Customer, Serve Us

Two recent articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal make an excellent parallel read.

Yesterday, the Times, Fast Company founding editor William Taylor considered the sorry state of the customer service call center. Contending that chief executives could best listen to the "voice of the customer" by answering the phone, Taylor holds up organizations such as Commerce Bank and ING Direct as customer service leaders to learn from.

And somewhat eerily, the Journal treads similar water today. (Registration required.) Citing the woes of customer service representatives — they work hard! Every day! — Carol Hymowitz holds up a report by Katzenbach Partners that found that just 10% take personal initiative to solve problems in one call, going off script and occasionally upselling additional services.

Customer service is hard work. We've been there. But if call center work is so unrewarding — turnover is extremely high — no wonder only 10% perform at or near peak.

So what to do? One Katzenbach researcher had this to say: "[Average performers] apologized a lot to customers about what they couldn't do, while the high performers always offered something."

That's good advice. Hello? What can you do for me lately?

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