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These are times of positive change at Fiber Optic Center, Inc. (FOC) and with change comes opportunities and aspirations.  This is my first official blog as the Customer Service Department Manager and going forward I will be sharing FOC CS news, thoughts and stories here through @FOC CS.  Tom Waite will be continuing his blogging from his role as FOC VP with the latest on FOC Operations.

In my first few months as a new blogger, I hope to effectively cover FOC Principles of Customer Care, Strategies, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), the building of Customer Centric Service and Metrics vs Statistics.

Tom Waite’s blog will shift from customer service and now be focusing on Service operations: Shipping, Inventory, Product Management, Inventory management, Operation Metrics and Future Operational Plans.

My first months as the Customer Service Department Manager have been filled with evaluation of our current systems and needs, design of a new product management program, and planning for future online ordering needs.  Each of these endeavors, from looking back, deep and forward, require me to focus on the “back to basics” on what we do and why.  Simply put, everything our department does is to ensure the most positive customer experience.

The FOC Way focuses on creating an overall customer experience where each customer feels good about not only making the purchase, but making the purchase from FOC.  Our foundation, as a business, is still solving our customers’ problems.  We accomplish this as a team working seamlessly with the sales department, dedicated to identifying the daily issues and needs, and our technical experts in the facilities helping solve them.  The FOC Way is an important tool in helping our customers make the best cable assemblies in the world.

One of the interesting parts of working in customer service as an occupation is the ‘dual role’ perspective.  You cannot escape being a customer in this world and having daily experiences in that consumer role.  So when tasked to manage, lead and improve a team that provides that service to others, it creates a fascinating perspective.

Customer service, as the customer, is all about getting your objectives met.  It is that simple.  A CS department needs systems in place that will ensure that one simple goal is met.  All the work and systems behind the scenes are not basic but identifying and keeping focused on that one objective is a path to success.

Our marketing manager, here at FOC, told a funny recap of a customer service experience she had, as the consumer, where she equated herself being reduced to the role of a child.  She wanted/needed something she could not obtain on her own.  Frustration set in when she felt that her needs were not being met. Her animated story included her feeling like a toddler who was hungry and the various stages of meeting or not meeting that need with a box of crackers.  Entertaining office banter but also valuable lessons embedded in the story that I share here….

The consumer situation was about an internet contract, equipment difficulties and lack of service but the formula is consistent – one most can relate to but just pop in the different customer situations you have experienced from auto repair to electricity service/bill etc.  Our marketing manager had three different experiences, all over the phone.  They were with three different customer service reps from the same company regarding one dispute with vastly different results.   Because we are New Englanders, here, and have a professional football coach in the area that leads on the principal that everyone on a team must Do Your Job, I am going to identify some key parts of this story by underscoring that philosophy.

 

“On the surface“ customer service

The first CS rep provided a pleasant experience on the surface.  They told her what she wanted to hear and gave an easy solution.  Immediately following, she was satisfied and even motivated to give a great rating on the auto survey that came directly after the call.   Almost immediately, the experience changed.  It turned out the information was incorrect, the ‘solution’ provided was not valid and this caused extra time and effort on her part for no solution.  “On the surface“ customer service is not good customer service.  If you haven’t met the customer’s objective, you have not effectively done your job.

 

“Missed the emotional hurdle” customer service

The second rep did not provide a pleasant experience on any level.  The communication included admitting that the first rep had given false information, not taking responsibility as a company for that, not providing any viable solutions and quite frankly, not giving any indication that they cared about the situation.  The old phrase that everyone has heard, ‘the customer is always right’ is not accurate but should always be in practice.  The customer is not always right but unless that attitude is adopted and lives and breathes in a CS department, you cannot get past this second experience.  How can one get past the emotion hurdle?  Listening is truly a skill.  If a customer feels that they are heard, understood and their issue is important, it can change how they receive any other information including the reality of their situation and options available.  Most humans are reasonable once they feel someone cares.  It is that emotional hurdle you have to get through in order to get everyone engaged on the solutions stage.  If you haven’t satisfied the customers need to be heard and established a relationship of trust and understanding (before you hit the bullet point list of options), you have not effectively done your job.

 

“Gold star sticker “ customer service

The third (and final for a reason) rep she dealt with gets the gold star sticker.  In reality this third customer service rep had the most difficult situation to manage.  They were meeting a frustrated customer, dealing with predetermined negative opinions of the company, sorting through emotions that there is not any care or investment, and faced with an unresolved business situation.  Her success came from being able to 1) identify the above issues, 2) handle them in the appropriate order (remembering that the emotional stuff needs to be resolved first or it will keep interfering with the other steps), and then find a realistic solution that would make our marketing manager feel that they had reached an acceptable resolution.  It might not have been the dream solution but the relationship of trust, honesty and knowledge that had been cultivated by the time the options were presented allowed for a resolution.  Customer felt that their objective as met the best way possible and CS did their job.

