[Guest Interview] An expert view of customer service

Check out the Interview I had with VP of Global Customer Care for AVG, Garry Schultz.  I got to have a chat with Garry on all things customer service and it turns out, he isn’t just an expert, he is also a funny guy!

1. I see you are quite involved in the field of customer service and it’s certainly a concern for you. You have a book and a blog. Do you think the role of the contact center has changed since your book launch?

My career is customer care. So yes, the industry is a focus for me. Like many service professionals, I am concerned about the poor state of customer care in this industry. In many ways we, the contact center industry as a whole, have failed our customers. I have witnessed the cost-containment frenzy of the past few years and have realized the balance in the industry has shifted from care to a lowest-cost-possible model. My response is to be the customer advocate and work toward returning the balance to a more customer-friendly model.  I am fortunate to work in a company, AVG, which supports this position and encourages me and my team to ‘Be positive, Be creative, Be the customer advocate’.

To address the second part of your question, the role of the contact center has not changed materially. The channels, the technology (such as the emergence of social media) and the governing drivers (cost over customer satisfaction) have changed in the industry. As for my book, it remains relevant as it addresses the philosophy of customer care and its fundamentals. For instance, when discussing reports, I give representative examples but the point is on delivering meaningful reports. Reports which drive and inform business decisions. The majority of the corporate world does NOT follow this obvious, commonsense idea; there are many analytics personnel who appear to believe that the literal weight – 40 pages as opposed to 2 pages – of a report somehow correlates to the usability of the report.

2. What methods do you use for best customer service practices? 

It is an evolving target. I keep my finger on the pulse of our customers and I have the pleasure of working with some extremely bright talent at AVG: the wisdom of the team and its commitment to our customers is an important aspect of our success. While I do enjoy a senior title and have a comfy office, I reach out every week to talk to our customers to obtain their perspective on how well we are doing.  This is supplemented by formal mechanisms that include Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys for satisfaction at EVERY touch point; focus groups with both customers and agents (if an agent isn’t satisfied with their job, there is no way they are going to provide positive service) and a regular cycle of benchmarking against industry leaders. We also attend – and present at – industry conventions and seminars.

3. What do you think is the role of social media in customer service these days?

Social media is the next major wave and is gaining critical mass every day. Social media is becoming a more frequent strategic topic in articles as a standard and less so as an innovation. The role of social media in the customer care industry is to give the consumer a voice; a very loud voice at times. Social media changes the game in that the old school contact centers dealt with consumers on a one-to-one basis, isolated and alone; social media allows customers to effectively band together into a critical mass … and become a force to be reckoned with.  This is a good thing indeed.

On the other side, social media does not have a veracity check. Consumers and even competing companies (in the guise of guerrilla marketing) can post what they will without much regard for truth.  This gets particularly insidious when a company may attract a negative post that it has had nothing to do with.  To give a true story example of this (with the names changed), there are two companies – ‘Chronic Burgers’ and ‘Chronic Solutions’, a fast-food joint and a high-technology operation. The social media post was along the lines of  “WORST SERVICE EVER  and was posted on Chronic Solutions’ Facebook page, tweeted, blogged and promoted.  But consider that the consumer may have made a mistake and had actually experienced the poor service at Chronic Burgers!  The result of this misunderstanding is Chronic Solutions takes a direct punch in the face because Chronic Burgers ran out of ketchup one day. Damage is done to the wrong player and persists on the internet.

For the record, I enjoy Chronic Burgers very much.

4. Do AVG use social media to manage customer service requests?

Yes. We have a team that monitors and responds with a full SLA wrapper and reports to ensure we are there for our customers. Our decision to proactively manage social media was made for us, by our customers.

5. What is the biggest challenge for your customer service department?

The coffee machine on the fourth floor keeps breaking. Thought I would throw that in there as an Easter egg because if you’ve read this far, wow, I can ramble at times.

AVG proved to the world that the freemium model works; but with so many free products, we always strive to keep our eye on customer expectations.  We have found the right balance in customer care but, as above, customer expectations are a moving target. With a customer base ranging from the tech savvy to the computer novice, we serve a broad range of computer literacy. We must be empathic to our customers’ needs and that manifests itself in us being flexible.

6. Does self service take a front seat in your customer service strategy? And do you think there is a pathway for it in the future?

Short answer:  Yes.  Self-service is a foundation of our model.

VoC — our customers spoke and we listened.  We have self-service channels deployed and are continuing to evaluate and adjust to secure customer satisfaction. Self-service is very expedient and there is a growing segment of the population who prefer self-service. One of our self-service focal points is to make interactions easier for our customers. We do this by concentrating on reducing their effort.  Great self-service can reduce support costs and when done well has the benefit of making things easier for our customers, thereby improving both overall satisfaction and loyalty. A true win-win.

Well, I’d like to say thank you for having the time to speak to me.  It was interesting and a pleasure.

I can say that what he brought to the table was very interesting and  vital to today’s customer service world.  Make sure to check out his blog.

Link to Garry’s blog:

http://garryschultz.tumblr.com/

Link to Garry’s book (English, Spanish and Chinese editions available):

http://www.amazon.ca/Customer-Care-Contact-Center-Handbook/dp/0873895614

Garry’s Bio

Garry’s first book The Customer Care & Contact Center Handbook was published by the ASQ (ISBN 0-87389-561-4). The book has subsequently been translated into Spanish and Chinese and most recently has been made available as an e-book .

Garry has been active in the high technology sector for over twenty-five years.  Garry has initiated Customer Care service bureaus in twenty-six countries and built a number of world-class teams. His expertise runs from all facets of CXM systems to Vendor Management, from Social Media to traditional Telephony channels.

Currently VP of Global Customer Care for AVG via experience with Intuit, ServiceWare, Research In Motion (The BlackBerry) and Sonic Solutions (Roxio consumer brand).

Stefanie Amini
is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe