Methodologies, Customer Service, & Project Management

I hope you have enjoyed some of my recent posts on using PERT analysis for more accurate durations, my Top 10 Project Management Blogs, and Developing a WBS.  This week, I am going to draw from my recent experience with my wireless/mobile provider, Verizon, and a blog by Raj MenonWhen The Going Gets Tough.”

Before we get into it, I want to share the video of the week…click here and enjoy!

Background: My wife and I upgraded to the latest mobile network and got new cell phones in the Jan/Feb timeframe.  Since then, we have both made numerous 30 minute trips to the Verizon store and spent hours on the phone with technical support.  Everytime, they ask us to ‘reset to factory settings’ and we lose our calendar entries, pictures, ring tones, etc.  When we ask to get upgraded, the technicians say “Verizon did a study and found we spend too much money upgrading customers, so we would rather send a new phone everyday if we have to.”

In recent weeks, I have gone to Twitter and shared my headaches there.  Within minutes I was able to find other people experiencing similar issues and I began retweeting and got it out to about 10,000 users.  At first, I was encouraged by the quick response of VZWSupport “Sorry, to hear about your issue.  What is the problem”.  I would tell them 11 phones in less then a year is unacceptable.  Their response “is anything currently wrong with your device?”  Once I say “no, but 11 phones in less then a year is unacceptable” they go silent on me…zero response.

Enough of my woes…what does this all mean?

There are three key issues that I glean from Verizon’s ‘Customer Service’

  1. Technicians are trained to follow a process, a script (This is where I will focus below)
  2. They have not empowered their employees to make decisions or make a customer ‘whole’
  3. The technicians are being measured on #of issues resolved and not customer satisfaction (poor KPI’s)

As Project Managers, we are always looking to drive repeatable processes, implement best practices, and define A project methodology (i.e. – Prince vs. PMI or Waterfall vs. Agile).  We need to make sure that we do not lock ourselves into a set of templates and/or single methodology.  Project Managers need to understand a series of best practices, leverage different methodologies, and build a tool box/portfolio of skills to best manage projects.  If you can only develop a project plan, but can not manage risk then you have a gap in your skillset.  If you can not take a set of templates and customize, scale them to your org/project then you have a gap in your skillset.  Don’t limit yourself by sticking to a script or simply checking of project documents.  Build a portfolio and have a set of tools at your disposal to be a thought leader, add value, and lead projects.

As for KPIs and empowering the employees, if you are in a capacity to manage project managers or PMOs, then you need to truly understand what behaviour you are driving within your organization.  Are you simply measuring the PMs on meeting deadlines or bringing the project in under budget?  Are you slowing projects down, because your PMs need to come to you for validation and decision making?  If they need training, then train them.  If you need training on how to do this, then humble yourself and get trained.

I guess the PM version of the ‘reboot’ or ‘reset to factory settings’ is not sticking to dates an simply having the project rebalanced, re-baselined, etc.  Don’t reboot your projects, add value and solve issues…upgrade your clients!  In Raj’s blog, he mentions Audible.com and how they go above an beyond.  When a customer wants to cancel the subscription they ask you why (Verizon says sure, lets process that $250 cancellation fee now) and what they an do to help keep you.  They let you pause the subscription, the offer 2 free months/credits, etc.  They meet you half way, they step away from the script and bring value to the relationship.  Bring value to your client relationship!

Do you have any customer experience stories you would like to share?

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5 thoughts on “Methodologies, Customer Service, & Project Management

  1. Hi Robert – I don’t know if you have to use a mix-and-match toolbox but I do agree that you can use, for instance, the PMBOK processes but modify them. A small project may not need the entire steps of all the processes. The PM needs to be able to make that decision. What is your advice when the PM can’t do that?

    Laura Gideon
    Steelray Software

  2. Craig:

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by and post a comment. My thoughts on the costs of premium support…

    1) Businesses can either drive revenue or cut costs. It always more fun working in an environment where they drive new revenue…growing into new segments, no geographies/countries, and developing new services or products. Shareholders want stick prices to grow and my preference is to grow revenue vs cut costs. If the growth thing isn’t working, then they can look below (or a combination of all)…
    2) Almost all distributors, service providers, etc have subcons/suppliers/vendors. Those contracts need to call out penalties, SLAs that govern the quality of the equipment being provided. If I need to spread my budget to hire more technicians because the equipment you are providing is garbage, then you must pay. I want the same budget, less call center agents, paying a hire skill-level. Those penalties can subsidize that budget to keep your costs/margins in-line.
    3) Better SLAs…don’t just measure how fast your agents pick-up and how many first call closes they have…tack on a survey, monitor call backs within the next 10-30-45 days from that user account.
    4) Empowerment…make sure your agents can do something for the customer other then reboots and replacements. Give them a credit on next months bill…a Gift Card they can use anywhere (subsidize that with the vendors penalties)
    5) Hiring & Training – Too many companies focus on hiring technicians with a certain technical skillset. Horrible move! Hire customer service people…you can’t train joy, kindness, and empathy – they are the core of a person. I believe you can train almost anyone to do almost anything technical (almost). Ongoing training for the technicians and development paths so they feel invested in the company.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Thanks again!

    -Robert

  3. My experience in Australia is that all phone carriers (that I have so far tried) are all equally poor in resolving customer complains for the three reasons you mention.

    In the nineties when mobiles were in growth and competition in carriers was relatively new companies were differentiating themselves on customer service (and doing a great job) but those same companies were making enormous losses.

    While I want better service (and am willing to pay a premium for it) I want to know how to avoid the cost hump that drives large businesses away from giving it.

    Any suggestions?

  4. Very solid post! I had no idea Verizon had such poor customer service. Perhaps they could learn a thing or two from Tony Hsieh of Zappos? When I think of empowered and awesome customer service, I think of Zappos. When I think of script reading and horrible customer service, I think of every Cable Provider or Internet Service Provider I have ever had.

    What’s missing is empowerment and empathy!

    Best Regards,
    Derek

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