Madonna, Elton John and Call Centers



Monica Lewinsky reading a newspaper in iconic Astor Court. Madonna's heel mark scratched on top of the dining table in the Imperial Suite. The room where Elton John stays when he is in New York. And King Cole Bar, birthplace of the Bloody Mary.

These are among my favorite memories of our 1990s training sessions at the historic and beautiful St. Regis, New York.

Before entering the healthcare field in 2007, and beginning in 1994, BCI trained luxury hotels including The St. Regis New York, Four Seasons New York, New York Palace and Mandarin Oriental Hotels worldwide.

Recognized as among the world's top customer service entities, where royals, moguls, and top celebrities sleep when they travel, BCI was hired to train their call centers. Back then before booking sites, hotels like these typically had 40-60 agents in their basement areas handling calls with customers.

At the St. Regis, we sent trainees in groups to the hotel's public areas to take notes and report on who they saw, to get them to think about the types of people whose calls they handle. One group reported they saw a homewrecker and then revealed it was Monica Lewinsky having breakfast. It made for a good laugh no matter one's politics.

I will never forget the Four Seasons outside line greeting: Four Seasons. Just two words. Always sincerely warm and welcoming. This world-famous hotel in Manhattan offered the simplest and most elegant greeting the English language would allow.

I learned much from training luxury hotels, and this simple greeting was an epiphany.

As I monitored recordings of their calls for years as part of our training process, I noticed that customers of Four Seasons New York liked that greeting fine. They never seemed to notice it was short, long, or otherwise. Once the greeting was offered, they immediately went about their business of asking for rates, services, and such.

And something about this really clicked for me. As I listened to calls from various clients each day, I began to pay even closer attention to how customers reacted to each simple verbal nuance. I realized the conclusive answers to effective training are best revealed by listening intently to how customers/patients react to the smallest details, as it was clear this is where most everything that determines the quality of their experience takes place.

I discovered that within this verbal dynamic exists an identifiable and recurring number of linguistic pivot points, each based on an agent's choice of words (diction) and manners, that if properly executed throughout the entirety of a call ensure an exceptional level of service and professionalism. It may sound boringly academic, but it works perfectly.

We then compiled these pivot points into a simple guide, we teach agents to master them, and the result is our program ensures any agent will consistently deliver the highest-level service and professionalism each day, no matter their skill level. It is remarkable.

By throwing out every known narrative about how training is supposed to work, and simply studying what patients/customers respond to both well and badly, we found that much like the greeting at Four Seasons, the answers to patient satisfaction are simple and direct.

And what patients want is competence. They want to talk to someone who sounds like they sincerely care and can converse in a customarily professional and respectful manner that conveys their hospital or company of choice values them. That is all. It is not mysterious. It is not fancy.

While that may sound fairly easy, truly competent service and professionalism is a precise endeavor with many moving parts and full of potholes, and this is why many struggle to achieve it. So, how does BCI teach agents to execute this level of performance?

Readers know that I harp on diction and manners in my blogs, and I do because I know this is what patients react most positively to. The effect of proper diction and manners is to convey empathy, sincerity, warmth and collectively, respect. This is what patients and their family members want most, and proper diction and manners ensure they get it.

Fortunately, the components of what define excellent diction and manners are specific, much like the rules of chess or baseball. They are clear, they can be presented in a guide that is easy to read, and while 15-20 in number, any agent can easily master them.

But there can be no success unless a training program can ensure each agent executes it all, consistently with patients. This is difficult because it requires skilled expertise and lots of daily meticulous and repetitious work. BCI does this work for clients every day.

Patients/customers and their family members do not call thinking of diction of manners, but the simple gestures of proper diction and manners are what make them happy. It is what they react most positively to because it conveys competence and respect, and when executed ineptly it is what most leads to their dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, if Madonna wants to get rowdy in a luxury hotel room after too many Bloody Marys, so be it.