“Unprecedented times” feels like such an overplayed phrase at this point, but it’s true. As a Customer Success Manager at Kustomer, I’ve had a front-row seat to how the pandemic has impacted (and still impacts) the businesses that are under my care. Some are struggling, some are booming. As I collaborate with my clients in building out business strategies, examining year-over-year performance trends is a tricky endeavor. It’s a bit like trying to judge the size of a hurricane when you’re sitting in the eye of the storm. 2019 feels like aeons ago at this point, and what does it really tell us if a business’ first response time increased by 30 seconds from 2019 to 2020?
As a personal project, I began studying the performance of our clients from March 2020 to August 2020. Many companies have been focused on this window of time as it relates to their performance in a post-COVID world. While there are several metrics that I could have focused on for this project, I chose to spotlight two: First Resolution Time and Average Handle Time. In my opinion, these metrics are some of the most impactful when it comes to judging your team’s performance.
First, I gathered the Average Handle Time (AHT) and First Resolution Time (FRT) metrics for each of our clients. Then, I defined the industry category of each organization. I used the following overarching categories:
Once I had the data, I first explored it by sorting clients by their industry categories. I built a pivot table and gathered the minimum value, maximum value, mean, and median of those respective categories. Then, I explored the data without pre-emptively sorting them into industries – this is important because I didn’t want my industry sorting from the first exercise to lead me to any false conclusions. For the second exercise, I re-sorted the data into ranges of values for both Average Handle Time and First Resolution Time metrics without grouping by industry. I then took note of how industries aligned or did not align to my first analysis. Finally, I documented the correlations I observed.
As I began analyzing the data, I approached my research with a central hypothesis: Average Handle Times will be higher for clients in our Marketplace and Service industries and lower for clients in our Delivery and Retail industries. Additionally, First Resolution Times will be higher for Marketplace and Service clients and lower for Delivery and Retail clients. At a high-level, I found that my hypotheses were supported.
There is a wide spread of data for Average Handle Time and First Resolution Time across all of our clients. There are organizations that operate at opposite extremes within the same industry, ultimately skewing the data. A quick example: the retail category of clients has a minimum value of 0.82 minutes for Average Handle Time but a maximum value of 46.6 minutes for the same metric. To circumvent this skewing, I used the median values of these metrics as they are better indicators for general benchmarks.
I developed the following recommendations for client benchmarks as they relate to Average Handle Time and First Resolution Time:
Delivery: 4.45 minutes AHT | 10.2 hours FRT
Marketplace: 7.5 minutes AHT | 106.8 hours FRT
Retail: 6.25 minutes AHT | 9.15 hours FRT
Services: 8.7 minutes AHT | 22.2 hours FRT
To supplement my research, I also read about academic studies on benchmarking (and how to successfully apply them to improve team performance). A fascinating read that I uncovered was a study completed by Peter Dickson that examines the competitive advantage businesses gain by implementing customer improvement practices. Benchmarking is considered to be a customer improvement practice, and it was enlightening to learn more about how this particular project could lead to more successful outcomes for our clients. Dickson writes the following: “Both management and evolutionary economics describe a behavioral theory of the firm where an organization’s routines determine its competitiveness. Higher-order search and learning processes improve organization routines that are defined as ‘ways of doing things that show strong elements of continuity.’ According to these theories, the long-term survival, evolution, and growth of organizations in competitive markets depends, in large part, on the superiority of an organization’s routine process improvement practices”.
While I don’t believe that using these benchmarks will make or break the future success of an organization, it is important to consider the implications of encouraging customer service teams to think about improvements. These improvements promote successful businesses, and giving your agents pursuable goals builds accountability and ownership.
Something important to consider: There may be times when an organization willfully ignores benchmarking – particularly if they are implementing a cost-saving strategy. Always consider what’s best for your brand and your team.
In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe is joined by Nate Brown to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on businesses and how companies need to adapt to them. Nate is the Founder of CX Accelerator, a virtual community that encourages and supports CX professionals in the tough work that they do. Nate is also the Chief Experience Officer at Officium Labs, a company dedicated to decentralizing wealth by investing in high quality CX products and concepts. Gabe and Nate provide valuable insights on change management and how companies can evolve and thrive in the new market.
The Need for a CX Change Coalition
Customer service is still a relatively new department and career path. Customer service professionals are becoming more crucial employees as business leaders find they need someone to take care and understand the skyrocketing expectations of their customers. The organizations that have been able to deliver on customer expectations during this pandemic are the ones surviving and thriving, while others that have failed to build digital transformation may be struggling. Nate mentions that CX professionals are absolutely essential for businesses; to benefit their customers and to help their company financially.
As CX is evolving and growing, Nate mentions that part of that evolution will be in the execution of CX ideas. He mentions the question is, “How do we drive meaningful change inside of complex organizations?” In response to this question he states, “So I feel like the work of CX is becoming more and more the work of a change management and cheerleader.” To go about doing this, one thing Nate suggests is a CX Change Coalition. This idea revolves around the CEO giving CX the time and attention it deserves and, ideally, the CEO will be including other departments in CX conversations to improve “end to end customer experience.” In short, a CX Change Coalition is the process of getting the CEO and the rest of the company engaged in, and conscious of, the customer’s experience.
The Importance of Listening in Every Stage of a Customer’s Journey
Another useful tactic to adapting in a new market is understanding how the customer communicates in various stages of their experience. Depending on the problem or the customer, they could communicate their issues through a variety of channels in a variety of different points of the journey. The customer is always going to give feedback and voice their opinions of their customer experience, whether through company channels or on their own. Nate calls these structured and unstructured channels. To elaborate, Nate states:
You’ve got your structured and unstructured listening paths. Unstructured is where you don’t get to control it. The customers are out there saying what they’re going to say. You want to try and position yourself to learn from that as much as you possibly can. … Wherever you can, you want to create those opportunities for structured feedback. And you want to supplement that with the unstructured feedback that’s already going on in the world. So the ultimate question Gabe, is how can we best listen to our customers where they are?
Companies that learn to listen to their customers whether from feedback through structured or unstructured channels, will be better equipped to adapt to the ever changing market.
Employees and How to Take On the New CX World
As the market and customer changes, companies change. However, if companies are trying to evolve but they leave their employees out of the loop, they are missing the mark. It takes a lot of effort and time to change a company mindset because it is dependent on the employees. Nate suggests that to change employee mindset and to start adapting to this new market, companies must first understand the psychology of their customers and employees. He shares a few guiding questions to help with this process:
How can I motivate my employees to serve customers better and understand what those right motivators are? And then how can I understand the psychology of my customer more? And then from there you can create the strategy and the fundamental best practices and the change management techniques…Why does our customer do business with us, and how can we increase their loyalty and work backwards from there?
With these questions Nate shares that companies will have a good foundational start to improve and adapt their businesses and employees to the new business market.
To learn more about how to adapt your business to the new market, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode below, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.
You can also listen and subscribe to our podcast here:
Full Episode Transcript:
Learning to Adapt in an Ever Changing Market With Nate Brown
Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets Podcast by Kustomer.
Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Hi, welcome everybody. Today we’re going to be talking about all things CX and to do that, we brought in Nate Brown. The guy is multitalented. I ran into him at CX Accelerator, which he’ll talk about in just a minute. He’s also the Chief Experience Officer. He’s got content up the wazoo. He’s a man of many talents. So Nate, thanks for joining man. How are you?
Nate Brown: (00:36)
Oh, good Gabe. Well, thank you and happy St. Patrick’s Day to you my friend.
Gabe Larsen: (00:40)
Yeah, I noticed. You’re all green, I love it. Don’t think I’m not ready. I’m ready. You’re ready. I’m ready.
Nate Brown: (00:46)
Man, if I could pinch you, I would because I’m not seeing no green there.
Gabe Larsen: (00:48)
Are you kidding me? This is a deep green.
Nate Brown: (00:52)
Alright, fair enough.
Gabe Larsen: (00:54)
I noticed that. I meant to say that. Well I’m glad to jump in here, but before we do, can you tell us a little bit about some of the — there’s so many things going on, tell us about some of the things you’re doing and why we should care about it.
Nate Brown: (01:07)
Yeah, sure. So CX Accelerator, virtual community, just an incredible space with incredible people, especially right now with everything going on in the world. We’re just there to encourage one another, just build it up, edify those CX professionals that are out here doing tough work.
Gabe Larsen: (01:23)
Nate Brown: (01:23)
The work of the CX professional already was hard. It is getting harder. So we need a space to encourage one another and just to be real with the things that are going on. So that is CX Accelerator. And then recently began working for Officium Labs as their Chief Experience Officer. And that has been just absolutely awesome.
Gabe Larsen: (01:42)
Nate Brown: (01:42)
So getting to do a lot of ambassador work for NCX speaking, writing, blogging different things, and also working as a practitioner inside of some of the best video game studios in the world, which has been so much fun as well.
Gabe Larsen: (01:55)
Wow. Wow. And that’s Officium Labs. Got it.
Nate Brown: (01:59)
You’re right. Yeah. It is “service” in Latin, it’s the word “officium.”
Gabe Larsen: (02:02)
I love it. Yeah, officium, service in Latin. And we’ll hear more about that in just a minute. So, I wanted to talk about the big picture, obviously we’ve got an evolving landscape going on in customer service, wanting to just start there for a minute. How are you seeing things changing through all that’s going on now and really just the general evolution of the CX space?
Nate Brown: (02:29)
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to put a pin on that. I mean, if we look at even like the CXPA, I mean that’s only, shoot, nine years old.
Gabe Larsen: (02:36)
Nate Brown: (02:37)
2011. It’s still very much an emerging art. Anybody that tells you that they know everything about CX is a liar because it’s still being birthed. This function is still being created and we get to be the pioneers that are helping to do that, which is really fun and exciting. It’s amazing how cool this work is and the fact that it’s the unification of doing the right thing for people. We’re serving people really well and taking the friction out of their experiences and making their lives better in that way. But it’s also absolutely the right thing to do for the business financially because we know that those brands that are being authentic and creating compelling customer experiences, those are the brands that people want to do business with that have the customer loyalty factor and are gobbling up that market share. So it’s the combination of these two things of doing the right thing for people doing the right thing for the business. And that’s not going to change, but the way that we do this and in the mentalities around it, the best practices around it, I mean, those things are still being formed. And at least for me Gabe, I mean, recently I’ve just been going back to the fundamentals around change management because the technology has come so far in our ability to get great customer insights and great customer data.
Gabe Larsen: (03:52)
Nate Brown: (03:53)
And that’s where the technology has met us right now. We know our customers, the hearts and minds of our customers, better than we ever have before. And we’re able to centralize and analyze that data in remarkable ways. So now we know what we need to do. The past eight years in this work, I mean, that’s kind of been the challenge and the finish line. How, how do we even know what our customers want from us?
Gabe Larsen: (04:16)
Nate Brown: (04:16)
Now we’re, we’re kinda there. So, wow. Now that work has changed to now, how do we actually execute on this? How do we drive meaningful change inside of complex organizations? So I feel like the work of CX is becoming more and more the work of a change management and cheerleader.
Gabe Larsen: (04:34)
Hmm. How do you relate that to some of the changing tides that we’re currently seeing? I mean, certainly change management is one of those core principles that just won’t go away. Do you see that core principle changing in the way people deliver that kind of exceptional customer experience knowing that certain industries are moving more digital, for example.
Nate Brown: (04:55)
Right. Yeah. It’s almost embarrassing to look and see the statistics around how many digital transformation efforts are failing. It’s somewhere between 80 and 95% of digital transformation efforts are failing. And I really feel like that’s because they’re not unified, they’re not partnering actively with the customer experience initiative inside of the organization.
Gabe Larsen: (05:20)
Nate Brown: (05:21)
These two things should be lockstep. I mean, when we think about DTC, digital transformation, it’s enhancing the experience of the employees and the customers over digital channels. That’s what it’s doing. So why would we not be taking the intelligence from a CX function, the abilities and the empathy and just the mentality of a CX function and be applying it to those digital transformation capabilities, because both are going to fail without the other. We need each other. So I think that’s a major change and something that will continue to evolve as the scope of customer experience work evolves into UX, user design, brand experience, digital experience as the CX professional absorbs more and more of this responsibility, I hope and I think that we’ll have more, more power to actually control our destiny and the destiny of our customers.
Gabe Larsen: (06:16)
Yeah. Why do you feel like we’ve struggled to get there so far? We’ve just been waiting for some sort of event to force us to come together, or is it just your typical kind of siloed organization? You do this, you do that. What stopped us from bringing some of those things together and under the umbrella of just kind of an overall experience?
Nate Brown: (06:35)
I think about how long it took for marketing to be viewed as a legitimate function and the role of a CMO to really be valued and respected. And that took a long time and I feel like the CXO, chief experience officers kind of there, or it’s kind of a wait and see of why are you here? Why did we need you again?
Gabe Larsen: (06:55)
You don’t own –You don’t have a specific org right? It’s like you’re this cross functional nobody.
