Podcast #18

Lessons from a Customer
Service Consultant

Charlotte Purvis
Customer Communication Specialist & Author

 

About this podcast

Today we interview author and customer service consultant, Charlotte Purvis.

Charlotte developed the Customer Communication Formula and now teaches it to corporations to improve their customer service.

 

Explore the power of AI and NLP
for your customers and agents

Interview Transcript

Welcome to the Future of Customer Service Podcast. I’m Andrea Palten, from Inbenta and I will be interviewing customer support and service professionals to see what is currently working well, what issues they’re trying to overcome, and the future success of customer service.

Andrea Palten
Hello, today we have Charlotte Purvis. She’s a customer service consultant and author. Thank you so much for being here. Charlotte. I want to know more about exactly what you do as a customer service consultant.

Charlotte Purvis
Well, thank you for the invitation, and for the last 20 plus years, I have been a customer service consultant primarily for companies but also with community organizations, church organizations. I’ve even worked with campus organizations and I’ll tell you what I do. I literally take every aspect of the customer service delivery, and I ask the question why are we saying this? 

Andrea Palten
So, you sit with the actual customer service folks and just really pick apart what’s happening. Why are you saying this? What’s the outcome? That type of thing.

Charlotte Purvis
Absolutely and when you listen to that call, did you notice that when you said such and such, did you notice that the person had to ask you what that meant? Maybe it was an acronym. Maybe it was what I call a big college word. Who knows? So, I am the person who has the luxury of analyzing everything we say and do with our customers, asking those questions but also helping to develop solutions. So, I am a customer service consultant, as you mentioned, a coach, and so forth, but I’m also a customer service enthusiast. I enjoy observing customer service. I enjoy being a customer. I enjoy reading about customer service. I am very passionate about this and thankfully I have had a number of clients over these years who have taken their customer satisfaction, their overall leadership development to the next level by paying attention to their customer service.

Andrea Palten
So, these clients, before they come to you, what is usually missing or what are they trying to fix before they say, okay, Charlotte, we need your help?

Charlotte Purvis
What they are typically trying to fix is customer satisfaction scores. That’s a big one. They’re also interestingly trying to fix their brand, their image with their customers, their image in their industry for example. They are also trying to fix the motivation and the morale of the people who are delivering customer service, who are getting burned out, who are not pleased themselves with the level of customer service they are providing. So, that’s when they call me and I’ve been very fortunate because typically when they call me, it’s because of a referral or repeat business. 

So, I typically can jump right in and I have a reputation I’ll say for how much I enjoy working with those frontline customer service professionals. All I can say is I can say two things. One is that my clients have had great results organizationally but one of the other outcomes of the work that I do is that the customer service professionals, many of them have taken the lessons learned in customer service and have gone on to higher levels of leadership. They credit what they learned in the customer service center or in the customer service role with their ability to go to that next level. So, that’s something I’m very proud of.

Andrea Palten
Oh yeah, as you should, as you should. So, when you come in and don’t name any names when you come into a company and it’s really broken, the customer service scores are horrible. Is it usually leadership that didn’t understand what to do or is it usually the people on the front lines, on the phones that were doing things incorrectly?

Charlotte Purvis
You just tapped into something that it took me a while to learn. I used to say customer service begins when we answer the telephone, for example. Now I say customer service begins with leadership. So, whereas I typically would request to go straight to the front line. I like being in the center or on the telephone with the people providing the service. Typically, now I say, take me to your leader. Let’s have some conversation. I want to know on that call where that customer just hung up out of frustration. I need to know what kind of environment you’re creating that says to that customer service professional, that that is okay. You’ve done something in this organization that says, if a customer hangs up, then guess what? Tough. I mean, it happens. What is one of the lines that people use? They’ll say you just can’t please all the people all the time, for example. 

So, I now use those words. What kind of environment have we created here that says that the customer was so frustrated that they hung up? But get this, the customer service professional didn’t even report that. They didn’t even think that as anything to report and the only way we found out about it is through the call calibration. So, I’m sitting on a call calibration and I hear a customer say, this is too complicated. You all are just doing too much over there. I’m already having a tough time and I can’t deal with this anymore. Click, and it wasn’t even reported. So, to answer the question, when I started out, I thought I would go to the front line. Now I go take me to your leaders and let’s have a conversation.

Andrea Palten
Yeah. So, then you go to the leader, you see what’s not working. So, you go on calls obviously. You just were talking about that and then what do you do? Do you give them a strategic plan, or do you do mock calls? What does engagement look like with you?

