OREANDA-NEWS. August 09, 2016. Keith Pearce is VP of Marketing for Service Cloud at Salesforce. An industry veteran who got his start close to 20 years ago at Siemens, he’s a firm believer in the transformative value of great customer service — both to companies and to their customers. Recently, we caught up with Keith to get his thoughts on why companies are measuring the wrong customer service metrics, and the importance of agent empowerment.

Recently a Zappos employee broke the record for the longest customer service call at 10 hours and 43 minutes. Zappos is known for its customer service as the cornerstone of its entire enterprise. What are is the first step for companies looking to create the same kind of culture?

When Tony Tsieh helped create Zappos, he redefined how leadership thinks about call centers and service culture. Tsieh understood that dated metrics like measuring agent talk time and agent wrap-up time were getting in the way of providing excellent customer service. Both are metrics focused on agent productivity — talk time measures the number of minutes an agent spends on the phone with a customer, and wrap-up time measures the time required by an agent to complete work directly associated with a call after the call has ended. However, neither of these metrics indicate if the customer had a positive experience with your company. Customers would certainly prefer to be on the phone for less time, but not at the expense of first call resolution.

That’s not to say that agent productivity isn’t important. It’s absolutely crucial to keep your agents productive, and that’s what tools like Service Cloud help businesses do. But to prioritize agent productivity as an indicator of success above all other metrics that relate more directly to the customer experience is a big mistake. So I would say the first step for companies looking to build a Zappos-like culture is to take a good, hard look at the metrics they’re using.

As people become more and more tech savvy and can solve smaller problems on their own, the calls that support agents get are growing increasingly complex, according to 73 percent of managers. What can companies do to prepare agents for complex calls?

Unfortunately, at many companies agents receive less than a week of training before they go out on the floor and start taking customer calls. Training is not a “one and done” type of thing — managers need to make sure that they’re injecting more and more training opportunities beyond the first week, the first month, or even the first year.

But even with all the training in the world, there are going to be questions that stump agents. A knowledge base is a frequently undervalued tool that all customer service departments around the world should be leveraging. The more agents contributing to the knowledge base, the richer it gets, so the customer support team will soon have incredible mindshare at their fingertips when they need to find the answer to a customer’s trickier question.

We’ve talked about service technology and agent training, but what about the importance of agent empowerment? How do companies empower their agents to go above and beyond to boost the customer experience without giving up too much of the bottom line?

This is definitely a growing problem, because customers have experiences that lead them to believe that the first person they contact can’t help them. They need to take their questions up the chain before they reach someone that can truly make the issue better — especially when it comes to compensation. It goes without saying — that’s a really poor customer experience and does not build customer loyalty.

Agents are given scripts that they have to follow, but that leaves no room for them to make judgement calls in the moment based on the individual customer. Customers expect agents to be service ambassadors and create personalized experiences, but when agents are stuck with a script they are not allowed to deviate from, they are treating every customer as one-size-fits all.

What are the top three customer service mistakes that you see businesses making today?

The first is that companies are eager to add new touchpoints that they are not equipped to serve. Today’s customers use three to four channels for service, so there’s a big rush to be the first on a new channel. Putting touchpoints into the market that a company is not staffed to service is a big miss and causes immense customer dissatisfaction and disjointed experiences.

Second is part of what we already touched on with the first question regarding Zappos. The mode of which businesses are looking at the operational side of service departments places priority on agent productivity above all other metrics. The customer should be the center of all companies, and that includes analytics.

And third, most companies haven’t tiered the way they offer service. The highest level of premium customers may have a higher tier of customer support, but all other customers are pretty much treated the same. Service technology has evolved so that businesses have 360-degree views of their entire customer base, but in many ways they haven’t adjusted how they deliver service, particularly to their highest priority customers.

To learn more about customer service best practices, check out the interactive infographic.