Nate Brown: (07:03)
I mean, so either people really want you there and they are actively recruiting you for assistance and enhancing the experience within their purview, or they’re just kind of looking at you confused. And I have been in organizations and been viewed in both of those ways. And it’s really hard. Both are really hard. I mean the best case scenario, everybody’s looking to you to guide the strategy and to be the primary drum beater on how to improve CX and get everybody excited on the topic of CX. That’s your best case scenario. And what happens more often is that the chief– the experience leader is coming in and everybody gets territorial, or a lot of people get territorial, and they end up not getting to have control or meaningful responsibility across the end to end customer journey. And the work is stymied.
Gabe Larsen: (07:58)
That’s so true. That’s so true. What is optimal in that? I mean, you touched on it a little bit, but as you think about, well, even CX and experience that these two leaderships, and then you bring in some other roles, how do you see those working together to ultimately benefit the customer?
Nate Brown: (08:17)
I mean, in my mind it’s a strong CX change coalition that is cross-functional and that you have people that really want it. I mean, they’ve seen the light in terms of when we help our customers to win, we win and you’re not having to sit there and prove the value of the work. You actually get to do the work and that’s the best case scenario. And it’s the CEO, that gets to really set the context for that. “Hey, this is our number one priority. Here’s all the reasons why, if we don’t make our customer experience a legendary, then we won’t be here in 10 years. This is the way that the experience economy is moving. I have isolated this individual in this function, that’s going to help guide us intelligently in our strategy here. And we’re all gonna work with this individual as part of the CX change coalition to improve our end to end customer experience.” That right there is the best case scenario in my opinion.
Gabe Larsen: (09:15)
And I love the CEO buy in, right? I mean that’s always a — you get someone on top who really pushes it all the way down and makes everybody come sit at the same table. That can make a huge difference just in and of itself. So I love that you’ve mentioned let’s make that end to end experience great. Sometimes I feel like people struggle in the tactics of bringing some of these ideas to fruition. You’ll hear words like journey maps, you’ll hear words like, certain drivers of net promoter. You know, are we making it easier? Or our wait time, or maybe it’s different metrics that people have. As you’ve worked with different organizations or you’ve kind of thought through this process, what are some of the things — is there certain principles or best practices you’ve found that if you really want to start to get that end to end experience optimized, change — like you mentioned change management, are there different things that you’re like, “Man, you gotta get this right. Gotta focus here.” And that really puts you on that path to success.
Nate Brown: (10:17)
And there’s — it’s going to have to look different inside of each organization, of course. Highly customized approach based on the needs of the organization and your customer demographic. But, there is a bit of a formula that I feel like is somewhat transcendent. And I’ve captured that in the CX Primer, which I think you’ve looked at.
Gabe Larsen: (10:36)
Hey man, I use it to onboard myself. That’s got some goods in it.
Nate Brown: (10:40)
Yeah. That’s kinda my heart and soul in terms of my approach to CX. It starts with that leadership and strategy, establishing that strong CX Change Coalition, getting people as allies into the work. As Jeanne Bliss would say, “Identifying the power core in the organization, making them a CX ally.” That is required in the beginning, then it’s working with that CX Change Coalition. What is the right customer KPI in each of these different touch points doing your initial journey map as a hypothesis map. And then you build up your voice of customer engine. Stage two, voice of customer engine. Are we positioned to listen to our customers? Yes or no, creating your listening paths, identifying your customer segments, your personas, working through how can we listen to these individuals the best, getting those insights collected and centralized and getting a great CX dashboard created so that before you start making a bunch of changes, you can actually see how those changes are impacting your customer’s lives.
Gabe Larsen: (11:42)
Like the current– really understand that current state as different things are tweaked. You can almost see how well it’s impacting that future for your organization. Talk about this “voices” concept and being able to make sure you can hear at different touch points, the voice or voices of the customer. How are organizations thinking about that portion? I’ve certainly read the journey maps, but the voice thing is interesting. Can you double click on that for a second?
Nate Brown: (12:10)
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I like to start with looking at the different touch points. Here’s this part of the customer experience, what’s going on here, and how would a customer generally articulate their thoughts and perceptions about us in this area? Is it going to be on some website, in a social review? Is it going to be more word of mouth based? Is it something where we can create a structured channel here? Because you’ve got your structured and unstructured listening paths. Unstructured is where you don’t get to control it. The customers are out there saying what they’re going to say. You want to try and position yourself to learn from that as much as you possibly can. Then where you can be smart about it and say, “Wow, we could pop up something here just really quickly in a great UI, something really flashing and clean and compelling where the customer would be very likely to give us some structured feedback that would be very helpful in this area.” Wherever you can, you want to create those opportunities for structured feedback. And you want to supplement that with the unstructured feedback that’s already going on in the world. So the ultimate question Gabe is how can we best listen to our customers where they are?
Gabe Larsen: (13:23)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that. And it is. It’s almost by touchpoint, it sounds like, right? I mean, you’re looking at each individual interaction or on this journey and really trying to dissect what is the voice or how do we listen to that individual touch or what’s maybe a KPI that we can show how well that touchpoint is or is not driving the customer forward. Do you — so many — and I think this comes from the call center, our call center days, but so many age old KPIs, right? When you throw out a word like that, it’s like, Oh yeah, you’ve got a lot of us old school, I’m going to say us, but, I’m not probably in that as much, but she had some old school people, you know, they love some of these old school KPIs and metrics. It feels like when you talk about this modern journey map, and then really looking at these different touch points, are there some creative measurements that you’re seeing people do along that journey to be able to understand the voice and how customers are reacting at different touch points? Or, are most people still kind of using the, again, the age old debate, a hold time and an NPS and things like that as they go through their journey.
Nate Brown: (14:37)
Yeah. It’s a great question. I think that we have seen a good evolution in this area and in some of the things that I’ve been seeing. I’d be happy Gabe to share if you could somehow get this out, a sample of a good journey map that includes each of those touchpoints, some examples of different KPIs that I think are good for those areas. As you get into that marketing area, a great marketing metric is NPS. It’s a referral based metric. How do people generally feel about our product or service period? So, I mean, that’s a good marketing based question, but as you get into the sales cycle and get into the implementation of a product or service, what you’re looking for at that point is the wisdom captured in the effortless experience. You’re looking for, how easy is it to do business with us? That ease of business score becomes more essential there because of that is what is a better depicter of customer loyalty. It’s about customer loyalty. So when you get to support, a traditional customer service environment, you can look at some of those KPIs around customer effort score. You definitely need some operational data in there that’s specific to a contact center or support environment. Generally, average handle time is not going to correlate at all to customer loyalty or to a meaningful metric in most environments. There are cases where that is important and that could be applicable, but more, what we’re looking for in the support area is something like customer satisfaction and customer effort score and what we want to do, kind of the metric that really shows that end to end customer journey, customer lifetime value. We want to correlate all this stuff to be able to see how loyal is our customer, what is the share of wallet that we’re able to obtain from them and how referenceable can we make them to where they’re introducing us to their network and becoming brand ambassadors.
Gabe Larsen: (16:34)
Nate Brown: (16:36)
Those are the things that matter. And there is no metric that captures that as well as something like a customer lifetime value or another Jeanne Bliss-ism, the customer growth engine, where you’re just looking at your organic customer base by volume and value and asking yourself, have we earned the right to grow this? As we look at this quarter over quarter, are we growing our customer base and why? Or is our customer base in a state of decline? And then my goodness, why? Instead of getting caught up in some hypothetical around NPS, or even something as powerful as customer effort score, it’s just a hypothetical.
Gabe Larsen: (17:16)
I love those. Those are some interesting — It’s a lot of, I think, meat there, right? Some different ways to look at your business and different KPIs. I’ll have to go look at the old Jeanne Bliss, see if I can dive into some of those things you’ve mentioned, she’s such a rock star.
Nate Brown: (17:29)
Chief Customer Officer 2.0 is probably the most influential book that I’ve read in this space. It’s just the best.
Gabe Larsen: (17:35)
Is that right?
Nate Brown: (17:35)
Yeah. It’s fantastic.
Gabe Larsen: (17:36)
I have not read that, I’ll put it on my to do. Customer effort score for those of us who don’t know what that is. I mean, certainly we know a lot about the effortless experience and I love the idea of making it easy. How do you — one more click on that? What, what is, what do you mean by an effort score?
Nate Brown: (17:53)
Yeah, the question is how quickly were we able to resolve your issue? How quick and easy was it to resolve your issue? What you’re looking for, there is a resolution based transaction. There was a problem. The problem was hopefully solved. And it’s just asking how quick and easy was it for us to do that for you?
Gabe Larsen: (18:11)
How easy is it to do business with us here?
Nate Brown: (18:13)
No. So that is a different question. So that question is broader. And that’s a question that you can ask in the sales cycle and you can ask in the implementation cycle. The true effort score question, you can only ask in the support environment because there was a problem and there was a problem resolved. That’s where that question comes in.
Gabe Larsen: (18:32)
[inaudible] tied a hundred percent to that.
Nate Brown: (18:34)
Gabe Larsen: (18:35)
Got it. Okay. And then one last one, before I let you go. This is, we’ve talked a lot about on the customer side, obviously, employees feel that, especially as we move more into the service side of the house, maybe we lose a little bit on the digital interaction there. How do employees play a role in this larger CX initiative?
Nate Brown: (18:53)
The frontline employees, Gabe.
Gabe Larsen: (18:56)
Nate Brown: (18:57)
Yeah. That’s absolutely the question we should be asking because we can have the best strategy in the world and unless it actually pulls the heartstrings of our employees to the brand —
Gabe Larsen: (19:08)
Unless someone actually lives that brand promise. Right?
Nate Brown: (19:11)
Right. Yeah. I mean, goodness, if we don’t change the mentality or behaviors of our employees, then what have we done? Nothing. We have not accomplished anything. So it really is a psychology based work that we’re doing, and the key here is to make it real and relevant and exciting for our employees. I mean, 90% of the employees that I’ve worked with out of the thousands that I’ve done this work with, want to serve customers well. It’s not about convincing them why they should, they want that. The trick is it’s showing them how. What are the specific behaviors that you could do, that you could change just a little bit in your day that would have a significant impact on this customer journey and be able to show them in some form or another what that customer journey looks like.
Gabe Larsen: (20:08)
Yeah. Yeah. It seems like — I’m glad you threw that out and I think that’s a good way to end. It seems like the whole strategy is there, but if you don’t have these people kind of supporting it, it does get, it just gets lost. So don’t forget that part. Do not forget about the employee. That is important.
Nate Brown: (20:25)
That’s a great CX dashboard you got there and wow. It is not changed anybody’s life.
Gabe Larsen: (20:31)
That’s right. You spent all that time on the dashboard. You didn’t train your employees, you fool. No, I love it. Well, Nate, that’s fun to talk through it, man. As I was saying before, Nate was pretty instrumental as I was looking to jump into this kind of CX/CS space. He’s got some fun tools, some fun content, and you can hear that logical flow as he was taking you through, as you think about a CX transformation, that leadership portion, mapping out the journey, getting those kinds of different touch points. I certainly appreciated it cause my mind works a little more like that. So Nate if someone wants to, well, before I do that, we talked about a lot of things. In summary, how would you kind of summarize this? We talked about the maps, and the employees, and the journey, and the evolution of it. Thinking about the changing landscape of where we are today, what’s kind of that summary statement you’d leave with CX/CS leaders about how to deliver this great experience as we move into potentially a new normal here?
Nate Brown: (21:30)
Yeah. I would say dive into the psychology of the work, get down to the why, take a look at something like a prime to perform and make yourself a bit of a psychologist. How can I motivate my employees to serve customers better and understand what those right motivators are? And then how can I understand the psychology of my customer more? And then from there you can create the strategy and the fundamental best practices and the change management techniques, but get down to the true why, what makes your company unique and different; that start with why, that Simon Sinek. Then your next why is why should we serve customers better? What are the motivators there for our employees? The why’s of our customer. Why does our customer do business with us, and how can we increase their loyalty and work backwards from there?
Gabe Larsen: (22:21)
Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Alright man, if someone wants to get a hold of you or learn a little bit more about some of the fun things you’re doing, what’s the best way to do that?
Nate Brown: (22:27)
Yeah. Hop on over to CXaccelerator.com. Join our virtual community. We want to encourage you. We want to help you. It’s a very safe place, a very encouraging place. So do that. And then if you want to work with me some more, hop on over to Officium Labs, and we’ve got all kinds of opportunities there, some additional content and some ways that we could work together. So, do one or both.
Gabe Larsen: (22:49)
It’s so funny. It’s like you eat, drink, sleep about everything CX. It’s so fun to see. This guy, we were talking pre show, I was like, “This guy can probably talk about this for four hours, but we’ll cut him off in about 30 minutes.” So Nate, appreciate you joining and everybody else, have a fantastic rest of your day.
Exit Voice: (23:16)
Thank you for listening. Make sure you subscribe to hear more customer service secrets.
We recently held an exclusive invitation-only online Speakeasy with CX executives in California. These leaders ranged from digitally-focused to family-run organizations, across all sizes and industries. The primary purpose of the event was to engage our Kustomer community to discuss complex topics during these difficult times. The conversations naturally flowed from how their businesses are handling the COVID-19 crisis, to transformation while resources are crunched, and finally their top three strategies for success.
What Is Being Done NOW
An executive began by reciting a quote from their CEO: “don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” And boy did that ring true. A key theme that kept surfacing was the importance of unifying product and CX. It’s critical to get buy-in and support from product and engineering around co-owning the CX goals. For instance, you may set a goal for the amount of CS contacts per thousand transactions, and the product team should take this information into account during development.
Several other executives stated that they had a growth problem during the pandemic. Finding the right resources to help the business scale was an issue. Others stated that their CX issues were a mixture of stagnation and scale, and they were seeking to optimize workflows to minimize the impact of furloughs. Regardless of whether the business was scaling or contracting, everyone agreed that baseline tickets were rising and removing friction between product, engineering and support was critical. A great example of this success was raised during the conversation: “How many times have you issued a support request to Netflix?” Most everyone responded: never.
Transformation While Resources Are Crunched
There is an old technology world competing with a new technology world that is now thriving. Is the old technology still relevant? Many organizations are moving towards modern technology and digital transformation.
One executive stated that they were part of the old school class of folks who thought that CX couldn’t be done from home. And yet, they transitioned their CX team to work from home in a week. Interestingly, the CX leader started the process a few weeks before COVID hit as she had a funny feeling. They configured laptops and had them out to agents who previously did not have access to laptops at all.
Another executive stated that their agents, based in London and Austin, already had laptops to successfully work from home, but 200 agents in the US needed monitors to work from multiple screens. Employees came back to the office for basic accessories like chords and power plugs. There was some hesitation about voice quality or even security using home computers, but that went away after the first week. The pandemic accelerated their business continuity plan and now challenges occur more due to kids, school and scheduling.
Many companies saw a surge in volume, so job enrichment and training had to be put on the backburner. They needed more people or more resources to get the job done. However, work from home presented some challenges around measuring metrics and understanding who can sustain remote work and who may not be up to par.
One executive stated, “I think there were people getting away with it at the office and the home office is not conducive to working. Kids are maybe getting in the way. Some folks are struggling and may not be candidates for working from home.”
Luckily, many individuals think technology can help. The CEO of one organization used to work at stodgy banks, and he doesn’t want that for his current company — he wants to be different. He wants to adopt AI and transform into a modern financial institution. Other executives stated that their companies were not as forward-looking on AI, and convincing management could often be a challenge.
Moving the Customer Experience Dial
A CX executive began the conversation by stating that moving the needle 1% is a good thing, and focusing on one single metric that does so could lead to success. In his case, it was support cost as a percentage of revenue. This metric scales because it is clear to everyone.
“If you double the revenue, you can double support costs,” he said. This metric sets a north star and ties every team back to the results. The CX group doesn’t own the code, the product or messaging, but once you touch the customer, you can take what the customer is saying back to the other departments. If a customer tells you a problem, it’s your job to take that problem to the business, and potentially increase revenue as a result.
Organic growth occurs when there is no friction. Look at a disruptive company like Netflix. You never contact Netflix support, and you don’t have friction. Everything slows down if you don’t eliminate friction.
Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste
It was overwhelmingly agreed that baseline tickets were rising and that it was important to remove friction between product, engineering and support. In a recent report by Kustomer, How the Pandemic is Affecting Customer Service Organizations, the data mirrors the conversations at the Speakeasy. Our study found that 79% of customer service teams have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, while only 1% reported no change at all. Of the customer service representatives surveyed, 48% observed longer wait times for their customers, 39% reported a lack of resources and 64% said they needed greater efficiencies. According to reports, inquiries are up across phone, email, web and social media channels.
In order to address this, Brad Birnbaum, Kustomer CEO, recommends leveraging technology that can “automate low level support with the help of AI.” This allows a greater number of customers to be served immediately, while freeing up agents to deal with more-complex issues — and 57% of respondents said they were seeing more of these than normal.
To reiterate a comment from one of our CX leaders, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”
Your Top Ten Takeaways
1. Do a better job of capturing feedback and delivering to the product team
2. Build a strong product team for better customer experience
3. Reduce CX costs by 50% under the notion of do no harm to the business
4. Offer personal value-based services
5. Innovate support solutions like an effortless experience
6. Improve the bottom line AND customer satisfaction
7. Improve knowledge of the product and industry across the company
8. Hire people with industry-specific knowledge
9. Implement self-service as customers want to serve themselves
10. Use all the data you have to make support an effortless experience
Where’s the party at?…. In front of your computer.
With the coronavirus not ceasing anytime soon, what options do conference attendees have? Go virtual! You are now able to attend brilliant learning and networking opportunities, from the comfort of your couch.
Now more than ever, companies are searching for technology to deliver on customers’ growing demands. Circle these CX events on your calendar to gain insights about the latest CX innovations, how COVID-19 is changing customers’ expectations, and dive into the smartest strategies to deliver standout customer experiences.
Here is our curated list of must-attend events.
Customer Contact Now Virtual Roundtable
Date: July 28, 2020 Description: Free half-day online event for 25 senior-level customer service professionals with a keynote by Shep Hyken. Request to attend here.
Flower Arranging with Kustomer and Alice’s Table
Date: August 20, 2020 Description: Stuck at home? Miss traveling? Miss the camaraderie with industry peers? Trust us, we get that it has been tough being at home all day, but in the spirit of #alonetogether join Kustomer & Alice’s Table for a fun flower arranging workshop! Request to receive farm-fresh flowers here.
Consero’s Knowledgebridge: The Contact Center Consero
Date: August 20, 2020 Description: Consero brings the world’s most senior executives together to build relationships and share knowledge through uniquely valuable events. More info here.
CCW at Home
Date: August 24-28, 2020 Description: Learn from the most innovative brands in the world. Discover the latest CX technology. Join sessions on today’s challenges, priorities, and focuses on impacting customer contact executives and business leaders most. Bring CCW experience home here.
Consero’s Knowledgebridge: The CX Program
Date: September 1, 2020 Description: Consero brings the world’s most senior executives together to build relationships and share knowledge through uniquely valuable events. Register here.
Date: Septemper 4-5, 2020 Description: Learn from your industry peers about trends in CX, hear thoughtful advice on growing and scaling teams, and get insight into how legacy brands are evolving their customer support solutions.
This is still an in-person event. Register here.
Date: September 22-24, 2020 Description: At CCW Online: Customer Experience Trends, Challenges & Innovations, we’ll reveal the latest on what customers are expecting from the experience — and what it takes to deliver. From journey mapping, to analytics, to technology, to digital engagement, to agent empowerment, you’ll know how to create the unbreakable connections that drive customer loyalty, advocacy and revenue. Free online event registration here.
Date: October 2020 Description: We’re back for our most exciting event of the year, The Kustomer Conference! Join us for a jam-packed all-online experience as we reveal new product updates, Kustomer’s roadmap for the future and more. We will bring you insights from the brightest minds in the CX space and give you interactive opportunities to network with your peers. You don’t want to miss this event!
Stay tuned for more details as we reveal the date, agenda and speakers.
Shoptalk’s Retail Meetup
Date: October 20-22, 2020 Description: Shoptalk Meetup is retail’s first digitally native event! It’s a fun, productive way to connect online with the people you know and meet the people you don’t–in a friendly and open environment. It’s like being at Shoptalk, but without going through TSA. Register here.
Stay up-to-date on new and upcoming events throughout the year here.
A lot has changed in the past six months, including the way that we all work. As a rising senior at Franklin & Marshall College, majoring in business, I’m finishing my second summer as an intern in the sales operations department. As I reflect on the internship experience here at Kustomer, I’ve expanded my knowledge and stretched my skill set, while also learning to work in this new, remote normal. Here are some insights I picked up along the way.
Diving Into the Sales Operations World
My first summer at Kustomer was a great learning experience. I was finishing up my sophomore year of college, had just switched my major from biochemistry, and was looking for a way to learn more about working in a business environment. Working in sales operations, my job centered around Salesforce administration at first, but has since evolved to include more interdepartmental and substantive work. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on projects alongside marketing operations, customer experience, sales enablement, and sales leadership. The projects have covered a wide range of areas, including tracking pipeline, researching CPQ software, and reassigning sales territory, among others. My time at Kustomer has given me the chance to gain insights and experience in several areas of the business.
Interning in a Remote Environment
When I was asked to return for a second summer, I was thrilled to rejoin the Kustomer team. This time, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, my second summer at Kustomer looks very different from the first. On the plus side, not having to commute from New Jersey means I get to sleep much later, and I certainly don’t miss the crowds at both Newark and New York Penn Station. I do, however, really miss the one-on-one interaction I had with my team at Kustomer last summer. While working from home and not seeing my coworkers at the office has been different, Kustomer has made it a smooth transition with the help of Slack and Zoom meetings, and I’ve been able to continue to get my work done and to keep in touch with my team and the company as a whole. Other than not being able to go to the office and meet in-person, my internship experience has been similar to last summer. I’m able to work on the same kinds of projects, build upon the same skills, and continue to make similar contributions, while learning new skills and about how the business works holistically.
Being a Part of the Kustomer Community
I very much value the opportunity I have been provided to get so involved in the day-to-day operations of the company as an intern. I don’t think that I would have gotten so involved if I had been interning somewhere else. I have been given the opportunity to truly see what working in sales operations full-time is like, and am much more involved in major projects and tasks than I expected to be going into an internship. This involvement is a huge source of motivation for me.
Most importantly, however, has been the interactions I have had with my colleagues at Kustomer. I’ve been made to feel like part of the team, which was another major reason I wanted to return for this summer. I have learned so much from the colleagues I worked alongside, and admire the vision of the company and its leadership. I felt welcomed from the start. On my first day, Brad Birnbaum, Kustomer’s CEO, invited me and the other three new hires who were starting that day to breakfast. I see this as one of the best examples of the Kustomer environment and the values of the leadership team. Before I had officially started my first day at 9:00 AM, I had not only met the CEO of the company, but had been given the opportunity to talk to him and hear about Kustomer from his perspective. The company as a whole shares this sense of community and welcoming that far exceeded my expectations, even in a remote environment. I’m excited to finish out my second summer at Kustomer in a few weeks, and I am so glad I was able to gather valuable experience and meet so many interesting and special people. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me personally, as well as for Kustomer!
As COVID-19 cases began to spike in February and March of 2020, the economy slowed. Many companies were faced with the difficult decision to layoff or furlough a percentage of their workforce to stay afloat. As we move into the summer months, there have been modest gains in economic activity and employment growth. Reuters reports that approximately 25% of private-sector jobs have since been recovered out of those lost in March and April. Still, recovery has been slow as many contemplate future waves of the virus.
Considering the uneven terrain of our current economy, workforce management has become even more critical to maintaining profitability. It also promotes the health of your customer service team. If you’re running a skeleton crew and looking for ways to justify an increase in headcount for your team, read on.
How Kustomer Data Can Help
There are a handful of important metrics within the Kustomer platform that can help you understand whether your team is over- or under-staffed: inbound messages, average handle time, and agent capacity. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll focus primarily on a single channel: chat.
Here is the major question to consider: what does the data tell us about staffing needs and restrictions? Additionally, how many agents do we need to staff so that all chat customers are served immediately?
Let’s say that you’re an up-and-coming retailer in the Atlanta area. You currently have a 10-person team that handles all of the incoming chat conversations on your website. Each of these agents is trained to handle five chat conversations at a time. Collectively, their average handle time is five minutes.
Every agent works an eight-hour shift. They take multiple breaks throughout the day that add up to approximately one hour; they work for approximately seven hours per day. Thus, every agent is capable of performing approximately 420 minutes per shift (seven hours is equal to 420 minutes). Sixty minutes divided by an average handle time of five minutes means that each agent could theoretically complete 12 conversations per hour (if not multitasking). If we multiply that number by agent capacity (five, in this case), we can speculate that an agent can handle 60 conversations per hour.
If an agent can resolve 60 conversations per hour, and each of those conversations has a collective average handle time of five minutes, then an agent is capable of performing 300 minutes of work in an hour (in the eyes of our reporting). Finally, when thinking through the amount of work an agent can handle in a shift, that number is 2,100 minutes of chat work (300 minutes multiplied by seven hours).
As the lead of this team, you begin by pulling the average inbound messages per hour within the Conversations tab of your Standard Reports. Break up the data by day of the week. You notice that Mondays, on average, see a typical volume of 6,000 inbound chat messages. Again, if we multiply the total number of messages by our average handle time (five), this represents 30,000 minutes of chat work that needs to be completed on each Monday. If we divide those 30,000 minutes of chat work by the 2,100 minutes that an agent is capable of completing each shift, we can guess that we need approximately 14 agents working on Mondays to serve all of the chat customers as they arrive.
You can replicate this process across all days of the week, or certain seasonal spikes, and even apply this method to other channels. With further calculation, you could provide an hourly view of necessary coverage for inbound chats as well.
One final disclaimer: the important thing to remember here is that we are using past performance to forecast the future. Thus, it will not always be a perfect predictor of future staffing needs. It’s important to regularly monitor the ebb and flow of inbound messages to ensure that your team is adequately staffed.
We all know that businesses strive to be efficient — not only within the customer service department, but throughout the entire organization. However, as customer experience continues to become more important than price and product when it comes to loyalty, the goal for CX departments to be highly effective can at times feel at odds with the efficiency mandate.
Kustomer wanted to hear from CX workers on the front lines, and surveyed over 120 professionals to understand how they’re feeling. Read on for the findings from our research, and for strategies to achieve efficient customer service without compromising the customer experience.
The Efficiency Mandate
It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of respondents reported a need to be more efficient. A total of 92% of organizations say more efficiency is needed, but 51% also reported that there is a greater need for efficiency than a year ago. Only 6% of respondents said that the need for efficiency has decreased in the past year.
Whether it’s a recession, a pandemic, or changing customer expectations, the success of a business can swing downward swifty and without notice. Organizations have felt this impact strongly in 2020, and the gaps in their strategies that they may not have felt a year ago are now staring them directly in the face. Perhaps efficiency isn’t the number one priority for a customer service organization when business is booming and resources are available. But the power of an efficient AND effective customer service organization can make a massive impact during both challenging and successful times.
A few factors are impacting how organizations are achieving efficiency: 63% of respondents reported having limited staff, while 44% reported being on a strict budget. A total of 42% of customer service professionals reported not being able to currently manage 24/7 support, while long wait times and access to the right tools seemed to be less of a concern for CX organizations.
However, when staff and budget are unexpectedly slashed, having technology tools in place that can minimize that impact and make agents’ jobs easier, is of the utmost importance.
Challenges Associated With Delivering Efficient Customer Service
It’s clear that customer service professionals know they must be more efficient, and aren’t sure how to do so in a way that provides a positive experience to their customers. The fact of the matter is, all customers must be served, and oftentimes there are roadblocks to doing so in an efficient manner.
Challenging inquiries are the number one reason CX teams report that they can’t deliver efficient support. While automation and self-service tools wouldn’t be effective in resolving challenging customer issues, the implementation of these technologies can actually free up agent time to tackle these inherently more time-consuming tasks. Instead of answering simple inquiries like product and policy questions, customer service teams can spend more time on higher level support and relationship-building.
Another top roadblock to delivering efficient support is unclear or unknown policies. When agents have to go searching for accurate information, across a variety of systems, customers are sure to suffer. Ensure that you have a solution in place that can surface relevant policy information, with the ability to update it in real time as policies shift and change. Intelligent chatbots can even tap into this knowledge base and surface highly relevant and always-accurate information to consumers instantaneously.
Beyond the nature of customer inquiries, there are additional external factors that customers report are preventing them from adopting efficiency tools.
The top reasons that organizations aren’t adopting efficiency tools, are a lack of executive buy-in and a lack of budget, which unsurprisingly go hand in hand. If leadership doesn’t understand the value behind adopting efficiency tools, they likely won’t allocate budget for them.
Ironically, adopting efficiency tools could completely transform a CX organization from a cost center into a profit center, ultimately benefiting not only the executives but also the business as a whole. Think about it: time is money, and when valuable human time is spent on low level tasks that technology can handle, no one benefits. Tagging conversations, routing conversations, answering very simple questions … all of these tasks can be menial and brain-numbing to customer service agents. With the advent of technology, customer service agents no longer need to be relegated to low level work, and can take a more prominent and important role within an organization.
Not only will agents spend their time answering more challenging and important inquiries from customers, they will also have the time to build long-lasting relationships, proactively reach out to customers, make customers feel heard and valued, and even close more business. This time spent by agents will truly contribute to the bottom line of a business, increasing loyalty, advocacy and brand sentiment.
For the full findings from Kustomer’s latest research, including breakdown by industry and business size, download the full Efficiency Research Report here.
Here we are in 2020, a decade full of opportunities and challenges no one could have conceived only a few short months ago. Our families need us, our friends need us, our countries need us, and hidden amongst these needs is an implicit truth more important now than ever: our customers need us. Imagine the cashier wearing a contagious smile, or the support e-mail which asks how you and your family are doing? These moments of kindness, compassion and empathy are in this day and age a brand’s greatest asset.
We can implicitly understand the importance of caring for your customers, but for several years now, the data has been showing much the same:
A customer is four times more likely to move to a competitor when facing a service related issue rather than a price or product related issue.
From a purely financial perspective, it will cost six to seven times more to bring in a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.
Treating your customers with compassion and good old fashioned kindness are now must-haves, not should-haves. And the uncharted waters of 2020 have emphasized this fact even more. The global pandemic has forced nearly all communications between customers and businesses into a digital interface. That means you can’t go into a store with a problem anymore — the only means of getting your problem solved is through phone, email, chat or social media. Therefore, the main cues a customer service representative uses to understand a person’s emotions (body language, tone, etc.) have been stripped down significantly.
Organizations must take this opportunity to invest in the heartbeat of their brand’s resilience, and taking care of your customers is where you must start:
You are running a pet grooming business, and supply your staff with hedge trimmers and power hoses, how happy do you think the pets and their owners will be? The exact same logic is fundamental in how you support your front line support agents. Ensure they have a full-spectrum, omnichannel view of customer history, enabling them to treat people like valued humans, not tickets. When an agent can see historical conversations, provide support over multiple channels, and see the customer profile and not a ticket, they are equipped to provide compassionate, human-centered support.
Lead by example. Before expecting your employees to provide world class, compassionate customer service and support, you must prepare them and care for them at “home”. Think about things like compassion training, support coaching, platform training, and any other form of investing in your customers’ caretakers.
3. Tone & Language
With human interactions, one can utilize body language, notice visual queues and react in ways simply not possible in the digital realm. For all online or voice support, tone and language is crucial to achieve positive, efficient and
compassionate customer service. When it comes to supporting your agents, who take on challenging and pressure-filled conversations regularly, brands can leverage an internal knowledge base (IKB) , multi-language tools and short or “canned” responses. The IKB offers answers, support, and advice on dealing with any number of customer service scenarios, offering an agent their own repository of self-help in a predetermined language and tone. Multi-language tools such as snippets, in conjunction with shortcuts in Kustomer, offer agents contextual, error-free, multilingual canned responses which are simple to use and provide perfect tone and language, enabling agents to support customers worry-free.
4. Customer (Human) First
Remember that each customer is not a ticket, but a person with needs. How is their day? How are they feeling? Start and end each interaction with a compassionate human touch, and your customers are sure to notice the difference. Just like a smiling cashier, or happy delivery man, these small details can make a world of a difference.
5. Understand Emotions
What is the general sentiment of your customers? The way in which you interact with a customer drastically shifts if, before starting on the conversation, you already know how they are feeling (natural, positive, very angry, etc). With Kustomer’s sentiment analysis, understanding sentiment takes zero human effort and allows for segmentation or prioritization of negative sentiment. “I understand that you’re not so happy right now, I’m here to make things better.” Proactive and compassionate messages like this can make a world of difference.
6. Reporting & Analytics
Once you’ve built up a repository of customer interactions, analyzing and understanding themes and patterns becomes essential for resiliency and customer success. What are your top five contact reasons and how can you create proactive solutions to these key customer challenges? Through these insights, could you begin to develop deflection strategies?
7. Artificial Intelligence
You understand why your customers are writing in, you’ve built better operational/product efficiencies to resolve some inbounds, but will always get questions such as “where is my order?” (WISMO), cancelation/refund requests, etc. With the advent of Kustomer IQ, you can now deflect such repetitive questions and enable your customer to walk through quick and easy self-service. This allows them to receive the fastest resolution and decreases overall inbound demand on your customer service teams.
8. Routing & Assignment
With the remaining inbound conversations, it is important that the customer’s query gets to the right agent as efficiently as possible. It is incredibly inefficient to have humans manually delegate support requests when a queues and routing system can do this quickly and efficiently. This allows managers to focus on other priorities, and strengthen the team’s overall experience. Intent Identification allows you to proactively tag or assign contact reasons to conversations and use this prediction to route the conversation directly to the required team. When done well, this will allow your team to resolve all issues within their scope and mandate, not wasting time rerouting or escalating conversations meant for other teams or departments.
We hope it is quite evident that empathy, compassion and a truly human customer experience will add priceless qualitative and quantitative value to brands and customer experience across any vertical. In this day and age, humans want to be treated like humans, not support tickets. When these practices are combined with a technologically sound support system, organizations will see decreased inbound requests, increased brand advocacy, and provide an enjoyable experience for both customers and customer experience specialists.
The economic impact COVID-19 has made on small and local businesses is staggering. Unemployment is at a record high and many businesses have already declared plans to end operations for good.
This chaotic time definitely paints a bleak picture, but it also serves as an opportunity to get involved and help. Some of us are fortunate enough to have extra time and energy to provide assistance for these businesses in their time of need. But what exactly does that look like? How can we rally not only ourselves but our personal communities to help the businesses we depend on at this time of crisis? Below are a few ways you can give some extra support.
1. Pay now, service later
Buying a gift card from a local mom and pop shop or paying for a future haircut you know you will need can be a boost to some of your favorite service spots. It gives encouragement to the business, showing them that you’re a loyal customer, and gives them quick revenue. If you are unable to pay for services now, schedule an appointment for the future. This serves as a nice reminder that this situation is temporary and gives you something to look forward to.
2. Small businesses are adapting… adapt with them!
It’s important to be aware of how your favorite spots are maintaining relationships with their customers so you can still take advantage of their services and support them. Soon after social distancing began, a local brewery near me started selling vegetables, herbs, and flowers from their garden. They advertised heavily on their social media platforms and enabled customers to pre-order plants as well as packaged beer for curbside pickup. If you feel uncomfortable picking up items from a location, check and see what delivery options exist. Many brick and mortar shops have expanded their shipment operations so you can still support them without having to leave your home.
3. Be an advocate for the places you love
A great way to support local business is to spread the word about them. Think of some of your favorite local spots and start following them on social media. If a business posts about services they are providing, share it with your network. At a time when people are ordering takeout more than usual, it helps to have options to choose from. Not everyone knows about that amazing hole in the wall ramen place you love. So tell them!
We all know how important it is to make customers feel special, but now it’s time to make businesses feel valued too! The pandemic won’t last forever, but the effects will likely linger. Let’s all do our part to give some much needed support.
Before COVID-19, I often thought about things I would do with my daughters if I had more time, like camping in the backyard or reading an extra story at bedtime. But when I did have the time during one of NYC’s many school breaks, my first thought was, “I wonder what time we’re going to take them to Wito and Wita’s (their grandparents) house.” Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Instead of manifesting some of those ideas into reality, I spent my time worrying about my job security (I am an office experience manager after all!).
My husband and I were so consumed with fear, anger and sadness that we didn’t see our six and two year old daughters’ lives were turned upside-down, too. So, we panicked and backfilled those 10 hours with brain-rotting, eyesight-destroying digital babysitters named, “TV” and “Tablet.” The four of us had spent more time at work or school, daycare and aftercare than at home with each other. Two months later, my husband and I are both grateful and decided to switch our mindset away from worry. Both of us are still employed and it’s more important to maintain our sanity and that of our children, than anything else.
Is it possible to homeschool a first-grader whose number one fan is her two year old sister? Of course it is! Anything is possible, right? Instead of sharing tips that don’t help your family at all, here are a couple of our biggest struggles and reflections as a note of encouragement to anyone who may also still be struggling, partnered or alone, parent or not.
Many, many thanks to the senior management team at Kustomer for allowing me to have these stories to tell, and if you, Maya and Suna, read this, please forgive Mommy for embarrassing you. 😂
We Call It Mess, But They Call It Art
Two year old Maya was proud and excited to show me her permanent drawing on the wall of our rented apartment. I called her “bad for drawing on the walls because [she] should have known better.” It wasn’t until the tears started falling that I realized that I was the one who should have known better. Where was I when she got the marker? Why didn’t I look when I smelled the fresh Sharpie ink from the marker she was so diligently using to draw and fill in a 6-inch circle?
Longer story short, I was M-A-D but I remembered that she was exercising her creativity. Who cares how many Magic Erasers I had to use to clean it? Maya had to practice somewhere and she decided to improvise, which is also a life skill! Now we have markable surfaces for her in every room with pieces of recycled cardboard or brown paper bags, and we spend time practicing other shapes, with washable markers.
It’s Okay to Get (and Be) Frustrated
After almost 32 years of life, it never dawned on me how challenging it could be to look at the time and know it’s 12. I don’t mean the concept of noon or midnight, but simply 12 o’clock. Suna, six years old, nailed the analog clock in our first lesson. She knows it’s wherever-the-hour-hand-is o’clock when the minute hand is on 12. But after two math workshops and watching the same YouTube video about digital clocks three times, I felt my body go numb when she looked at the time in her math book and excitedly said, “Twelve hundred.” Be patient, be kind, and lend a helping hand to your kids (or other creatures in your home) whenever you can find the time.
I think we can all agree it’s been an interesting — and hectic — couple of months. Juggling work and the kids has felt like an extreme sport, right? The lesson here is: don’t stress! Your children will learn new things, even if it’s not exactly on the school worksheet. They’ll drive you crazy sometimes, and that’s ok too! Just try to keep up with the basics, create a flexible routine, read a lot and spend time playing with them (better if it’s outside!). We are all doing the best that we can in these uncertain times. You are making it work, and that’s all that matters.