Trends in Customer Service

I wrote earlier regarding trends in the POS industry. Most of these trends were with the technology of the product we provide. This is only one aspect of my industry.

Our business would be nothing without our customers. This influences how we develop our products and services. And when something goes wrong, our customers need technical and customer support help.

Customer service seems basic on the surface. It’s an expectation we have as consumers. Having worked in customer facing roles most of my life, I can say it is more of an art form and there are in fact evolutions in the trade due to changing technologies and customer expectations.

Technology is a huge driver to trends in customer service. Many companies now offer more than just phone and email support. Chat, text, and even social media support are growing quickly. To keep up, traditional call centres need to look for tools to adapt. Most of these come in the form of Contact Centre solutions. I am currently evaluating vendor options for my company—this experience has been incredible. Voice analytics that can be used to determine an angry customer or text scanning to identify urgent emails are just some of the unbelievable features available in some solutions.

I’ve recently noticed a high quantity of marketing emails from companies I follow regarding longer than usual wait times. This reminded me of some other trends:

http://customerthink.com/8-mega-customer-service-trends-for-2016/

In this article there are two trends that could possible impact customer wait times if you are caught unprepared with the right tools. There is an inherent conflict between the customers wanting faster support and a more personalized experience. Personalization can take time—it takes time to learn about a customer and build a rapport. In the typical support environment this can lead to longer calls, which then can lead to longer wait times if you do not have the resources to accommodate. Tools can also help this personalization trend—modern contact centre programs can pull up detailed information about a caller, allowing agents to quickly learn about the caller. If you do not have these tools, it will become increasingly difficult to keep up with these new demands in customer trends.

What does this mean for learning and development?

While many of these tools are more intuitive for the users, the introduction of new tools introduces new training needs and skills. Experience with these products will start to become an asset for recruiters. Training facilitators will need to keep up to date on these technological changes and product familiarity to help optimize business needs as they change.

The change in customer demands will also create a need for more soft skills training in relationship building, customer experience, and conflict management. This could also mean adopting new training techniques—coaching, role playing, and reflective practices—as traditional lecture and test methodology may not be effective for the soft skills.

Preparing for Instruction 2: Creating a Positive Learning Environment

When I was doing my BA, statistics was an often dreaded program requirement for Social Science and Business majors. There were all sorts of rumours regarding how hard the material was, how this course brought down many students GPAs, and how it had a high failure rate. While math has never been a huge struggle for me, I was nervous as I had not used advanced mathematics in several years.

To my surprise, I did very well in my statistics course, as did many other students in this class. Not only did I receive a high mark, I enjoyed what I learned. I have found many ways to apply the skills learned in this course to business and life. I even from time to time read books relating to mathematics/statistics and the impact it has on social or political realms.

Why was my experience so different than the rumours surrounding this much dreaded program requirement? In a word, it was the professor and the learning environment she created. Using stories and humour, this professor added context and relevance to what is typically dry course material. When we were learning about “T tests” she explained how this was originally commissioned by Guinness so they would have a methodology to produce a consistently better beer. When we were discussing sampling error, she pointed to the ads run by the Conservative party poking fun at Jean Cretien’s disability, which was tested on a focus group but later lead to nation wide controversy. While the course work was challenging, as students we were engaged these fun facts were interesting and demonstrated the value of the material.

Humour can make a difference is the classroom. The following article outlines how humor can be used in the classroom:

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2005/december-05/engaging-students-with-humor.html

Similar to my own experiences with statistic courses, this article outlines how humour can be an effective tool to engage students with course material. One of the ways this works is to add levity to the seriousness of learning. Jokes and stories can also work as triggers to help students recall information later.

This article warns though that humour will not always enhance the classroom. Over relying on sarcasm for an example can give students the impression of negativity and turn students away rather than toward learning. Too much humour can also give students the impression that the teacher is trying too hard to be funny or does not take their learning serious. Finally, some jokes, particularly those dealing with controversial social or political issues, can be offensive to some students. These types of jokes can detract rather than enhance educational environment.

Humour and story telling when used appropriately can be valuable tools in the classroom. We have a playful environment where I work, so incorporating this will be fairly easy and well received. The key will be learning to balance this technique with learning objectives in a way that maximizes learning outcomes. As a facilitator, control will be needed to keep things on track.

Learning Partner Discussion

 

One of the challenges of online learning is creating the sense of a community of learners. Unlike in a classroom, students have to actively seek this community and the level of engagement they wish to have with it. My experiences, few students engage beyond the core assignment requirements in online classes. This is a true shame, I think. Sharing ideas and perspectives is one of the joys of learning.

For this week’s assignment, we were asked to do just that—engage and learn about industry and adult education trends with our learning partner.

My learning partner already works in a University, so she has quite a bit of exposure to the trends in education and adult learning. What was really interesting was to learn that her experiences with education were much different than mine. Her university focuses on Blended format, as opposed to the traditional lecture only in class format. I was not aware that there were schools actively practising these different methodologies on such a organizational level, especially locally.

Some of the big trends she mentioned were gamification, simulation, and other technology based supplements to the classroom. I found this very interesting as these are also trends I’ve seen recently in management. Gamification is being used to engage employees and enhance performance in the workplace, so it is interesting to find out that educators are also finding way to apply this to the classroom.

Even though we are in quite different industries, we found quite a bit of overlap. Similar to gamification, we also both have an interest in soft skills development. She is working on development a program to specifically teach soft skills—perhaps in schools or workplaces. We discussed the link between certain non cognitive skills and employment variables—such as empowerment, performance, and engagement. As these skills seem to be on the low focus in recent generations, we both agreed that this should be a growing area of research and interest.

Preparing For Instruction 1-Characteristics of Adult Learners

I must admit when I embarked upon the study of adult learners and education I reduced a lot of the differences between adult and child learners to psychological and physiological differences. Adult brains are fully developed which should make understanding complex concepts a little easier. On the flip side of this, children can pick up on new lessons with relative ease as their brains are still developing. I think this is a common or popular view amongst people who have not studied or worked with adult learners. I quickly discovered this is a very limited view of the field.

Malcom Knowles is a much discussed writer in the field of adult education or andragogy. In his work, he outlines the characteristics and assumptions of adult learners. Unlike the popular view, many of these characteristics are not directly associated with psychological or physiological traits associated with adulthood. Most of these characteristics highlight the goals, self concept, roles, and experiences that adult learners bring to education. Further, unlike children who need to acquire a breadth of knowledge and education to use throughout their lives, adult learners are “problem centred” in that they seek education to fill some specific need or goal.

There is a plethora of information on the internet discussing the characteristics of adult learning and Malcom Knowles work. I like to connect theory to practise, so here is an interesting article applying Knowles’ characteristics to the customer support environment:

http://customerthink.com/six_characteristics_of_adult_learners/

.In this article, Matt McConnell outlines 6 characteristics of adult learning: the need to know, self concept, role of experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation. For each of these characteristics he applies this to a generalized role of customer support agent. I would like to take this one step further with specific examples from my experience.

The Need to Know

This characteristic assumes that adult learners need to know the ‘why’ or value of the learning opportunities.

In most customer service environments, new products, campaigns, or process are introduced to the team regularly. The need to know is vital for buy in and adoption by the team. For an example, if a new process is introduced to the team without explaining the need to know, often times this is met with resistance or even seen as an arbitrary introduction of a new rule from the top down. On the other hand, if you explain that this new process will reduce call volume or increase customer satisfaction, most agents will gladly engage in the training and adopt the new process easily.

Self Concept

This characteristic highlights the assumption that adults are autonomous beings that can make their own choices and self direct in learning.

This can be a tricky characteristic to apply in the workplace, as often times training is required for day to day business. In the customer support environment, while there is a certain level of required training, it is common to see elective training programs. These include self directed learning opportunities to become a product matter expert or different certification programs. These programs allow agents to choose to learn as much, as little, or even directed in specific skills sets that interest them.

