Louis Ross

A collection of best practices and lessons learned – hope you find a pro tip or two you can use!

Build a scalable CX system

(How to build a highly effective and responsive 24/7 customer support system/team)

If you lead the Customer Service/CX function for your company, your customers expect:

  • Quick solutions to their issues (high first contact resolution)
  • An agent available when they contact (no/low hold times)
  • A satisfying user experience (or I’ll tell my friends!)

The CEO/C-Suite really expects one thing: provide great service (achieve what the customers expect) for less cost, year over year. To make that happen, you have to build a foundation that will grow with the business (scale) and cost less as a percentage of revenue as the revenues grow.

Here’s how to do it.

The five major components to building scalable customer service are:

  • Knowledge management
  • Process improvement
  • Workforce management
  • Operations analysis
  • Operations leadership

High level, here’s how these five building blocks are paramount to great service and how to build them. When the company is small, you’ll have to do all/most of this. As revenues/number of customers grow, you’ll have to add managers of these areas to build each component deeply.

Knowledge management – think of it this way: garbage in, garbage out. You can have the nicest CSR in the world, but if the information that CSR has is wrong, the service will be bad. All questions that are coming in to the company need great answers. The answers must satisfy the users and build brand. The secret sauce here is to leverage your investment in this great information in a self serve helpcenter for your users.  Measurables include FCR (first contact resolution), CSAT (customer satisfaction scores), and NPS (net promotor scores).

Process improvement – this is where CS can really help a company get better. How the app works or order is fulfilled is critical and users/customers contact a company when something doesn’t work right. CS must categorize and prioritize this feedback to keep the business improving the corresponding processes. A good business analyst needs to document internal and customer facing processes so CS can answer customers’ questions. A problem well defined is half solved and this is where solutions are made. And, the right tools must be in place; a world class CRM with help center functionality must be properly installed and maintained.

Workforce management – running Customer Service means having great people to answer contacts. Payroll isn’t cheap, so it’s critical to make the most of this investment. Forecasting is critical and scheduling, including adherence, is of course required. Measuring productivity/utilization is a must have – how would you ever know if you need to hire more? Software can help, and good coordinators are needed to make sure the right number of people are in the right place at the right time. Without good planning, forecasting, analysis and execution here, costs can quickly spiral out of control.

Operations analysis – so much analysis is needed in CS, and this is where the alphabet soup is thick: FCR, CSAT, NPS, ASA, AHT, ATR, ACW, and more – all the KPIs that are indicators of performance. And these indicators optimally should be built into a dynamic dashboard that leadership can access at any time to see how the team is doing. Throw in cost per contact, channel mix, and missed calls, and more – this analysis is vital to identifying where there is opportunity to do more with less.

Operations leadership – these are the leaders of people. CS is about people and bringing all that information and skill to each contact. This is the role most people think of in a “call center”. The other foundational pieces have to be in place for these leaders and their teams of agents to do a great job. A servant leadership style goes a long way.

The Head of CS who successfully builds these foundational blocks will be able to scale the business and handle growth as it comes. It’s tempting to just “hire agents” and try to take the calls/chats/emails as they come in, but that action is a short term band aid that will lead to frustration. The other pieces must be in place so that the agents can be excellent interacting with customers. Identify the top 10 contact drivers, write great answers/processes for these issues, document in the helpcenter, and train agents to efficiently handle these contacts – be excellent at what you do most. Then measure and set goals for constant improvement. These are the foundational keys for scalable, excellent service.

Save money with a great knowledge strategy

Time is precious and expensive.  Don’t waste it training employees/agents on ever changing knowledge that they can quickly look up in a knowledge base (KB).  Invest your time training agents to quickly navigate systems, to recognize caller condition, to understand the ROI of concessions, and what it means to be a brand ambassador.  A highly skilled agent can make a call or interaction with a company very pleasant, all while skillfully looking up the latest knowledge.

Some companies have complicated “go to market” offerings.  For example, a company might need 3,000 or more knowledge base articles (each article can contain one or more questions and answers) to support its multiple product lines.  Some companies are rapidly changing and 20-40 of these articles might change every day.   It is responsibility of the organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) to update these KB articles.  To make sure each bit of information is available; is switched from “wrong” to “right”.  Imagine how expensive it would be to train agents on this information every day.  Knowledge that often times will change before they use it.  Knowledge that can just be looked up when needed.

