Archive for September, 2011

Social NOTworking

Everybody feels the pressure — especially us entrepreneurial types, who can only benefit from as many people as possible knowing what we do and just how to get ahold of us: the pressure of social networking. The idea of someone not Twittering a few times an hour? Someone who’s not in the habit of checking their Facebook page several times daily? Someone actually walking around amongst us without a website? And someone who doesn’t write a blog..? Career suicide. It’s almost a *requirement* in order to do business. Much like someone without a cell phone now (and there are a few out there who still resist the call of a personal device which makes them always reachable, trackable, and connected) the idea of someone not participating in at least a *couple* of the better-known social networking arenas is completely incomprehensible to most of us.

They’re not paved with gold, however.

Let me recount my personal experiences with my attempts at staying perpetually connected and trying to keep an uninterrupted “newsfeed” going:

Facebook

I was a late and reluctant joiner of Facebook. The day I activated my Facebook account was perhaps one of the most surreal and mind-numbing days of recent history. Almost immediately upon sending my information out there, droves of people — business contacts both current and past, friends who have been pestering me to join, people who I watched consuming paste in elementary school, ex boyfriends — people from assorted chapters in my life all converging together in a big, overstuffed party; all chatting at once. Some of it interesting, some of it not. I actually had the feeling that this must be what it feels like to walk in on an orgy already in full swing. Everyone’s having a great time, and urging me to jump in. I have mixed feelings about FB: I stop by every morning for about 15 minutes and check on my “community”‘s updates; I send birthday greetings and add to threads only when I feel I have something germaine, pertinent, or comical to add. I only post things on my wall which I think will also start similar “intelligent” threads — and lately I’ve been lucky with great, cohesive, level-headed discussions. I have no interest in posting minutae like: “Allison has eaten too much cheese”, purchasing a pig for someone in Farmtown (or receiving same), or add to the clutter with incessant Fitocracy updates. As for Facebook being an adjunct or a helpful tool for my career: while I do link up with clients and business contacts, for me, it’s really not where deals get made. Having had my own business website for over ten years, I’ve always thought of myself as ultimately “reachable” — there have been some business contacts who have approached me with projects by private messaging me through FB — which I suppose is a straighter line (and often less effort) than digging up my URL or e-mail address in their personal contact lists. I’m one of the few people with an actual Fanpage on FB — one of the Asterisk guys set it up, but it’s a huge time committment to keep it current, and so it sits, as inert and outdated as the Bobby Sherman Fan Club. I have learned a valuable lesson, though: I once posted some frustration about a client (I was very cloaked about it and made sure they they *weren’t* FB friends) — I had a private message from another client who wrote: “I sure hope you don’t vent about us when we ask you for redos!” Message received loud and clear. This is *very* different than complaining to a friend about a bad day. I’m venting to 389 “friends”, to be exact — some of whom might be quite rightfully hurt if I expressed discord at having worked on their last project in such a open, public forum.

Twitter

Don’t get me started. Seriously, I won’t do it. Again, another well-meaning Asterisk wonk set up a Twitter account for me, convinced that it was unthinkable that I wouldn’t want to keep all my “followers” (Twitter’s word, not mine) up to date about my every move — I have such resistance at cluttering up…everything…with too much….everything. I don’t care when  people are “wheels up” and care even less about “wheels down.” I don’t care to see a map where you’re enjoying chicken wings (and I REALLY especially care even less to see iPhone pictures of everything you’re about to consume.) Again, it ties back to my wish to make my FB page full of only witty banter, intelligent back-and-forth, and never wasting people’s time with….minutae. When I have something profound to say in a limited number of characters, that I think will merit from a widespread airing, I’ll Tweet. Don’t hold your breath.

