We have a rigid training system for new hires in our customer service department focusing mostly on using our internal CRM and learning our product line. As our company continues to grow, we've realized there's a disconnect between the mentality of our reps and our customers – many of whom are entrepreneurs. We needed a new way to allow our customer service reps to step into the mindset of our customers.
I work at a company called OnlineLabels.com. Like it sounds, we sell labels online. You can order blank labels to print at home or upload your artwork to our website and we'll print them for you.
Our customer service team is trained on the specifics of our products (will our labels stick to this material, can I get it wet, etc), but they may never have had to go through the labeling process from start to finish. IE they can sympathize but they can't empathize.
Product line testing. We created a competition to familiarize our reps with the challenges customers go through everyday.
"Training is very important for our customer service representatives. We created this challenge to put them in our customers' shoes, in hopes they would better understand what our customers go through each and every day." – Jessi, department manager
"Being in customer service, we're always trying to see issues from the customer's perspective. Having the reps create a product line was just a fun way to make them experience common issues." – Addy, project coordinator
We gave each member of the customer service department a set of instructions, four containers, and $50 of fake money. They had to:
Choose labels for each of their containers
Purchase their labels blank or printed, using their fake money
Design their labels in our complimentary design software
Print their labels (if they ordered blank)
Apply their labels
Package them for the judges
The project presents some unique challenges that our customers deal with every day:
The four containers were chosen based on their popularity in the marketplace and difficulties: the jar could need two labels which means they need to order multiple products with the same budget; the lip balm is skinny which can make label adhesion difficult; the foamer bottle has a taper which can result in label "flagging;" and the bottle has a neck which many customers don't account for.
We offer hundreds of sizes and configurations and 40+ materials. That can leave customers with a lot of decisions.
Blank labels are less expensive than printed labels, but you have to deal with common printer problems: jamming, sheet shifting, etc.
Our design software (Maestro Label Designer) is an online design program created exclusively for our customers. It includes several robust features which is great for the majority of customers, but it's not intended to replace professional design software.
Printing can be troublesome at times (re: jamming, sheet shifting, etc).
Applying labels isn't always as easy as it sounds. You want them to be straight, not have any creases, stick to your surface, and above all, look professional.
When the containers slide around in a shipping box or shopping bag, they may rub against each other or the packaging. Depending on your printer setting, this can scratch up the labels or cause the design to smear and smudge. Understandably, our customers don't want their products to be ruined before they make it to the final destination.
Our reps had one week to complete the challenge. They were allowed 30 minutes per day to work on it during shift hours, though they could buy extra time using their fake money. Here's how they worked through the process:
Step 1: Choose labels for each container
Every container can have dozens of labeling possibilities – from the shape, size, and configuration of the labels to the material. But before you even get that far, how do you measure it?
"We get a lot of calls related to measuring containers. We always recommend our printable ruler, but I didn't truly understand how difficult the process can be. I found our ruler tool to be more helpful than I expected!" – Ryan, 2-year customer service rep
Step 2: Purchase labels
Do you go for the quantity discount or the exact number you need with the custom quantity option? Do you order blank and print them at home, or pay for professionally printed labels? How far will your money go?
"I decided to try to save a quick buck and try printing with our laser printer in our office, but in retrospect, I wish I did custom printing. The results would have been higher-quality, in my opinion." – Adam, 1-year customer service rep
Step 3: Design in our complimentary design software
Reps were restricted to using the clip art available in Maestro Label Designer – they couldn't upload photos or artwork to complete their design. This was designed to simulate the plight of many customers, who don't have access to a design team or professional design software like the Adobe Creative Suite, which can cost hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
"Having to only use our clip art options, I felt like the experience really helped me understand how to be more creative to use our tools and vast options." – Gabby, 3-year customer service rep
Step 4: Print
A large portion of call-in customers need help with printing. As papers feed through the printer, they can drift or move. This can cause a misalignment in the design relative to the label. Printer settings are another hot topic. Because each label material is different, they can require specific settings. And we all know about jamming and the complications that come with just using a printer.
"I ran into a major jamming issue where the printer kept eating my sheets and that was very frustrating. Taking apart the printer and trying to salvage the sheet was very time consuming and frustrating with all the small parts." – Casey, 3-year customer service rep
Step 5: Apply their labels
With permanent labels, you only have one shot at getting your label to go on centered, straight, and smooth. With only four containers, this isn't too time consuming, but imagine customers who are doing this for their business – they could have 50, 100, or 200+ containers to label.
"Aligning labels to the actual containers was a more difficult experience than expected. It took me about 3 tries on the lip balm label from how nervous I was!" – Gabby, 3-year customer service rep
Step 6: Package them for "delivery"
Everyone had to package their products for delivery to the judges. While some instances of ink smearing and toner flaking are apparent during the printing process, others may not be noticeable until after the fact. This gave reps the opportunity to feel customers' pain – create a perfect product only to have it smear or flake when it really matters.
"Packaging was in the back of my mind throughout the whole process, since I didn't want any of the print to get scraped off during the handling process. I used a heavy print setting so the toner would bond to the sheet as well as it could. We had to put all our items in a cloth bag, so I positioned my items in such a delicate way to where they wouldn't rub against each other." – Adam, 1-year customer service rep
Each rep was judged against the following criteria:
Ability to create and maintain a consistent brand – make the same design work with different labels, containers, and products.
Alignment of the label – designs should be centered without text touching the edges.
Label positioning on the container – wraparound labels have to align in the back and the label can't be in a weird place on the container.
Overall print quality – labels should be free of toner fusion issues, pixilation, or text box color issues
There were also extra points allocated for extra effort – did the rep go above and beyond? Did they fill their containers or make any other modifications?
All reps went though alignment issues, color concerns, typos, and trouble measuring the product. Some reps even had other people print on top of their label sheets. But at the end of the day, everyone presented quality products to the judges.
First place: Lisa
The first place title went to Lisa for her creativity and execution. She was able to recreate a popular design using only Maestro Label Designer and apply it to all of her containers for a very consistent look.
Second place: Ryan
Ryan designed his labels in such a way that printer shifting and alignment were non-issues. His designs obeyed the safe zones and looked professional.
Third place: Jessica
Full bleed labels are a popular request by customers, and Jessica executed it flawlessly. She beautifully incorporated bleed into her design to ensure she wasn't left with unprinted edges.
The competition yielded many of the results we hoped for, as well as unwrapped a few surprises. Everyone learned tangible skills which will allow them to speak more confidently when working through issues with customers. For our newer reps, they received hands-on experience with the niche products in our inventory early and can now embrace empathy from the beginning.
What we didn't expect was the impact of the challenge. As reps learned more about the trials and tribulations of our customers, they could more efficiently handle customer calls, thus reducing our average talk time. We also saw a change in morale. These firsthand experiences helped them gain a better appreciation for the job we do every day. And lastly, this training exercise sparked a lot of conversation about how we can improve not just as a department, but as a company.
Take it from the reps themselves:
"This was a great hands-on experience to be in the customers' shoes. I had a lot of fun with the trial and error to create the perfect look I wanted through our Maestro Label Designer." – Lisa, 2-year customer service rep
"This challenge has taught me how difficult it can be when a customer is starting a new product line." – Andrea, 1-year customer service rep
"There isn't a better way to truly empathize with our customers without going through the entire process of developing a labeled product – from the initial stage of brainstorming ideas, building a brand, creating the product, and applying your uniquely designed labels." – Jessica, 6-year customer service rep
Here you can see more about this link and what it do.