“Personal effectiveness is the core of our business.”
- Sheila Viesca, TalkShop

Friday, August 31, 2012

3 Things You Wish Call Centers Do But Don't

3 Things You Wish Call Centers Do But Don't

Whether you like it or not, you will, at some point in your life, have to call a call center to accomplish a simple everyday task. In an ideal world, call centers would help you finish this task efficiently and effectively. Here are ways in which reality and unreality collide.

1. Let you talk to someone who can take action

More often than not, the people who can actually solve your problem are either too busy (ideally) or too lazy (realistically) to take action. Let's use a telephone company as an example. Their engineers are the ones running tests and checking infrastructure, so if you want your phone line fixed, these are the people you want to be talking to. However, there are only a limited number of engineers because it is a specialized job requiring technical knowledge, thus being of higher cost to the company.

Enter the call center agent. Imagine an army defending against invaders. You are the invader, agents are the infantry, engineers are the cavalry, and the supervisor is the general. The agent is meant to take the brunt of the damage while the engineer cleans up the stragglers. Most supervisors hate it when they have to take calls, so agents are instructed never to escalate calls to them unless absolutely necessary. And by necessary, they mean a meteor headed straight towards Earth.

2. Improvise as the situation calls for it

With enough calls to a particular support line, you can almost predict with uncanny accuracy what the agent will say and do. This is because most call centers provide their agents with scripts, which are predetermined responses for use in most situations. The idea is to create a consistent mode of action, thus minimizing errors and oversights.

However, agents who rely too much on the script and are unwilling to deviate from it are often the cause of customer frustration. Unfair as it may seem (agents are often mandated to follow the script), this gives off the impression that the agent is clueless and incapable of handling the issue at hand. Wouldn't it be ideal if, say, the agents are trained to gauge the caller's technical proficiency and provide an appropriate level of support, thus skipping basic instructions such as restarting a computer?

3. Go the extra mile to satisfy customers

Let's face it, when you call a support line, you expect to get something done in a timely and satisfactory manner. Believe it or not, this is also what every call center agent wants to do.

Most call centers use a metric called AHT (average handling time) as part of an extensive agent evaluation system. A low AHT is preferable because it allows the agent to handle more calls at lower overall cost to the center. You might think that a metric measuring customer satisfaction would be more important, but when you consider the logistical difficulties of accurately measuring such a metric, you'd realize why most supervisors prioritize AHT instead.

Now let's say you are installing a particularly complicated piece of software. Wouldn't it be great if the agent could walk you through the entire installation process and assist you should any issues arise? An AHT-conscious agent would probably send you an instructional e-mail instead, thus necessitating an additional call should there be any issues.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don't Call Me Maybe, Call Me Mayday

Don't Call Me Maybe, Call Me Mayday

People who have never worked in a call center often think badly of call center agents. While this impression can sometimes be warranted, I suspect that there are many honest, knowledgable, and hard-working agents out there who have made calling a support line as pleasant an experience as it can be. It's just that we tend to forget such experiences because good customer service is something that we expect to be a given.

One reason why some agents prove less than stellar at their jobs is because it requires a different skill-set compared to traditional office work. Imagine working in a cubicle where the only interaction you have with customers and the outside world is through a phone and computer. People are conditioned to seeing other people when interacting with other, and when this doesn't happen, complications may arise for the uninitiated. This may change in the future as people adapt to a more digitized world, but until then, developing good communication skills becomes all the more important.

Every call center company has an extensive training program for this purpose. Most training programs emphasize the development of soft skills, which pertain to proficiencies such as communication skills, personality development, and conflict resolution. These skills are highly dependent on a person's EQ (emotional intelligence) rather than IQ (general intelligence).

Think back to your time in grade school and high school. Majority of the subjects you studied helped develop your IQ, but there were few, if any, subjects that focused on developing your EQ. And when you consider that most non-specialized jobs rely more on EQ rather than IQ, a shift towards that in the current educational system may prove wise. Until that happens, developing good call center agents will remain an uphill battle at the start.

So the next time you have a bad call center experience, just remember that being a call center agent is much harder than it looks. Save yourself some unnecessary stress and treat it as an opportunity to improve your own EQ.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

You Do What to Your Cars in the Philippines?

You Do What to Your Cars in the Philippines?

Here's an interesting story my friend shared recently:

A friend and his family traveled to New York for the first time and they rented a car to move around the city. They decided to go to a strip mall but found it difficult to find a parking spot. At last, a spot opened, but it was a very tight squeeze. My friend's brother got out of the car to facilitate the parking process. You know how Filipinos rap the side or back of the car to signal collision distance? Well, my friend is not the best of drivers so the brother had to use an excessive amount of rapping and re-rapping before they were able to park. By the time they finished, a small crowd of locals had gathered, no doubt wondering what these tourists were up to!

The first time you travel to a foreign country, you will notice similarities and differences from your own country. For instance, most McDonalds look remarkably similar, from the general layout to the menu. But order a cheeseburger meal in America and you'll find that the portions are twice the size compared to the ones in the Philippines. The American cheeseburger meal can probably feed a small Filipino family!

Reverse the situation, with foreigners visiting the Philippines, and they will experience their own brand of culture shock. After a visit to Jollibee (a Filipino version of McDonalds), some typical comments from foreigners include, (1) why is there thousand island dressing on my burger, or (2) what exactly are the ingredients in a Palabok Fiesta, or (3) why are there hotdogs in the spaghetti?

As my friend in the initial story found out, these cultural differences can be a source of hilarity, bewilderment, or amazement. The best reaction is to just go with the flow and return with a new story to tell back at home. The locals will probably have their own stories to tell, as well.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Less McDonalds, More McDimSum

Less McDonalds, More McDimSum

The more I travel to other countries, the more I realize that they are all starting to look the same. Visit any major city in any country any you are likely to find a McDonalds or a Starbucks staring right back at you. This trend is sure to continue as more and more multinational companies attempt to establish a bigger foothold in the global market.

I imagine this development will be a welcome change for some tourists. Just recently, a friend who visited China frequented McDonalds, Starbucks, and Kentucky Fried Chicken during his weeklong stay. I suppose that it is understandable to seek out something comfortable especially when in a strange, new land. But I say, where's the sense of adventure?

Show some derring-do and traverse the streets of Shanghai searching for some dim sum. Ask the locals where you can sample the finest Chinese cuisine the city has to offer. And if you've got the stomach for it, there should be no shortage of exotic animal organs from street food vendors. This is how you embrace a cross-cultural experience, by opening your mind to new possibilities and immersing yourself in a different culture.

To close, let me share with you a story from my own travels. While waiting for my flight at the Hong Kong International Airport, I went to the food court to see what was available. The sample size is small, I admit, but all the locals were eating McDonalds while the foreigners were eating local food. I guess everyone needs a change of pace now and then.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

3 Simple Ways to Survive in a Country Without Knowing the Language

Living in a foreign country where your native language isn't used can be a daunting prospect. Imagine how much more complicated it would be to do simple tasks such as ordering food, taking public transportation, or singing in a karaoke bar. To get past the language barrier, you need to rely on a combination of cross-cultural communication techniques and social dynamics.

1. Use non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication includes body gestures, hand signals, and facial expressions. Prehistoric cavemen survived using these techniques alone so a modern day human being such as yourself should have no problem thriving.
Show off your expertise in charades by using body gestures to act out what you are trying to say. Use hand signals to greet people, get directions, or ascertain number values. Display the appropriate facial expression to express an emotion. In case of emergency, a smile can do wonders in generating some goodwill from kindly strangers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How Different Cultures Do Business Differently

In today's business environment, you are likely to encounter coworkers, customers, and suppliers from different countries. Such an environment is a breeding ground for potential cross-cultural communication issues. An improper gesture or unseemly manner of speech can offend someone who comes from a different cultural background.

