Jeanne Bliss on How to Manage a Customer Service Operation

Jeanne Bliss on How to Manage a Customer Service Operation

I spoke to Jeanne Bliss, who is a customer experience expert. As the Customer Leadership Executive for five large U.S. market leaders, Jeanne fought valiantly to get the customer on the strategic agenda, redirecting priorities and creating transformational changes to the brands’ customer loyalty. She has driven achievement of 95 percent loyalty rates, changing customer experiences across 50,000-person organizations. Jeanne developed her passion for customer loyalty at Lands’ End, Inc., where she reported to the company’s founder and executive committee as leader for the Lands’ End customer experience. She was Senior Vice President of Franchise Services for Coldwell Banker Corporation. Jeanne served Allstate Corporation as its chief officer for customer loyalty & retention. She was Microsoft Corporation’s General Manager of Worldwide Customer & Partner Loyalty. At Mazda Motor of America she initiated the brand’s retention effort. In the following brief interview, Bliss talks about  the biggest customer service issues she’s seen, ways to turn angry customers into loyal ones, how she managed service requests and more.

Dan Schawbel: You’ve worked at a lot of companies in customer focused roles. What are some of the biggest customer service issues you’ve faced in your experience?

Jeanne Bliss: The biggest issues come from the right hand and the left hand of an organization not coordinating their efforts. A frustrated customer calls or emails, then that person gets passed around, as each area moves them to another area. Then once someone commits to helping, there are multiple layers of approval. This is happening around the world with great regularity. Customer hot potato. Customers leave because of it.

Schawbel: What are some ways to turn angry customers into loyal ones?

Bliss: First, “own” the customers’ experience. Start by asking about the customers’ life and what happened.  Don’t start with the policy number or order number or begin by spelling out the policies that prevent the customer being helped. Care about the customer. For real. Then solve the problem. And apologize. People want to hear the words that you are sorry that the customer had a disappointing experience. Then follow up.

Schawbel: At Lands’ End, for example, how did you manage customer service requests from issue to resolution? Was this different than at other companies you worked for like Allstate?

Bliss: Lands’ End was grown from the ground up with a commitment to believing in and supporting the people who helped customers. Our operators (about 2000 at the time) did not have talk time. We coached them to deliver an experience. They were given tools and training but then were trusted. It’s important to note that this business was retail – without the complexity of insurance.

The insurance industry is working hard at turning itself into a customer focused operation and Allstate is one of those companies working hard at that. There are many more rules and policies in industries with government regulations. But with all my clients in these types of industries, the goal is to elevate the person who talks to the customer as the “navigator” — someone who navigates the customer through the complexity. Unfortunately that sometimes means the customer doesn’t get everything he or she wants, but they feel that they have been listened to and honored.

Schawbel: What do most companies get wrong about customer service and how should they correct it?

Bliss: Most companies think of the work as ‘customer service’ which is reactive – problem solving after something has gone wrong. We are focusing with clients on “Customer Experience” – meaning to be deliberate in connecting the silos to delver an experience across the customer journey. Customer service is part of the journey but it is only the reactive part.

Schawbel: What have been some of the innovations in the customer service world and what tools are companies using these days to handle this change?

Bliss: Regarding specifically helping customers in distress, companies are changing the rigor on the metrics that only align to internally driven operational goals, such as talk time. Instead, they are starting with who they hire in terms of personality, empathy – then they train to skill. They are coaching now to improve the outcome of the experience versus comply with those operational metrics.

Regarding the more holistic customer experience work – we are seeing this embraced with vigor around the world as companies (finally) realize that the entire experience is the brand and that being reliable is the only real way to earn word of mouth. That said, this work can be considered early days.  But we have executive attention and are gaining traction because we can connect this work directly to business growth.

Schawbel: How can a customer service department be more proactive instead of reactive?

Bliss: Here’s one thing Customer Service departments can put into practice right away to help their frontline and customers:

Sit with the frontline and inventory the major reasons they often need to get permission. Rather than making them go through that step, work through their options at those moments. Train them and let the frontline be the judge of picking the correct option.

Schawbel: How can companies best hire for a customer support team so they best fit into the culture?

Bliss:

  • Hire for values and personality first.
  • Model the behavior from your best folks and watch someone take calls to see if they model the same behavior.
  • Do a ‘customer service tryout’ where someone comes on for 1 week as a trial.

Speaking of trials, you can try Intuit QuickBase for customer service free for 30 days.

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