Linked In

I  consider this a major bullet which I dodged recently; a very astute colleague of mine recently talked me out of forming my own Linked In group, and Holy Cow, am I glad he did. I just managed to extricate myself from a mere *discussion* I started on a Voice and Speech group, which went on for weeks and almost took the stuffing out of me. I can’t imagine the work which must go into moderating and overseeing your own group. I posted the link to my recent blog I wrote for this blogspace: “I Wanna Go Tuh Cleveland” in which I discussed the commonly-held belief that the relaxed, lazy cadence of “new-style” IVR delivery actually compromises Speech Recognition “hits” — for a change, I decided not to pour lots of research into the blog article and make it into a term paper, as these articles can sometimes turn into: I wrote from personal experience from what my clients in Speech Rec have been telling me for years. Well, soon, I had Speech rec experts from all over asking to see the proof of my long division and to “show my work” — I and many others defended my viewpoint, all without white papers to back us up, and it all turned out well, but those are hours I’m never getting back. As for merely connecting with people on Linked In — all I can tell you is that I’m in a big Roll-o-Dex in the sky. I may eventually get approached to voice telephone systems by someone whom I’ve exchanged info with on Linked In — it’s yet to happen.

Wikipedia

I attended a breakfast while attending IT Expo in Miami last February in which a public relations expert was casually mentioning the “science” behind creating a Wikipedia entry for her clients, and the distinct, rigid steps which must be undertaken to create this article in such a way which won’t get you tazed and thrown to the floor by the Wiki Police — who are apparently omnipresent and just dying to yank well-meaning articles off their site. There’s a definite science to constructing the entry (lots of documentation, factual writing done by *not* the subject but by an impartial third-party; nothing that sounds even remotely promotional or like a commercial) — even the inclusion of a photo is an excercize which makes a Smithsonian jewel theft sound sloppy (it needs to be timed to appear several weeks after the article is done and definitely never on the heels of other recent changes being made to the page, so as not to arouse suspicion from those monitoring the pages.) It was actually my incredibly savant “web-skippy” who pointed out the obstacles involved in getting my own Wiki page: it needs to monitored continually, for any negative comments or sabotage, which *anyone* can do, and the subject is not entitled to clean it up; he also pointed out to me that entries almost always been to have media or press links — there needs to have been something written about the subject previously in the media; video links are essential; press links are a must. I got over ther sting of Skippy telling me I wasn’t quite famous enough for my own Wiki page. And now, I’m grateful that I didn’t push the issue.

Blogs

Here’s where I enthusiastically and whole-heartedly proclaim that Blogs are Amazing. They truly are. In the two years I’ve written this blog, I have been able to educate the unitiated about the telephony industry in anything but a technical way; I voice telephone prompts every day (in fact, I’ve been described as — if not *the* most — one of the top three most prevalently heard telephone voices working today), and this has been my perspective of my writing: not someone who will write week after week about “SIP GUI Interfaces” or “Clouds” or any number of articles which speak to the inner workings of telephony. I write articles which reflect my outlook as a voice talent working in telephony; my articles in this blogspace are a great resource for me to steer my own clients towards when they’re faltering about how to get in IVR script off the ground; how to avoid the common pitfalls when constructing their IVR call flow; how to streamline their systems into the easiest system for their callers to use. I have been an evangelist to anyone — in any industry — who wishes to attract a clientele; especially if your industry is slightly obscure — as is mine — to start a blog. Provide useful content, commit to doing it on a regular basis, invite comments (which you must commit to reply to) and — naturally — write about what you know. I think blogging looks great on a resume; providing useful content for your industry to benefit from is a definite feather in your cap — as well as being a therapeutic endeavor for you, and let’s just face it — a great deal of fun.

Which brings me to a logical point to announce that this will be my last blog article — I have enjoyed immensely writing it for the past two years, but I feel it’s time to wind it down. In retrospect, I would have paced myself a bit more: during the first year and a half, I was blogging every week, which significantly tapped me out. I have always wanted to keep it content-rich; informative; and of course: avoiding the navel-gazing or “incessant barking” — there’s enough of that out there. I promised myself that I’d stop when I ran out of things to say — and I’m there.