Charlotte Purvis
The engagement is typically what many of us try to avoid, but something that I actually enjoy interestingly enough is that conversation. To have that conversation that everybody else has been tiptoeing around it. The reason I enjoy it because I know this, I know that it’s not about me and it’s not about the leader, it’s about the customer. So, I have no fear. I have no concern at all because I’m not even talking about what’s important to me. I’m talking about that customer who hung up. So, I go, I have that conversation, and then, yes, I start outlining some specific steps for us to take. Then we go to the frontline, we set some new standards, set some new expectations. We go to our customer service professionals, I call them, and then we measure it, we monitor it, we measure, we monitor. Then one day all of us look around and we say, look at what we did. I had a client recently who shared with me that after we’d been working together for a while, that someone outside their organization said, essentially the essence of the message was there’s your group and then there’s everyone else. It’s like you all, isn’t that awesome?

Andrea Palten
That’s really awesome.

Charlotte Purvis
We don’t even think of you when we think of everybody else in this organization. There’s you and there’s everybody else. Get in line over here because you all are the stars and when they shared that with me, that’s what we want. Let me tell you that has been a consistent theme with my clients I’m proud to say. I have some of the most awesome clients in the whole wide world.

Andrea Palten
That’s so that’s huge because that obviously speaks a lot to you but also speaks a lot to your clients who are willing to learn, and they’re willing to change and willing to optimize what they’re doing. 

Charlotte Purvis
Yeah. 

Andrea Palten
So, let’s talk about change a little bit. So, obviously, with artificial intelligence, we’re seeing more and more chatbots, knowledge centers, and everything. My first question to you is when you come to an organization, do you deal with that too, and do you help them out with that, or is that almost separate because you’re talking more to the humans?

Charlotte Purvis
Yes. Great place for us to take a look at this whole AI influence on customer experience. First of all, while I have opinions and I’m sure you do as well what I appreciate about the approach I take, however, is that I don’t give my opinion first. I speak on behalf of the customers. Here’s what the customers have said in survey after survey, after survey, we don’t mind you offering different channels. That’s perfectly fine with us. In fact, we prefer that you offer different channels, but there are two expectations. One is that we want all of those channels talking to each other. That’s what the customers have been consistent in saying and secondly, you can use any channel you want, but we want to be treated like humans. 

What we found is that there are some systems that are written, the verbiage sounds like you’re talking to a non-human and the customers have been consistent about that. So, I’ll give you an example of a client of mine who knew about my work in the telephone space, had this bright idea. It’s like, oh, well, let’s take a look at our chat, the verbiage for our chat. You know what they did, they literally handed me 100% of their chat and said, translate it for us. Even now just talking to you about that, I mean, I just have to sit back for a moment and think about that. They just turned it over to me and then they took it back. I literally rewrote it as though we were talking to humans using the formula that I, that I, that I developed and everything, and then get this, they had like three levels of approval one of which was legal. I am proud to tell you that we passed all three levels of approval and now their chat sounds just like the telephone, which…

Andrea Palten
Yes.

Charlotte Purvis
Yeah. Life is good.

Andrea Palten
That’s so important. That’s how we teach, and we talk about, and we have and Inbenta is the natural language processing because it is so frustrating when:

(a) the consumer tries to type something in their natural language and then the chatbot doesn’t understand it, or vice versa. Like you said when the chatbot sounds like a robot and it’s not this real fuzzy feeling. 

So, that’s awesome. So, I do want to ask you your personal opinion though, because you are a customer service thought leader, what’s going to happen in the future with artificial intelligence and the customer service space?

Charlotte Purvis
What I believe is going to happen in the future is that we are going to realize that as in many transitions, maybe we’ve taken something too far in one direction and we didn’t strike that balance. That’s what we need. We need the balance of no matter the channel, these are human beings that we’re speaking with on the other end of our communication. So, let’s strike that balance where we treat them like human beings but also we’re willing to evolve over time. We’re willing to step back and say, you know, this is the fifth time today that someone has said that they misunderstood something that was on our chat. That’s happened five times today. So, you know what, let’s take a look at that. Somebody is going to set a standard that says, if this happens three times a day or two times a day, then that’s a call-out for us to step back.

So, here’s what I believe we need in the future. We need someone who specializes in customer communication and who has an eye on all of the communication, email, chat telephone, someone in that organization who keeps their eye on all of the communication and make sure that it matches our vision and our values and make sure it matches what our customers are saying. That’s what I see in the future that we’re going to; we’re going to strike more of a balance in the way we communicate with our customers.

Andrea Palten
Yes. I love that and you know, a lot of times more junior customer service professionals, they’re scared that AI is going to take over their jobs, but you’re always going to have to have an escalation point. You always going to have to have a human-looking at it. Just like you said when the same mistake has happened five times and the chat is ending there’s an issue. We’ve got to look into that. So, there’s always going to have to be that human component of it.

Charlotte Purvis
Absolutely, and you think about a person who disengages a customer, who disengages from the chat because it’s like this is just too much. That response has nothing to do with what I just said. Then, in the same way, remember the conversation I said earlier, where the customer hung up? Then speaking of the future my hope is that we will pay attention to disengagement in the same way we pay attention to a hang-up on the phone and we’ll take it seriously. We won’t just say you can’t please all the people all the time when really it’s a part of our process that’s in the way. So, that would be part of my vision for the future.

Andrea Palten
Yeah, we definitely have to have that. So, let’s switch lanes a little bit. So, earlier I introduced you as an author, so I’d love to hear about your book.

Charlotte Purvis
Yes. So, very excited about this. I’m sure you’re picking up on a theme. Pretty much everything I say is all about my clients because I have some of the most awesome clients in the whole wide world. My clients have directed me. My clients and then their customers. That’s where I’ve learned a lot about customer service and so one of the consistent themes among my clients is: please, please write us a book. Please, please don’t ever leave without writing us a book, writing a book for us. So, I am so pleased that this year with the pandemic and everything I had the time and the bandwidth to write a book. 

The book is The Customer Communication Formula: How to Communicate with your Customers and Boost your Customer Service Brand. I’m also proud to say that it’s available in three formats, e-book, softcover, hardcover. The book is really two books in one. So, I wrote it for the customer service professionals, walking them through the three phases of their customer interaction, what I call the connection, the conversation, and the closure. Literally walking them through the verbiage to use, thought processes, examples, and so forth. Then in the second part of the book, I dedicate that to customer service leaders because of the conversation you and I had earlier, but also because so many of the customer service professionals that I’ve had the great privilege of partnering with have moved on to level higher levels of leadership. So, that second section is for them as well. 

One of the features of the book that I’m very proud of is that I also take the readers behind the scenes. I share what I call from my notebooks. So, a lot of stories and examples from over 20 years of working in the area of customer service. I have very in-depth conversations with my clients, and we get to know each other on a personal level. So, I wanted the readers of the book to have that same experience and so I have a chapter where I talk about myself and how growing up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Some of the lessons I learned there, I’m literally using them now as a foundation for how to treat people, how to show respect toward people. Those lessons have paid off big time for me. So, I let the readers into my life a bit so that they will know more about my perspective of customer communication.

Andrea Palten
Oh yeah. That’s neat. I think that’s good. I like that personability in there. So, I’m going to ask you one last question, and this is one thing I would love for you to tell the listeners. What’s the number one thing that you recommend for customer service professionals to do?

Charlotte Purvis
Ah, that is… You really got me thinking on that one. The number one thing. I do have something for you. May I read a paragraph from my book? 

Andrea Palten
Yes.

Charlotte Purvis
Yes. Now that you say that I have something and so the answer is to think of customer service differently and I’ll share a paragraph from my story. I end the book like this, “When we think of customer service, we often think of procedures, processes, protocol. Customer service is so much more. As customer service professionals, organizational leaders, and consultants we have an opportunity to influence organizations to change lives, to be a blessing, and to make the world a better place just as I learned in my beloved Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”

Andrea Palten
Oh, I love that, and this was not scheduled guys that she was going to read this, just FYI.

Charlotte Purvis
It was not.

Andrea Palten
Perfect. That’s so perfect. So, Charlotte, if somebody wants to reach out to you either to learn more about you, hire you as a consultant, learn about your book, where do they go?

Charlotte Purvis
Please visit my website charlottepurvis.com. Also, feel free to join me on Twitter @speakercpurvis and I would really enjoy hearing from your listening audience. 

Andrea Palten
Awesome.

Charlotte Purvis
That would be a real treat. That would be great. 

Andrea Palten
Awesome. Thank you and you have been a real treat Charlotte. I really appreciate you for being here and telling us more about customer service.

Charlotte Purvis
Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.

Thanks so much for tuning in. This podcast was brought to you by Inbenta. Inbenta Symbolic AI implements natural language processing that requires no training data Inbentas extensive lexicon and patented algorithms. Check out this robust customer interaction platform for your AI needs. From chat, bots to search to knowledge centers and messenger platforms. Just go to our website to request a demo at inbenta.com, that’s I N B E N T A.com. If you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review. Thank you.