 

It is easy to overcomplicate any process that requires the many moving parts that our department is challenged with but that is a reality that begs for us to focus on the

FOC 5 Core Principles of Customer Service:

 

  1. Know Your Audience. In business or personal lives, “knowing your audience” is always the first step.  That simply means taking the time to know what the person you are relating to needs, wants and how they perceive you before you start pushing info to them.  Branding is a marketing term but it is simply how you are actually perceived.  Having that self-awareness about you, an employee who acts as a face of the company, but also to know the overall perception of the company is necessary to effectively rep any customer.

As the leader for this department, I am tasked to really know the branding and perceptions that our customers have of both our department team members and the company overall.  Learning that allows me to train our staff to deliver great service through:

  • Ensuring that FOC frontline employees are consistent in how they represent the company.
  • Making it a practice to ask our customers how they feel about the service they are getting and not assume the answers.
  • Holding everyone on the team accountable and by the same standards. It is business, not personal.
  • Practicing our outstanding customer service behaviors internally as well as externally so we can set the bar as company leaders.

 

  1. Pretty basic, one would think at first glance, but meeting objectives starts with Being Available.  There are two levels to this action that should reduce customer effort.  The first is ease of contact and the second is trust in follow up.
  • Ease of contact means we evaluate our methods of contact to be sure that if a customer has a problem, they can easily get in touch with us. Again, simple.  It should not be effort to get us.
  • Trust in follow up is our dedication to get back to the customer with a solution in an acceptable time period so that follow up is never an effort on the customer’s end. We own that.

 

  1. Emotional Hurdles. An underestimated skill but the foundation to building a trusting relationship.  All business is based on human-to-human communication so understanding human emotions and having the skills to assess and address those first are key.
  • Offer Professionalism, Friendliness & Politeness to every interaction.
  • Accept that you control the positive or negative impact on the experience.
  • Ask a customer how they feel and why.
  • Listen to the answer (different than hearing it).
  • Address and offer solutions to what they have communicated (emotional issue).
  • Remember that this is all an emotional, relationship process and not yet the business issue.
  • The customer is always right….. how people feel is their reality. That is why.

 

  1. Speed / Accuracy. Responsiveness is a top branding of your quality of service. Everyone believes they do not have time for problems so a quick response is key to a satisfied customer.  True success is going to come with marrying speed with accuracy.  Remembering the story I told above, being fast with “on the surface“ customer service and inaccurate information does not create satisfaction.  You mess this one up and you need to back up a few steps to start rebuilding trust and it is effecting all of these steps.  There is no room for hot potato in customer service.

 

  1. Meet the Objective. In football speak, Do Your Job.    There are many people who think they are getting their job done but if the customer’s objective is not met (not your check list) than it is not.  If a CS rep is unclear on the difference, start over at the top of this list and you should find your way.  What is that old saying?  Rinse and repeat…..  when you have the right steps, you shouldn’t get lost too many times.

 

A common practice in the business world is the “sundown” standard.  We all work longer hours and end our day at different times based on that.  The days of eight to six are gone for now and we understand that but we pledge to resolve customer’s needs by ‘sundown’ which means before we end the day regardless of the hour.

That practice builds trust and loyalty.  Even if the phone message or email can only communicate where you are at in their process, that communication is appreciated by the non-clairvoyant customer who is otherwise left wondering.  I will ask this of my team every day and I will ask myself, as their leader, at the end of the day, “What can I do tomorrow to make this team happier and better.”

For any of our blogs, we welcome our customer, partner and supplier feedback so we work together, in concert.

We have an email for any comments, thoughts, needs or suggestions at: FOCCSfeedback@focenter.com.

Please share with us.  If you have already had an experience that we could learn from, we would appreciate you taking the time to share with us.  It is great to plan improvements here in our office but your vantage point is the key to our success.

 

If you would like to get alerts to new blogs as they become available from me, follow me on Twitter @FOC CS.

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Michael Thorpe

About Michael Thorpe

Michael Thorpe joined FOC in 2010 as a Customer Service Representative and quickly rose to a key leader within the department. Previously with Optical Cable Corporation, in the OEM group, Michael worked in sales for bulk fiber optic cable to assembly houses and customer service. During his employment at OCC, SMP was acquired (Now OCC North Carolina) where he was trained additionally on the connectivity side creating the perfect experience for FOC. Michael has a business degree from Nichols College and currently resides in Bristol, RI with his wife, Bianca, and their daughter Maya.