Thanks to all of you who have read it regularly; I have enjoyed the comments and the discussions which have followed, and always tried to write in the purest, most honest, and hopefully entertaining way I could. It’s been my honor, and I’m grateful to have had this forum in which to launch ideas, pay homage, and to share my world with you.

Health and Happiness to you all!

We *Really Are* Happy to Serve You…

I had the good fortune to be able to persuade Emily Yellin, internationally-recognized Customer Service expert, to agree to be interviewed for this blog – I loved her keynote address at SpeechTek two years ago, and devoured her best-selling book “Your Call is (Not That) Important To Us”. In addition to being an author and in-demand speaker, Emily was a longtime contributor to The New York Times and has also written for Time, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Smithsonian Magazine, and other publications.

Being an enthusiast of streamlining the whole caller experience from my perspective – that of someone who records telephone systems daily – I was thrilled when Emily and I were able to coordinate a time to have a short interview and drill deeper into this whole conundrum of customer service automation – at first, intended to be a way to simplify the interactions between companies and their customers; now often a sticking point in the customer experience. What was – at one time – a measure to organize and sort callers before they got to a human, IVR’s have become a completely isolating turnkey vortex where people are literally “minding the store” by themselves.

Here’s what Emily Yellin had to say about the customer service experience and ways that companies need to – once again – point their focus towards what best serves their customers:

AS: Emily, to what degree should a company use their automated greeting to impart, educate, inform, and generally take up the customer’s time? I voice some greetings which literally go on for upwards of 5-10 minutes, in which they discuss their company’s history, how their widgets are manufactured, and what makes *their* widgets better than their competitors – all before the caller has even heard which options they can choose from. How much information is too much? How much of the customer’s time should be sacrificed to this end?

EY: I probably haven’t thought about it in the depth that you have – generally, though, it’s a good thing to assume that any of the rules that apply to interacting with people in person also apply on the phone – and certainly apply when you’re on an IVR system. I spoke to an IVR designer who put it this way, and I thought it was really good. He said: “If you went to party and somebody walked up to you and spoke to you non-stop for a minute and half, and the minute you started to say something, he or she said: ‘Oh hang on second’ and walked away, that would not be considered to be socially correct.” And so, I think it’s a good rule for companies to think of these interactions as personal and look at how you would act in person, and replicate that. Most companies just look at it from just their own point of view, where they have a message they want to convey to the customer whether the customer wants to hear it or not. That is not an effective or considerate way to design an IVR system.

 AS: How about using the on-hold system for that purpose? At least they’re filling the customer’s time on hold with something content-rich and somewhat informative…

EY: If the company feels some great need to do that on their phone system, they might want to re-examine what their motives are. In this world now, we are all time-starved, — and the time of the customers calling is just as important as the time of your employees. It’s really important to recognize that the people calling in aren’t getting paid for the time they’re spending on the phone. Your employees are. And so, I, as a customer – and I know most other people – value efficiency and consideration above all else. That makes it really important for companies to think long and hard and really put themselves in the shoes of their customers and say: “If I were calling a company, would I want to hear all this?” I think we’ve all been in the position where we don’t want to. Nobody cares about your company history as much as you do. Honestly. If I want to know about your company history, I’m going to call your PR people or go to your website, I’m not going to be calling your  customer service line. I think that’s a good example of companies that really are not thinking about things from their customer’s point of view; they are only thinking about things from their own point of view. And we all know that that’s not a good stance to have in any relationship.

 AS: I’ve had clients who deliberately make up fake mailboxes or departments to make their company appear to be bigger. I even made it one of the “15 Commandments of IVR” on the Digium blogsite as what *not* to do – what is your opinion of using the IVR to create the illusion of a bigger company?