Some companies have simple market offerings and hardly change.  They might only have 100 bits of information that agents need to know to answer questions and provide great service.  These agents might be considered very skilled because they know all the information.  But do they have high skill?

Click here to learn the difference between knowledge and skill.

The bottom line: a knowledge base is a tremendous asset to a company. Leverage this asset by making the information available in your public facing website in a helpcenter. (Zendesk provides an excellent option in Guide.) Most customers want to self serve these days, so a searchable helpcenter allows them to get answers 24/7 without having to contact customer service. Customers are happy and the company saves money with fewer contacts. It’s a win-win.

It takes work to maintain the asset: here is the Knowledge Wheel of Life to show how every single question of Customer Service can build the asset.

Great Questions any Head of CX should be asking as they take a new role

  • What does the roadmap and timeline look like?
  • What is on the prioritized list of actions currently underway?
  • Is there a CSAT or NPS survey or both?
  • What is the NPS and/or CSAT score for today and daily for the past 90 days (review trend)?
  • How many surveys were received? Are we offering a CSAT survey to every contact?
  • How many DSATs were received and were all contacted for service recovery?
  • What CRM is used?
  • Is a dynamic KPI dashboard available?
    • What KPI are measured? What KPI would the C-Suite like to see hourly, daily, weekly?
  • What is the current AHT for contacts, by channel?
  • What is the ASA for each channel, by hour, by day? What is the goal?
  • Where are processes documented?
  • Please provide a copy of the worldwide roster of all team members (name, group, leader, role, etc.)
  • What is the current productivity rate of the entire team and each sub group?
  • What is the current and forecasted daily capacity of the team?
  • What is the current contact driver list (with totals)?
  • What is our quality score?
  • How many contacts were reviewed for this score?
  • How many contacts are received each day?
  • What is the daily and hourly forecast, by channel for the next 90 days?
  • What is the current channel mix?
  • For the BPOs, what was their productivity rate last week?
    • What was their agent turnover the past 60 days?
    • What are their quality scores? How many contacts were scored?
    • What are the current contractual terms?
    • What KPI are measured to hold them accountable?
  • What are revenues projected to be this year?
  • What is the total spend for CX the past 3 months?
  • What is the goal of spend/revenue?
  • Are we calling people when they cancel an appointment and or don’t order again?
    • What is the retention percentage? What is the goal?

World class differentiators

  • Do we survey each and every customer on the day of service to gather their feedback?
  • Do we follow up with each negative survey the same day?
  • Do we pull reporting on which customers don’t have a subsequent service with x days. For example 4-7 days, as this would indicate they were not satisfied.
  • Do we text or email customers before the service people arrive?
  • Do we offer a referral gift to existing customers?
  • Do we collect birthday information (not including year) to call or text them a birthday wish?

Leading WFH Teams

Did you lose your remote control? During Covid-geddon 2020 a lot of companies had to shift employees to work from home to adhere to Covid requirements. I had to move 50 employees home to work in 1 week in March 2020. I was immediately asked:

Aren’t you concerned about productivity, quality, and morale?

My answer was simply “no.” We already measured all these metrics and I was confident they would remain high, or get even higher. How could that be? Because WFH (work from home) scenarios amplify what’s already in place. If you, the CX Team Leader, already measure and communicate the expectations of each person in how they produce (and at what quality level) each day and week, then working from home is just more of the same. It’s highly likely all the systems are cloud based SaaS, so log in securely and take the next call. Productivity gets a bump of about 2-5% because agents are no longer walking to meetings, talking so much to their cubicle neighbors, etc. We saw a 4% increase the month we moved the team home. Which brings me to the other metric that is super important: morale. Morale gets a little bump because agents are no longer commuting, can wear their PJs (there’s no camera on a voice call for CSRs), and other reasons. But these morale boosters can quickly be lost if CX Leaders don’t measure their team with quick (1-2 questions) polls and lots of informal “stand up” meetings (now the camera is on) to read body language, ask questions, and see how the agents are doing. Recognize top achievers in not only productivity and quality, but subjective actions like supportive conversations, cheering teammates on, or that amazing feedback an agent received on a CSAT survey.

A lot was learned about WFH during the crazy year that was 2020. If a CX Leader doesn’t already define, measure, and communicate what CX greatness looks like, WFH will only expose that deficiency. Remote or not, the Leader has to point to the picture they want to see, to make it appear.

