Tag Archives: customer experience

What Can A Smile Do?


Sometimes the only interaction we have with customer service people now is when we need to pick something up like groceries, an emergency sweater or shoes.  That’s because a lot of our interactions now are all online.  I actually like the convenience of online shopping.  It’s convenient, I can go any time I want, I have a large selection of things to look at before I buy.

But when I do go out and I do need to see and talk to someone, it’s nice when they have a smile.  Smiles are contagious.  If someone smiles at you, you almost always smile back, you just can’t help it.  Even on the phone, you can hear smiles in people’s voices.  Their tone is just a little lighter, they laugh, they get enthused. Even on the phone, a smile is contagious.

What’s hard about smiling on the phone is that you and the person whom you are talking to are looking at different things, not at each other.  So is it possible to still smile at someone on the phone?  Yes!  It is!

It takes more than a smiley face on someone’s computer to remind them to smile.  It takes an upbeat environment and someone in the office to help everyone smile.

If you want to change the environment you work in, try smiling at someone you work closely with. Try smiling in the hallway, try smiling in the elevator, just try smiling.  By smiling at people in your work environment, you can change the mood and perhaps make someone’s day.

So what can a smile do? It can change the interaction you have with people, face-to-face, or on the phone.  Try it, you’ll like it!

Johanna Lubahn is Managing Director of Call Center Services for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.

Above and Beyond

exit signI would like to tell you about one of the best service experiences I received in recent memory.  It occurred at my grocery store where I had purchased five greeting cards.  The cards were nowhere to be found when I got home, so I called the store and spoke with the lead bagger.  He checked the counter and asked the cashier, but still, they were nowhere to be found.  He said that if I could fax the receipt to him, he would refund the amount to me so that my son could pick it up within the hour.  Not only did the bagger refund the money, but he gave me all the same cards as well.  He had picked all the cards using the item numbers on my receipt.

This man came to an easy and quick resolution which he communicated clearly with me, delivered on time and went above my expectations.

Think about the best service you’ve received and what made it exceptional.  Now, how do you emulate those same behaviors within your team and yourself?

I would love to hear your story.

Cynthia Whitmer Griffith currently serves as Performance Results Network Results Consultant for Community Banks and Credit Unions at Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.

Protecting Call Center Reps from Caller Abuse

call centerTo preserve morale in their call centers, bankers need to train their reps to handle caller abuse.



It has been called one of the greatest intercultural exchanges in history – offshore call centers handling millions of customer calls for banks and other companies. But there is a grim underside to the business: caller abuse of call center reps that goes unchecked because it is deemed inevitable and innocuous.

Our experience with offshore providers proves that it is neither inevitable nor innocuous. Caller abuse is costly in terms of excessively high churn, as much as 60% to 70%. And offshore reps can be taught how to handle it and in doing so improve their customer service.

Tough Business

If your bank uses offshore call centers, you don’t want your customers served by demoralized reps in the name of cost savings. Nor, as a responsible employer, do you want to countenance an employment situation where people representing your bank are expected to tolerate what you would never countenance onshore.

Caller mistreatment of reps is endemic and by many accounts growing in prevalence and harshness. Everyone deplores it and most companies set rules that ostensibly protect their onshore reps from the worst of it. But offshore the attitude often is: It’s a tough business, that’s part of the job, don’t take it personally, and above all, keep taking those calls!

It was a recent experience working with call center reps in East Asia that galvanized us to address this issue. There, people covet call center jobs; though arduous, such work is viewed as a rare ticket to the middle class. Landing one takes diligence in getting an education, learning English, moving away from families, learning to be independent, embracing a new culture and following strict rules.

Having been in the call center business for decades, we thought we knew what abuse was until we sat and listened in on some calls offshore. Remarks like these, hostile and aggressively delivered, often with cursing, were common:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you. Switch me over to someone from my country.”
  • “I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.”
  • “It doesn’t sound like English is your first language.”
  • “You’re taking our jobs away!”
  • “Don’t make me repeat myself! Can’t you understand me?”
  • “Your company is a joke.”

Those are personal insults. But what were the reps told? “Don’t take it personally.” The reps themselves were embarrassed when we heard them abused. They shrugged it off with platitudes: It’s not personal, some people are just rude; they aren’t mad at me, they are mad at the company.”