 EY: I think anything where you’re not being honest with your customers is not a good policy.  I’ll just keep saying this: anything that’s solely driven from your point of view – from the company’s point of view — without thinking about the customer as someone who’s intelligent and equal is just wrong.

 AS: In my last blog, I wrote about the “casual”, informal tone that a lot of IVR’s take on now – and how it may compromise the accuracy of Speech Recognition utilities. Technicalities aside, what is your opinion of IVR moving away from the robotic “telephone lady” sound and edging more towards a “real person” sound?

EY:  People don’t like to hear robotic voices. But when it comes to IVR’s, less is more, and thinking about it too much and working too hard to make it human is kind of a waste of time. I think you should just transfer people to a human being as quickly as possible. Messages with lots of words are frustrating and annoying. So three or four options, and one or two times that you have to press something – that’s about it. Anything else is lazy on the company’s part.

AS: Automation of phone systems is moving towards a completely turnkey approach, and using one doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have contact with an actual live human, the way it used to. Should IVR be thought of as a “replacement” for the live agent?

EY:  You need to be able to get to a human being at any time and be upfront about this and remind your callers. I see the value in something like Julie for Amtrak, who I wrote about. But to employ an IVR system solely to save money, and not to think about the repercussions of how it can go wrong and all the ways people can respond is a problem. When  you ask a question, what you want in response on your IVR system needs to be considered when the system is designed. I think companies have to spend a whole lot more time thinking this through.

When IVRs were initially employed, that lack of care is what made people so mad. So if you’re still going to present it that way, you’re going to make people mad. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try; no matter what. I understand the importance of having some sort of gate-keeper when people first call to direct them generally in the right direction, and that makes sense for the customer. But once it starts not making sense for the customer and only making sense for the company that’s when you have to stop and reconsider. At all turns, you have to ask: “is this what’s best for our customer?”  I can understand the argument that if it IVRs save money and they direct people to the right people immediately, that’s best for customer because they’re saving money that would go into the cost of their product or service. But what I don’t understand is when IVRs start asking the customer to work really hard just to get a something basic done. Then that becomes a way you’re going to lose customers – and the long-term effects of that are far-reaching.

AS: Is this revolutionary thinking for companies with whom you consult, or for your audiences when you speak?

EY: I maintain my stance as an outsider, and I can’t tell if you if it’s revolutionary or not. All I’m trying to do is be a really pure voice for the customer so that people in companies don’t lose sight of what they’re doing this for and the meaning behind what they’re doing.  And so, in everything that’s done in customer service, the more that it can be humanized and not be de-humanizing the better. Obviously, IVRs really, literally, *are* de-humanizing – because they’re not human beings. So anything you do that de-humanizes the interaction, the relationship with your customer, you have to be really, really careful. I don’t think that’s revolutionary. What is revolutionary is forcing low-quality and high-frustration IVRs on people. I think that’s pretty revolutionary, because it’s throwing away the humanity that is the point of any kind of relationship, either business or personal.

 When you look at the history of how customer service evolved, it evolved from the receptionist position, and so its status, or lack of status, within companies has come from those origins. One thing I try to say as strongly as I can is that it’s in everyone’s best interest to recognize the real value of the customer service function in your company. If you get it out of the ghetto of your corporate structure and make in front and center, you’re going to have something most companies don’t have: a real focus on your customer and what your customer’s needs are.

What if the head of customer service were paid second only to the CEO? How would your company change? And instead of saying “we’ve got to clear it through legal” or “we’ve got to clear it through finance.” They would say” What’s customer service going think of this?” That would be a revolution. That would be a change that I think would be very good for everyone, including for the bottom line of the company.”

Emily gives absolutely common-sense insight in an extraordinary way: she reminds companies where their focus should be — on the customer. Automated ways of “sorting” customers or creating a more turnkey aspect to a business must never be implemented at the cost of human frustration or the alienation of your customers.

Next blog article: I’ll be writing about the effectiveness — or lack of — in social networking.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment!