sentence (jumping to a conclusion about what will be said – also called Premature Diagnosis)
  • Sharing Your Own Story or One Upping
  • Evaluating/Criticizing
  • Problem solving or analyzing
  • Giving advice or suggestions
  • Parroting (repeating back verbatim the speaker's words without really hearing the content)
  • Excessive sympathy (creating a situation in which the speaker has to take care of the listener)
  • Pretending to understand when you really do not
  • Asking unrelated questions
  • Ignoring (engaging in another activity or thought) while the speaker is talking
  • Interrupting **
Anytime a listener jumps from the present to the past or to the future, that individual is no longer engaged in Dynamic Listening. The mastery of this skill involves one’s ability to remain present with the speaker.

**This is the only exception if you are talking with someone who is an ‘external processor’ or someone who is talking nonstop. Be sure to interrupt gently and let the speaker to know that you are interrupting because you want to understand exactly what he or she is trying to relay.  

The next post will focus on specific techniques for Dynamic Listening.  Cheers to opening your world by opening your heart to listening!

To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.
- Chinese Proverb