We almost bought the stereotype: high-minded, stoic strivers, too polite to take offense. But as we continued to observe the interactions, we abandoned that nonsense. They were proud people being insulted. Of course it bothered them. Medical journals document the profound effects of verbal insults. Its victims come to feel unworthy, fearful, and shamed. They begin to believe the insults, lose self-confidence and are prone to depression and anxiety.

And the effects are cumulative. We noticed that if a rep had just one insulting caller, or fielded a stray insult or two, they shrugged it off. But if the insults accumulated, we could see the reps deflate and withdraw or toy with something to stave off the next call. Their voices would lose energy and cheerfulness. They skipped parts of the conversation. Eventually, many quit.

For the banks those reps represent, how could such a situation not diminish the company’s brand? How could a demoralized work force deliver the service level the bank desires?

Caller abuse can’t be prevented, but banks that use offshore call centers can ensure that reps are taught how to handle it with dignity, restraint, and wisdom. Four basic skills, all of them eminently teachable and learnable, can make the difference:

Know how to defend yourself. When we promote this, offshore providers tend to protest, “Oh no, I can’t have reps getting into arguments with customers.” But defending isn’t arguing. It’s simply standing up for your company and for your own hard-earned professionalism. Who wants to deal with a company whose employees think so little of their stature that they absorb insults as though they deserve them?

When reps can assert their professionalism by using the right words in the right ways, they pave the way for customer respect to follow. They can learn and practice appropriate responses for common insults. For example, a jibe about English being your second language can be met with, “Yes, I am multi-lingual, which means I am fully trained to help you….”

Stay focused on the customer issue. The point of handling the insults isn’t to retrain the populace in politeness but to promptly deliver whatever customer service the bank has hired the offshore company for. Reps can learn how to transform a successful defense seamlessly into a confident offer to take care of the customer’s problem. They don’t leave the caller to hang up in embarrassment or feel abashed. They can seize the advantage of a successful defense by immediately offering the caller a new opening to get the conversation back on track.

That’s a high-order skill but teachable with practice and coaching. It takes acute listening skills to quickly detect the caller’s changed demeanor, careful word selection to draw the customer back to the issue and skill to deliver the words with the right warmth and cheer. In this way, improving the rep experience also meets the center’s business goals.

Scripts they can internalize, not parrot. While these reps arrive on the job quite fluent in English as a second language, it’s still a second language. Typical training involves learning English slang and making small talk with customers. It is conducted entirely in English, sometimes with a penalty for using the mother tongue. But consider a simple word like “hello.” Imagine explaining, without resorting to the student’s vernacular, that usually it’s a cheerful greeting but sometimes it’s sarcasm for, “Wise up!”

As for teaching small talk, if the training is perfunctory and mainly about conveying broad-brush stereotypes, how could it possibly make for better conversations? What caller would be pacified by a rep that has learned enough about America to say to a caller from Detroit, “I, too, admire your tigers and lions.”

Convey sincere empathyIf reps are taught to use words that assert empathy, but not taught how to convey the appropriate feeling, they end up conveying insincerity, and we all know how well that sits with callers who were unhappy to start with. After they learn the right words, reps still need to work on rate of speech, intonation and inflection. Until they get style, feeling and words all wrapped together in a convincing conversation, reps will have a hard time communicating empathy.

This article first appeared in BAI Banking Strategies on November 13, 2013

Mr. Brown is president, co-chairman and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Cohen Brown Management Group Inc., where Ms. Lubahn is a managing director for call center services. They can be reached at Ed_Brown@CBMG.com and Johanna_Lubahn@CBMG.com.

How Mystery Shopping Can Help You to Feel the Customer’s Experience

female detectiveI am a true believer in learning by observing the “real” world. That is why, last week, I spent a full day mystery shopping at 4 branches of a bank in a European country. My goal was to find out how well they could identify my needs and how eager they were to open an account with the products I needed. Let me share my experiences.

The bank is the number one bank in that country, and my expectations were high. My first impressions confirmed my expectations. I noted that the staff were all “very friendly people and willing to help me without making an appointment first”.

I dropped the clue that I want to open a current account to start with and, surprisingly, 3 out of the 4 advisors immediately started to explain to me their common current account. They printed out the information and/or handed me their brochures. No questions or financial details were asked to find out if this was the right account for me. The only question they asked me repeatedly was “What more information do you want?”