2 Simple Parts to Leadership

Simple is often better. In the challenging realm of leading people, I’ve discovered a simple method that covers it all. My goal, which I tell everyone I lead, is that they are simply happy and productive. This covers both the employee and the company. The employer/employee relationship should be symbiotic, with each party “getting something” out of the relationship.

TL;DR: Know what makes your employees happy, so that they’re getting what they want out of the job. Communicate what the company needs in the form of productivity, to make sure the company is getting what it needs from this position.

First, an employee is almost always happy if they are getting what they want out of the job. This could be sufficient income, learning new skills, contributing to an altruistic vision, being part of a dynamic team, progressing in their career, serving others, being creative, flexibility to raise their family, the list goes on and on. But here’s the key: we don’t know what makes them happy until we ask them. It’s critical to ask the people we lead what makes them happy – what are the reasons they want this job. (And btw, it’s ok to say that they want to make sufficient income. Making a living, paying one’s bills, taking care of one’s responsibilities, paying fair share of taxes…these are all noble quests and earning sufficient income is required.) So, I like to have an in depth conversation about their reasons with people I lead when I begin leading them and during their annual performance review. And to revisit these often – even informally at weekly and monthly updates.

Second, the company needs things done to survive and thrive. Every role should have well defined deliverables and timeline – the production that is needed. As a leader, I need to understand this for each role I’m responsible for and communicate these productivity expectations to each employee. When this productivity happens, the company is getting what it wants. And again, progress (or lack thereof) needs to be communicated at each weekly or monthly update, celebrating what’s going well (or clearly discussing what’s not and what can I or the company do to help.)

Happy and productive is an easier way to say there is a mutually symbiotic relationship. Both employer and employee must benefit. It’s our opportunity as leaders to ensure this is the case.

Keep Small Teams Omni Channel

In customer service there are channels (phone, email, online chat, social media, and others).  Obviously, customer service is expected to handle contacts for a company that come in via these channels.  As a company grows, it is common to segregate teams by channel, as there are some benefits in doing so (workforce metrics, quality improvements, and more).  But this article is to caution leaders who might want to create channel specific teams too early or with teams that are too small.  For a small company, if leadership creates a voice only team, or email only team, the risk is those agents sitting idle (being underutilized) when the phone is not ringing (for email agents) or when emails are not coming in (for email agents), etc.  The same is true for teams that service a special function for the company (such as tech support or a VIP line).  It is important that these agents stay omni-channel, or leadership will waste their talent waiting for the phone to ring (for email agents) or for an email to come in (for voice agents) etc.  Specialized teams usually require higher skilled agents and these agents can handle switching between channels, going where the action is.  Don’t waste your talent by limiting a skilled agent to one channel; keep them omni channel.  Yes, your workforce measurement metrics will be harder to calculate, but it will be worth it.  Remember, your ultimate goal is to provide great service via contacts, and that will happen more if your (best) agents are available as much as possible, regardless of channel.

Service in the B2B2C World

Direct Selling Customer Service Spectrum

In direct sales (network marketing), the customer service provided by the corporate office needs to be like no other.   On one contact the company could be answering a customer’s basic initial inquiry (who are you or how does your product work?); the next contact could be an explanation of the intricate details of the compensation and genealogy plan to the company’s top distributor.  It is critical that companies using the direct selling model understand the differences and great opportunity that exist in the wide range of customer service.

As you can see in the Direct Sales Customer Service Spectrum, a person falls into one of the six major categories (staying high level here – there are many more sub categories in the spectrum).  Each category has typical questions and services unique to where the person is on the spectrum – and each service interaction should be very different, based on the person’s category.  The great goal of successful direct selling companies is to provide service and take action to motivate each person to move a step in the direction from A to Z on the spectrum.  (The questions below each category on the spectrum are just one example of the 100s of questions typical of each category.)

Concurrent to this effort, it is critical that the company understands that every interaction (toll free phone call, web site visit, YouTube video, or question posted on social media, etc.) is an opportunity to build or destroy the brand.  Everyone on the spectrum is a consumer at heart, but it is the quality of the tailored service he/she receives in their interaction that confirms the value proposition and has the opportunity to inspire them to grow the business.   The goal of all direct sellers should be to create an army of raving, lifetime product evangelists.  Instance specific, tailored service with a spectrum vision is the method to accomplish this goal.