The best way to avoid potential conflicts is to learn more about different cultures, specifically how they do business. Here are some general impressions of how different nationalities conduct business:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Talk to the 4 People You Will Meet Every Time You Travel

When you travel, you will meet certain people more frequently than others. You can avoid cross-cultural communication issues by identifying these people and following some basic tips.

1. Hotel clerk
People working in a hotel are used to dealing with foreigners. This makes them not only likelier to speak multiple languages but also more knowledgeable about the surrounding area.

Take advantage by consulting with the hotel staff as often as possible. You can ask about interesting places to visit or the general price range of goods and services. Many hotels can also arrange suitable transportation for you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

4 Foreign Language Phrases You Need to Know When Traveling

When traveling in a foreign country, speaking the native language helps in the immersion process, which ultimately leads to a more enjoyable experience. Of course, not everyone has the resources to learn a new language before traveling. What you can do is learn a few basic phrases that will help you navigate your way through unfamiliar territory.

1. Hello, how are you?
The easiest way to start a conversation is by saying hello, and starting conversations is the best way to explore. A simple hello may lead to new friends or unexpected opportunities. It also shows the locals your interest in their culture by addressing them in a way that is comfortable for them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love English

Elizabeth Gilbert had it right - the best place to learn Italian is in Italy. The gelato is a nice consolation prize, should you prove to be a troublesome student.

Therein lies the difficulty in learning a foreign language - not everyone can leave their life behind and move to Italy at the drop of a hat. To learn a foreign language you need to speak the foreign language. There are plenty of good Italian restaurants in the Philippines, but you'll be hard pressed to find Italian-speaking study buddies.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

3 Simple Ways to Write with Substance

In previous entries, we discussed the importance of style and substance and illustrated simple ways to write with style. Here we conclude the series by showing how to write reports with substance. 

1. Identify the goal 


Reports have many purposes. Identify whether your report is meant to analyze, inform, or entertain. If your report is meant to analyze, then the bulk of your content must be an analysis of the subject. Background information can be used as supporting content to enhance your analysis but should not be the focus. Never let the background information overshadow the analysis.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

5 Simple Ways to Write with Style

As discussed in a previous blog entry, style and substance go hand-in-hand when writing a good report. Now let’s discuss some simple methods you can use to write a report with style.

1. Use an appropriate font.
For written works, a font size of 11-12 is recommended. Anything below that will strain the reader's eyes. Digital reports have the advantage of being easily adjustable. Also consider the intended audience of your report and adjust accordingly. For example, older users might appreciate a more sizable text like font size 15.

Many font styles have been developed throughout the years, from the comical (and grossly misused) Comics Sans to the outdated Courier. Resist the urge to use ostentatious fonts and stick to reliable timeless ones such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana. Some examples of stylish yet functional modern fonts include Calibri, Cambria, and Helvetica. Rather than examining the font style, readers should be breezing through the text.

Friday, August 03, 2012

A Marriage of Substance and Style

Imagine you are reading two reports.

The first report is well-researched and accurately-cited. It contains a substantial amount of relevant information and provides keen insight on a given topic. However, the formatting makes it a difficult read. The font is small and unreadable, sentences are wordy, the paragraphs are overly long, and there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Looks or Brains? It Doesn't Matter

Ideally you'll want both. A person that's all looks and no brains is only good for display. Whereas a person that's all brains and no looks would rather solve a rubics cube than talk to you. This is why I'm not going to debate which aspect deserves more merit. Instead I'll discuss how you can beat an intellectual genius or outshine a dazzling model even if you're lacking in both looks and brains.

5. Use Street Smarts

I.Q. is overrated. The appeal of being book smart comes from being able to display confidence in class or during a test. So if you're failing in school or lacking in the intelligence department, you can still be smart in a different kind of classroom called the streets. Being in the know-how lets you show off your confidence outside of school. In the social department this is a big plus since you'll be meeting most people on the streets.