Role of Experience

This assumption acknowledges that adult learners approach learning opportunities with different backgrounds and goals, which influences not only what they want to learn, but also how they learn.

In the customer support environment, experiential learning is one of the primary training methodologies. New hires often ‘job shadow’ a senior representative to understand the types and how calls are handled. This is then applied and compared to their previous experiences. Another common opportunity is projects where agents get to work with other departments on broader company initiatives. These give agents the opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences and perspectives with others.

Readiness to Learn

This characteristic assumes that adults are more attune to learning opportunities that they can apply to real life situations.

In the customer support environment, these opportunities are frequent. Coaching via case or call recording is one of the most frequently used learning opportunities. In this situation, an agent would listen and discuss how they handled a specific call with a coach or manager. While the coach or manager may offer feedback on areas for improvement, this is also a good opportunity for self evaluation.

Orientation of Learning

This assumption outlines how adults are “problem centred” learners.

While this is very similar to readiness to learn, I think this extends further to include a curiosity of learning. For an example, an agent may identify a ‘gap’ in knowledge or process on the team and actively seek for ways to learn more and fill in this gap or solve a specific problem.

Motivation

This characteristic outlines how adult learners are responsive to both external and internal motivators. Internal motivators are often the more powerful motivators.

There are tons of studies done on external versus internal motivators for performance. In the customer support environment, external motivators are very common in the form of individual and team incentives for reaching a goal. Internal motivators, I think are an industry weakness—one I have worked very hard to overcome in my own practice. Career development, opportunities to work on interesting projects, and informal leadership opportunities are often readily available in the support environment, which can easily garner interest and commitment to learning initiatives.

Trends in Adult Education: Online Learning

 

Online learning is a major trend in adult education (even education as a whole). This trend is of interest to me for several reasons. First, as someone working in learning and development, it represents a method by which I can reach a wider audience that is separated geographically. My company has several offices working in different time zones, so physical presence is a challenge. Additionally, arranging convenient times to maximize audience is a challenge, not just due to different time zones, but other conflicting professional obligations amongst employees. Online learning can solve the temporal spatial conflict ever present in the workplace.

On a personal level, there are few years of my adult life where I have not taken some sort of course or workshop either for professional or personal reasons. Online learning is a convenient trend to makes doing so easier.

As side from the convenience factors, many are starting to discuss additional benefits to online learning platforms. Breaking away from the physical classroom also allows us to reconceptualise learning in the online classroom–it need not be bound by the traditional way classroom way of doing lectures. New tools can allow online courses to personalize the education experience. While this video is focused on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses which is a wide enough topic in itself), it describes the potential of personalizing education through online modules:

In this TED talk Daphne Koller discusses the Coursera platform. While Coursera courses often have 100s of thousands of students, the platform is able to personalize the education experience using smart technology and active feedback. She discusses the “Sigma 2 problem” in which different teaching styles affect learning outcome–ranging from lecture style, mastery (where students cannot move  on until mastered module), to finally individual tutor.The learning outcomes of those taught by individual tutor are 2 standard deviations above those taught using traditional lecture style. Koller suggests that the personalization potential of online platforms presents the opportunity to create an education experience to that of an individual tutor.

Online learning platforms also have the potential to provide better content. Student feedback is easier through rating and ranking systems. Those that fail to meet expectations will disappear, but those that are engaging will go ‘viral’. This forces online educators to keep material content engaging and current. Josh Bersin discusses this in the following article:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/01/05/use-of-moocs-and-online-education-is-exploding-heres-why/#61a10c2f7f09

In this article he discusses that not only can students rank and rate courses, but anyone can create new content–from top university professors to business leaders. The ease of use and access also appeals to a wider audience. People will enroll in courses for interest, where in the traditional classroom module many would be detracted by the effort needed to enroll, let alone show up to weekly classes.

Finally, one benefit that is starting to garner attention is the learning community aspects that the online platform provides. John Green’s talk on online learning focuses on the learning community:

Using social media and forums, online learning communities allow students to engage in problems or ideas around the world. This can also present students to new perspectives and ideas that one would not have in traditional learning classroom. The exploration in online communities are engaging–much more rich experience where learning can be fun at the same time as informational.

