“Everything You Do Affects Somebody Else.”: How Errol Allen is Doing Customer Service Right
Errol Allen is a customer service consultant who is changing the face of the industry, one company at a time. His company, Errol Allen Consulting, provides training, analysis and exhaustive revamp programmes that can kick-start any business and help it reach success.
Having started out as a patient escort at his local hospital, Errol’s customer service expertise goes back to his high school years. Since then he has spent 25 years in various positions that have gained him an inside look at the conflicted world of customer service, from the strength of a company’s culture to the way it engages with customers.
Here’s what Errol had to say when we quizzed him on the problems of customer service today and what can be done to overcome them.
What are the most common mistakes you see made by companies that seek your help and expertise?
“The number one problem is that [companies] don’t provide enough training. In the rush to get employees, either on the phone with customers or in front of customers, the training is not as thorough as it probably should be. Knowledge of products and services is lacking, and having a good understanding of what you do as a customer service rep and how it impacts everybody else in the company…I see shortfall there.
I’ve asked people, ‘Do you know how what you do impacts the next person who has to utilise what you do?” And the answer would always be no. And I just found that amazing…that in a company the people didn’t know how what they did impacted everybody else within the company.
So those are just a couple of shortfalls that I often see – not enough training on the products and services that the company is offering, and not enough training on understanding how what you do impacts the next person within the company.”
In your opinion, what are the very basic foundations a company needs to get in place in order to build a customer service culture?
“Well, I figure you have to have at least a basic idea of what you’re about as a company. What do you want to do, what is it that you stand for? How do you treat your customers? How do you treat your employees? How will your employees treat each other?
Just put these basic building blocks in place so that everyone is on the same page within the company as to how we will treat each other and how we will treat our customers. You put those in place first, and you go from there. Establish your corporate culture first, and make sure when you bring in employees that they’re schooled on your corporate culture first…even before you get to what it is they’re going to be doing as an employee. Make sure they understand what your culture is.”
You provide a range of different services to help businesses enhance their customer service management and strategy. What are some of your most popular services?
“Right now its workshops. I like interaction; I don’t like workshops or training where it’s just me talking – that’s boring to me! I like interaction because that way, I know that what I’m saying is sticking. It allows the attendees to ask a lot of questions, and it allows me to make sure that at the end of the day, they got what they came for.
I always ask, ‘Why are you here today?’ I ask everybody in the room and I make a note of it on the whiteboard. And at the end of the workshop I’ll always go back over that whiteboard to make sure that what everybody said, they received.”
You also offer a Mystery Shopping service, which is quite unique – not a lot of other customer service training programmes offer that. How do you think mystery shopping can help a business?
“Well, it helps through someone actually posing as a customer and getting a live view of what’s actually going on within your business versus what you think might be going on. You get an outside, unbiased view – its not like its an internal employee going out and doing it; it’s someone that’s unbiased. They’re just observing what’s happening versus what they’re told should be happening, and the’re reporting on that. So I think that’s really important – mystery shopping is an unbiased view of what’s actually going on in your business.
And you can take that information and see if there’s patterns, because just one mystery shopper really doesn’t show you a whole lot. You want to identify patterns – is this happening over and over and over again? And which location; is it the same location; how often is it happening? It helps you identify a lot of different things that you can then improve upon.”
And you also offer development and analysis, so I imagine that’s where the analysis part comes in? Do the two go hand in hand?
“Kind of. The analysis is designing a survey and sending it out and getting the feedback, and doing an analysis on that.
Mystery shopping is sort of the same thing – you’re recording your experience, and you can take all of the information from your experiences and you analyse that data as well. Especially if a customer has multiple locations – you can look across locations and see what’s happening. Is the same thing happening at every location? Or is it just specific locations where customers might experience whatever I’ve experienced? It’s a good way to just help the client identify what’s going on where and when.”
One of the talks you give is based on your father’s perspective on customer service. How has this influenced you and shaped your view of the industry?
“My dad had a saying just for me. He would always say, ‘Haste makes waste, boy,’ because I had a tendency to get in a hurry to do things, and then it would take me twice the amount of time to do it because usually I’d mess up and make a mistake, or it wouldn’t come out like it should.
And its the same in customer service, because you have to take the time to develop your core values and develop a good training scenario for your employees; not just for new hires but refresher training too. You have to really get the big picture; consider your internal customer service and how what you do affects the next person.
It takes time to do all that, but in the long run you’ll have a better situation and environment, and it shows in your employee morale. So just by taking the time to do it right versus doing it in haste, my father’s saying has always rang true for me.”
In another one of your talks, you use football as a metaphor for customer service. What was the inspiration there?
“Well, football is about teamwork…everybody being on the same page and understanding their position on the team. And also learning a bit about the other positions on the team, and understanding that if you are not as efficient in handling your position, usually the play is not going to go so well.
And in American football, the players are given a playbook, and its their responsibility to learn what they do on every play, in that playbook. So it means they’re going to have to spend some time learning every play, and how they impact that play, and how others are impacted by what is done in that play. So we’re talking about training now. It’s all about understanding that if the team is to be successful, than we need to be real good at what we do.
And we need to be real consistent too, because in football, if a player is not consistent, pretty soon they’re gonna be sitting down. They’re going to be on the bench.”
Which companies do you feel are providing excellent customer service?
Zappos – they’re easy to deal with. Amazon…Southwest Airlines…You can just see and feel [with these companies] that the way you’re treated, it’s a culture, it’s not just one individual.
I used to fly Southwest Airlines a lot, and the people were so jovial and always treated the passengers well. Amazon, I can order something from Amazon and it’s just so easy to order it, first of all. You get it quickly, and if you need to call you’re treated properly.
I’m a big stickler for consistency. It doesn’t matter who you talk to in a company, the experience should be the same. And I’ve found that to be so with these companies. It just seems that they’ve taken the time to get it right.”
You’re currently running a ‘Customer Service Pledge’, which companies and individuals are being encouraged to sign. What was the idea behind that?
“The goal of [the ‘Great Customer Service Pledge’] is to shape it so people are hearing a lot of good things about customer service. You hear so much negative talk about customer service, and I want to switch that around, not only locally here in Houston, but worldwide if I can. I’m trying to get 10,000 people to sign.
I want companies to understand that its important to commit to providing great customer service, so that’s why I gave them the ‘Seven Keys to Consider’. Customer service is a little more than just teaching people to be nice – most people are nice anyway. There are other things that go into making a great customer experience. Are your people trained properly? Do they understand how they impact others within the organisation, is everybody on the same page? Do you have a set of corporate values?
And it’s important for the leaders to service customers every now and then – I’m a big proponent of that. Get on the phone and see what its like to talk to the customers, or get face-to-face with some customers and see what its like. Your employees will have so much more respect for you when you do that. They don’t expect you to do it as fast as they do because they know you don’t do it every day, but just the fact that you’re out there, they’ll gain so much respect for you, they’ll do anything for you…especially when there’s a crisis or a huge demand. I’m surprised more leaders don’t do that – it was always a big deal for me.
It’s all more than just putting a sign up on the wall saying you’ll provide great customer service. You have to ask yourself, what does that mean?”
Errol’s book. ‘The Keys to Delivering Amazing Customer Service’ is available to buy now on Amazon, or via his website, Errol Allen Consulting.
If you’re interested in how Errol could help your business, get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter @consult53.
Be sure to sign Errol’s Great Customer Service Pledge here and spread the word!