Ring, Ring! Your Brand is on the Line

rotary dial phone

While the actual caller is a customer, the fact is that your most important asset is being put to the test on every phone call.  Every email, online chat, or interaction with your company is an opportunity for a call center agent to make or break the reputation of the company.  Often times, in today’s online, self-service world, the interaction with the customer service agent is the only dialogue the customer will have with the company.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are your agents great ambassadors of the company? Do you treat them as such?
  • Are they well trained?
  • Do your agents have a leadership team cheering them on – listening to and supporting them?
  • Does your company take action to make agents comfortable and have fun?
  • Do your product leaders think about up-training and change mgmt. with the call center, as it makes updates and changes to products so agents feel in the know and ready?

You write vision statements, you create marketing budgets, you source product, you hire executive teams to create an amazing brand in the market place.  So your brand is everything.  And everything is riding on every call.

Call Center Leadership 102


It’s not for beginners, but it is the secret sauce that makes for the best customer service you’ll ever experience: servant leadership.  There are many required factors in running a call center, handling contacts, and getting the job done: knowledge management, KPI tracking/reporting, an optimal CRM, workforce management, training, partnership with business leaders, and more.  But if you want to get the job done well, it comes down to leadership.  There is a reason that every new hire at Zappos spends their first 2 weeks in the call center taking calls.

It takes a culture of “I’m here for you – how can I help”, championed by the leaders that will make the difference.  Leaders, from the floor supervisors, to the Directors and even the VP, need to be a part of the operations of the team.  They need to be able to take an escalated call, to model the skill necessary to provide great customer experience.  To show the agents, the people that talk to the customers more than any other team of people, that we are all in this together.  That a genuine desire to serve will win over any caller.  And that we’re passionate about turning every caller into a raving fan.  Continuing education anyone?

Iteration Is Key

I’ve learned how important an iterative approach can be to business (and more).  For example, as entrepreneurs, my wife and I are passionate about helping others learn, set goals, grow, and achieve.  We’re constantly trying to find people whom we can help with these goals.  It’s no different than any small business that has a quality product/service, seeking to find more clients.  Because our time is our most precious resource, it is imperative that we test marketing, communication, and methods before we scale them up.  We need to avoid making assumptions (that something will work) before we spend dollars on marketing, or spend our time.  Just because we think it will work, doesn’t mean it will work.  In business, we can be our own worst “Sample of One”.

So we are careful to document exactly what we are doing (email verbiage, target market attributes, web page counters, etc.) so that we can measure every round of effort we make – every iteration.  We take action, measure the results, and tweak as necessary.  Write, test, repeat.  Iteration after iteration… making progress towards our goals.  We’ve all heard Edison “failed” over 1,000 times in his pursuit of inventing the light bulb.  When asked about these failures, Edison replied to the effect of, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times.  The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Customer Service is Paramount


Leading customer service for a company is much more than just handling “Where is my order?” calls.  Customer service is a tremendous opportunity to extend (or derail) the company’s brand on every call – and much, much more.

The following list gives an idea of how wide and encompassing the customer service role can and should be.  The leader who nails this list has a chance to really serve the organization – to extend the brand, to responsibly contribute to profitability, and to help steer the company.

Because more often than not the most interaction a customer has with a company is with the customer service team, the service team usually has the most impact on the public opinion – the brand – of the company.  It’s one of the most critical roles in the company.

The priority should change based on the needs and vision of the company.

  1. Protect/build the brand on every call.
  2. Create and curate knowledge – an incredibly valuable company asset; knowledge feeds all systems.
  3. Increase profitability by reducing service cost as a percentage of revenue.
  4. Sales creation/retention opportunities (especially with continuity sales).
  5. Monitor public sentiment via social media.
  6. Executive KPI (key performance indicators) reporting.
  7. Crisis management/early warning mechanism (call drivers, risks).
  8. Be a positive part of the company’s culture (service is often one of the largest teams).
  9. Create a career ladder for people.  Agent turnover is a headwind, reduce it by creating a growth path.
  10. Create bench strength (a highly qualified hiring pool) for the organization.
  11. Use the knowledge asset to create robust training/agent onboarding.   New hires need to be impressed too.
  12. Create scalable, responsive systems so customers can self serve on their device,  Reduce contacts/costs.
  13. Be a SME in IT systems; rarely does anyone know as much about the order management systems/ERP.
  14. Workforce management – establish service level commitments, service levels, for every channel.