Friday, July 8, 2011

Conversations with Garry Schultz - a customer care visionary, author, and classical musician

As a customer care visionary and past customer service leader for global organizations such as Sonic Solutions, Roxio, and RIM; Garry Schultz is passionate about delivering best in class service with a relentless focus on the customer.

This interview with Garry is part of our series about learning, games, social media, crowd-sourcing, and work performance.

RD> Are you a gamer? If yes, what are your favorite Games?

GS> Rini, yes I go way back with computer games, from the very start with the command line games. You know - 'pick up gold', 'run fast', and literal typed commands. From there I recall spending time in the first-person-shooter game Wolfinstien, then Duke Nukem. My favorite type of game is The SIMs. I also like the puzzle based game genre, but I am a little dated with titles. I don't have as much time to game these days as I once had but I keep up with the newest offerings. However, I haven't seen significant new developments in some time. MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) are interesting and the innovation of deploying them in real-time, with multiple players is certainly a cool play.

And my favorite games? Well I have been bitten by the Angry Birds craze on my iPad. Rovio Corp’s attention to detail and the way the programmers have married quasi-real world physics to the game world is great..... I mean the trajectory calculations of the birds and the fashion in which the structures collapse - genius! Really nice balance of whimsy and reality - just the right mix.

Professionally, and you know this as we have riffed on the topic - games have a huge business centric potential with Gen X and Gen Y (and just around the corner Gen Z). Consider that the average attention span of a young person today is dynamically different than it was when I has coming up. Today, access to Information is instantaneous. Sure libraries are still there, but why would a student spend an evening in the stacks when she can wiki up answers, with references, in 9 nano seconds. So, while I was expected to weed through and absorb a wall of documentation at my first job = today's entry level associates need to be fed pertinent information in short, sharp bites. This is where games come in. Educate through interactive gaming.... learntainment, enterlearnment? The Germans probably have a word for it.

RD> You have written a book about customer care, The Customer Care and Contact Center Handbook (published by ASQ Quality Press) What are the key ingredients that make a world class customer care organization? Do you see the key ingredients changing over time?

GS> The key ingredient is to serve your target customer and to have a relentless focus on the consumer. Where this over-simplification gets to be interesting is balancing customer needs with fiscal restraints. This is to suggest that one cannot always economically deliver what the consumer wishes.

The key ingredients to world class customer care have not changed but what has changed are the channels, conduits, and turnaround time to deliver the services. Point in fact - I was listening to a web-cast a couple of weeks ago and the context was Social Media (SM). The crux of the presentation was positioned as a new innovation: crowd-sourcing. But when the speaker delved into crowd-sourcing it was evident that crowd-sourcing has huge overlap with the concept of 'forum gurus' which is an old concept given a new set of clothes in the context of social media.

It’s the same relationship of mass collaboration that is brokered by personnel who aren’t on payroll. Call it what you may, but it’s been around for sometime.

There are a few real challenges with social media. It’s the turnaround time issue, the immediate response that Twitter users expect, the limitation of 140 characters, and making sure that you do not discount corporate liability based on precedent (If Fred got a free upgrade where is mine? And why are you making me ask for it? Just give me what Fred got.).

RD> How can social media channels be leveraged for customer care?

GS> First off let's be clear - managing social media channels is not an option... it is a necessity! If you are reading this and do not have a social media strategy in place - give me a call. I can assist. The key here is to be up and operational on SM for your Customers - they demand it to be so.

Enough on NOT acting.

Social media channels can be leveraged very effectively and I could write a book on the topic - and I am. So let me riff on the foundation of SM in the customer care context… First off, if you want to be successful with your customers in the SM context - take off your customer care hat and get with your counterparts in Marketing and Sales. Social media, at this stage of the game, cannot be compartmentalized into pre-sales, sales, marketing, and post-sale support disciplines. The lines aren’t even grey, they are non-existent. The necessary approach goes across the organization like no other channel.

So, it is time to collaborate closely with your colleagues in other departments.

And secondly - once you are sitting down with your colleagues, the stakeholders, define a working charter for SM. Understand what your goals are as a corporation. From there you can get into the operational business of scalability, repeatability, SLAs, and meaningful performance metrics. These are the core competencies for customer care professionals.

RD> You led a large organization which managed global consumers and their needs. Do you see big differences (due to socio-cultural, geographic, demographic differences) among consumers in how they want to receive customer care and what their expectations are?

GS> Big question, Rini. The short answer is - yes.

The longer answer? There are significant differences based on cultural norms and expectations. Further, there are overlapping differences within cultures (a Venn diagram of this would be interesting exercise) based on additional factors such as: age of the sub-group within the demographic, computer literacy of the sub-group and the whole issue of entitlement. Let`s explore two extremes in the context of non-mission critical consumer software.

EASY - Generation Y... the Millennial. If a failure is experienced, Gen Ys do not reach for the phone. They often go to their own peer-network and find a maven in their sphere-of-acquaintances. Further they are quite at home with self-service and online knowledge bases. The Millennial knows how to conduct an effective search and can understand the subsequent instructions to rectify a failure.

HARD – Baby Boomers...the retiree. If a failure is experienced, the baby-boomer reaches for the phone. They do not have an effective peer-network and often have gaps in their general knowledge and computer literacy. There is an illustrative video of a comedian on YouTube that pokes some fun at the dynamic, fast forward to 4:40 in the video....

Kidding aside - we need to assist the Boomers and Gen Y, and the industry does.

RD> How do you learn? The new and younger associates coming to work in customer care organizations -- do they learn differently than you and me?

GS> I am a visual learner. Show me a graphic and I get the message, text takes me more time to absorb. But the key is... Let me give you an example.

I have wonderful daughter and I taught her a mantra and have reinforced it her entire life. It is really simple.

Ask questions and listen

Jenna is 26 now and has completed three degrees. The truly hard part of the mantra is the 'listen' component. We are simply not good at listening and the fact is that the younger we are, the less developed our ability to listen is. There is no doubt Mother Nature has a sense of humor; when young she endows us with the ability to absorb and learn at our most accelerated rate.... but with a smile she dampens youth’s ability to effectively listen. Funny lady.

That said, today's entry level personnel require training to be tuned to their world. Knowledge transfer (and validation) is one of the most difficult challenges in today's businesses. As I said earlier, attention span is different with today's youth. SMS text messaging has taught a generation to communicate in a truncated form. They talk in sentence fragments (okay - so do I at times) and if you observe them at a party, they don’t seem to have the patience to get through a four minute pop song but continually 'sample scan' snippets of tunes. Golly, as an effective punishment for Gen Y they should be made to sit down and listen to Wagner's entire Ring Cycle (eat your peas.... don't make me get the Wagner). Don't get me wrong, the reality is there is nothing wrong with any of these Gen Y attributes, they are simply different.

What needs to change is our idea of how to effectively transfer knowledge. Like our Customers, we have to come to our associates in a fashion that resonates. And this is the utility of training by games. Not to be thought of 'slight of hand' but a powerful tool to not only get the fundamentals across but to have a meaningful gauge of the success of the knowledge transfer.

RD> How do you think current training practices meeting the needs of customer care organizations?

GS> Not very well. I have worked with some large players in the outsourcing business and for the most part my observation is that training lags available innovation. At best, some of the organizations have put up computer based testing (CBT) programs and rendered the testing (knowledge transfer validation) online. But the core issue of training line personnel in how to handle customers has not progressed. The issue isn't technical knowledge but the old customer care stalwarts of empathy, listening and effectively assisting the consumer. And when it comes to social media, the training chasm is vast and is one of the drivers behind why most organizations that are active on social media channels are doing the work in-house.

RD> How do you envision using games and simulations to teach people what to do here?

GS> This is where I think PAKRA has an incredible play and opportunity. The PAKRA training demos that I have seen are excellent and I believe will resonate with the target Gen Ys that make up the majority of the post-sale talent pool. It’s a win/win. The little touches, like the guy who walks by the cubicle and his comments are golden, it brings levity to the exercise which is another resonator. I think an agent accustomed to the text based format of most CBT programs will embrace the far more dynamic PAKRA world. As for portability, repeatability and scalability PAKRA slams traditional teacher-lecture based models. The gold spot - training that is enjoyable to progress through.

RD> What is next for you?

GS> Professionally, I have a number of pokers in the fire - to borrow a phrase. I have been working with my publisher (ASQ Quality Press) on two additional manuscripts - one on social media and one on contact centers for the entry level hiree. And I am at the initial stages of entering the customer care consulting game - but truth be told my target is the right opportunity regardless of the structure.

On the creative side, being that I have had some time of late, I have managed to finally release a CD of original compositions. You can find them on iTunes if you search for Garry Schultz or Cheerful Insanity. I’ve also rediscovered the joy of some of the classical etudes I was taught back-in-the-day.

RD> Thanks for your time today, Garry. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you.

GS> Thanks, Rini. It’s been great catching up.


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