I have seen the online learning experience evolve quite a bit since I took my first online class in the early 2000s. Some have been structured similar to traditional classroom with powerpoint modules, quizzes and assignments. Others have been well developed series of video lectures. There’s still a lot of room for growth.

As I am a committed life long learning, I’m certain online learning will continue to be a large part of my learning experiences. What excites me most though is that broader use of these technologies will attract more life long learners with it’s ease of use and accessibility.

Let’s keep developing!

Trends in the Point of Sale Industry

The first thing that came to mind when I read this week’s topic was “where do I start?”

First off, maybe a little background is necessary as Point of Sale (POS) may not be intuitive for some. A Point of Sale is basically a computer for retail or restaurants. While it does many things and often interacts with other technologies, at it’s basic it’s the thing employees in restaurant or retail enter in what you want to buy and tracks or processes the payment.

As it is a technical field, changes are frequent. Computer models change, operating systems get released or retired–there’s a constant stream of technological changes.

But this post cannot go on for day, so I will focus on two major developing areas: Mobile Technology and Payment Industry Security Standards.

Mobile Technologies

I’m sure you’ve been to a restaurant and been pleasantly surprised when you do not have to escort the server to some debit terminal connected to the wall by an old school phone cable. Or maybe you’re experience is opposite! Either way, there is a shift going on in the POS industry where businesses are demanding more mobile technology.

The above is just one example. Some businesses are moving away from standalone terminal solutions to tablets where servers can enter orders without going back to a station. These solutions often utilize wifi or 3g technology to communicate orders to the kitchen and process payment.

Another example of mobile technologies is mobile ordering. This type of technology allows customers to enter in orders, set a pick up time, pay for the item and beat the line when they go to pick it up. Here’s a video demonstrating this technology (the video is a few years old, but the technology is still alive and well!).

Similar to mobile ordering is the newest trend Kiosk ordering. While this technology is not exactly mobile, it allow customers to remotely order items from a different location and either pick it up or have it delivered to a particular table. Many business are looking to this technology to reduce labour costs, as the kiosk can do most of what a cashier does. Here’s another video demonstrating this technology:

 

Payment Card Industry Security Standards

One of the most pressing trends in the POS industry is Payment Card Industry Security Standards. Remember a few years ago when everyone needed to start using debit and credit cards that have a chip? That is the result of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCIDSS). These standards determine what practices–from encryption of data to who has access to it–are needed to prevent fraud and data breaches.

The standards are constantly changing. When I first started in this industry 10 years ago, it was barely discussed. Since then, there have been several liability shifts, changes in encryption levels, and the of course the physical card technology. It’s not a short process either. Only recently, have the majority of local businesses adopted chip technology. Currently, this shift is in motion in the US:

Chip Credit Cards Are Coming to the USA: Here’s What You Need to Know

This article discusses the “liability shift” that occurred in the US last October. This means that any merchant that does not use chip enabled technology, can continue to accept payment, but they will be responsible for fraudulent purchase. The road to full compliance will take several years.

These PCIDSS standards often create a need for new technology. Going back to my example earlier of following a server to a debit machine earlier, chip transactions require a pin, which means the technology either needs to be mobile or the customer has to be physically present.

Talk about trends driving each other!

 

 

Introduction

The Point of Sale Industry is a fascinating and rapidly changing industry where I have made my home for the last 10 years. While I’ve held many different roles, Support leadership and employee development are my focus.

Learning and development have always been keen interests for me. Recently, I started PIDP program at VCC to strength my skills as a training facilitator and designer. I have also been working toward a Human Resource Certificate at BCIT.

In addition to my most recent formal education, I also hold degrees from SFU where I studied Philosophy and Women’s Studies.

While this blog is a course requirement for the PIDP program, I have been telling myself to create a blog for years. Well actually, creating them is not the problem–keeping it up is! Hopefully, I continue to engage this beyond the program.