To help them out, I dropped some more clues, but each time the advisors only addressed the obvious question. When I said that I wanted to discuss it with my husband first, none of the advisors asked to schedule a next appointment or noted my contact details.

The following questions kept me awake that night:

  • Is excellent service only about being friendly to a customer?
  • Is pro-actively asking the right questions to identify the needs of a customer and, therefore, being able to offer the best solutions, considered being too pushy?
  • Would a customer feel irritated if they were offered a next appointment and/or asked their contact details for a follow-up?

My answers to those questions were definitively no. What I learned from Marty Cohen and Ed Brown is that Sales and Service are intertwined. And guess what, they really are. As a customer, at first I felt welcome because the employees were very friendly and willing to help me. But from the start of the conversation to the end, it became obvious that the advisors were not listening to me and didn’t recommend the right account for me. I felt I was not being taken seriously.

That day I learned a lot about how a customer must feel sometimes and what we all could do to train, coach and support employees to improve their Service and Sales skills for the benefit of the customers. It was a well spent day, and I recommend you do some mystery shopping yourself or do it more often.

Let me know what you discover!

Brenda Schäfer is a Results Consultant for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.

Doing What Is Right

tvsRecently I purchased a television. I had done some research ahead of time, but standing in front of 50+ televisions all flickering at me was a little intimidating. I began to question myself. So, when the salesperson approached me, I asked about LED, LCD, and Plasma. I asked, what does dpi mean? He appeared very knowledgeable in his responses and did not act as if I was the 10th person to pose these questions in the last four hours. He asked me some questions about where I would watch TV and what I would use the television for. Finally, I asked him, “I have narrowed it down to these two televisions. Which one would you buy?” Without hesitation, he told me his choice and why, and it wasn’t the most expensive of the two televisions. He sold me the right television for my needs without worrying that the other would have added to his sales for the month. He did what was right.

I highlighted a few of the phrases from my experience, as I think they are wonderful reminders to us as we are dealing with clients, members, or prospects. We should also keep a few things in mind:

  1. People who are not in financial services can be intimidated by the wide range of products we offer. And even if they aren’t intimidated, we should consider that, no matter how knowledgeable they are or may have been in the past, the rules and regulations change quickly and often.
  2. We need to be knowledgeable yet clear in our responses. That means we should avoid jargon and details that could be confusing. Having patience with those who have questions and concerns can build rapport and lead to retention of clients and members.
  3. Being consultative will allow us to determine the correct products and services for the person standing in front of us. For example, we can ask questions about how a person uses their checking account, or when they plan to use funds they are investing in a certificate of deposit.
  4. Making proper recommendations will provide financial benefits to the client or member, allowing them to make or save money, borrow money, protect their money, or save time in their banking.

The bottom line is that doing what is right for the client or member is the ultimate form of service.

Cynthia Whitmer Griffith is a Performance Results Network Results Consultant for Community Banks and Credit Unions at Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.

One Simple Behavior; One Giant Impression

canstockphoto10405518My husband and I traveled to Moscow last week—a long way from our South Florida home and a long journey through multiple airports. We travel extensively, but this time we were struck by the service we received from airline personnel at all the different touch points—airport check-in, lounges, gate team, and in-flight crew.

I had lots of good experiences on this trip, but one thing stood out. This airline, perhaps in part because of all the security requirements, unfailingly used our names. But it wasn’t robotic and it definitely made an impression. In each case it seemed a sincere effort to build rapport and make our journey pleasant. Yes, I was traveling business class, but my husband wasn’t and the first thing he commented on when we deplaned and reconnected in the terminal in Moscow was the friendliness of the staff along the way and their use of his name.

One simple behavior demonstrated across the organization made a very big, very positive impression. In our minds, it’s now part of this airline’s brand and reputation.

This got me thinking…If I had to choose a single behavior or activity that, if performed consistently with a high degree of quality would have a lasting positive impact on my customers’ experience, what would I choose? And, how would I make that activity part of my company’s DNA—something everyone in the organization understood as vital to providing world-standard service? What level of commitment, focus and follow-up would it take to cascade just one behavior through an entire organization?


Cynthia Leverich is Director of Global Business Development for Cohen Brown Management Group, Inc.