Is your call center sending your customers to your competitors?

If callers cannot clearly hear your agents, your call center will cost you their business.

If callers cannot clearly hear your agents, your call center will cost you their business.

A customer service post by Internet Retailer a few days ago noted that call center frustrations may cause consumers to shop elsewhere. No big news there. We’ve all heard it before. If customer service or technical support issues are not handled properly, then yes, customers will find another place to spend their money. Hey, we’ve all even done it ourselves at one time or another. So if everyone knows this so well, why are so many companies still dealing with this as a major problem?

First to give a little background, the information comes from a survey of 3,925 consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and France, which led to a report called, “Could you repeat that please?”: The costs and impact on the customer experience of poor voice quality. That report said that 68% of consumers hang up if they have trouble hearing an agent.

Again, we all pretty much knew that, even if we didn’t know the actual percentage. But here’s something that is truly amazing: 42% of all contact center calls are affected by voice-related issues. Really? With all the advances in technology, close to half of all calls are actually still plagued by something as basic as making sure the agent can be clearly heard? Incredible!

According to the report, these problems can be caused by such things as an  agent’s accent, a weak VOIP connection, or  faulty speech recognition software. Sure enough, these issues would be quite frustrating any time you’re on the phone. But they would indeed be even more aggravating if you’re calling about a customer service or technical support issue. You would already be frustrated. For many call centers, you would also have had to wait on hold for far too long before you even got through to an agent. So now, to finally reach someone, only to find you are unable to understand the accent or hear her or him clearly, could easily push you beyond the limits of your patience. That loss of business is one part of Total Cost of Ownership that gets overlooked way too often when companies are trying to decide whether or not to go with the cheapest call center solution.

What’s the lesson for companies and their call centers here? Certainly the easy statement is to make sure that your call center agents can be easily heard and understood by your customers. But what exactly does that mean? Check the following when planning a call center:

  1. Are the telephone — or computer if using VOIP — connections high quality and reliable? What carrier does the call center use? What standards of service have the carrier and the call center maintained?
  2. What are the wait times that the typical caller will face? What parameters can the call center deliver? It may cost you more to maintain a higher standards, but don’t forget that lower standards and cheaper contracts will also cost you customers and their business. You may actually lose rather than save money by cutting back your call center’s delivery standards.
  3. Can the call center’s agents professionally handle the languages that your callers want to hear? Don’t just accept a blanket assurance. Arrange calls to the agents, in the range of languages your customers would use. Now imagine how you would feel hearing their responses when you’re frustrated. If you’re struggling at all to hear or understand the agent, you have cause to be concerned.
  4. How will you be able to monitor the quality of the calls? Will you be able to listen in live? Will you be given access to recorded calls? If at all possible, insist on the ability to listen to actual calls as they happen. There’s no better way to know your customers are getting the care they deserve.
  5. Regularly seek feedback from your customers about their call center experience. Are they generally feeling better or worse after speaking with your call center agents? Why do they feel that way?

On an ongoing basis, revisit these questions. Taking the time to minimize the frustrations your customers feel, and they will appreciate and reward your efforts. With proper call center planning and monitoring, your customer service and technical support programs can take good care of your customers. The only people feeling frustrated when they think about your company should be your competitors.

Your Call Center ROI: It Pays to Care for Your Customers

United may break guitars, but cutting corners on your call center can break the bank.

United may break guitars, but cutting corners on your call center can break the bank.

Everyone knows that caring for your customers makes good sense, and generates a higher call center Return On Investment (ROI). If your call center can make your customers happy, those callers will generally say good things to their friends about you, come back more, buy more, and quite possibly even blog or tweet about how wonderful you are. Unhappy customers, on the other hand, often say terrible things about you (which may or may not be deserved), come back less often, and may never buy from you again. And they are even more likely to blog or tweet about you and your call center now that they feel you’ve done them wrong. As United Airlines found out recently, one unhappy impression can suddenly become over nine million.

This is a prime reason why so many companies have some kind of customer service department with a heartwarming mission statement, and lots of training courses for everyone who comes into even the most fleeting contact with a customer or potential new customer. That makes sense. So why do so many companies — even those that are famous for their customer service innovations — still have customer service ratings that suck?

The answer is actually pretty simple: it’s because customer service is hard. Of course, in theory, it’s actually quite simple. Just show genuine concern. Listen. Understand. Reach agreement on a solution. Follow up to make sure the solution is implemented. That’s pretty easy to grasp. But, as happens with most things simple,in reality it’s harder. A lot harder. When a customer is yelling, most people find it hard to show genuine concern, listen and understand. It’s tough to reach agreement on a resolution when a client doesn’t understand or want to understand the economics of what can be done to compensate them for their inconvenience. Pretty much all of those easy-to-understand steps are hard to implement on a consistent basis. And anything in business that is hard to implement is generally also very expensive.

That’s why, even though all companies would sincerely love to have legions of happy fans singing their praises, most struggle on an ongoing basis to keep their customers and their bankers happy at the same time. They have found out the hard way that customers whose complaints are not resolved are five times more likely to stop doing business with them. The result is that those companies often end up paying in three ways for their customer service shortcomings:

  1. Their call center or customer service operations. Even though they may try to cut back as much as possible, there will always be some cost. And sadly, all too many companies try to reduce those costs by keeping everything in house rather than looking into an outsourced call center solution, not realizing that their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) often ends up being more.
  2. Marketing or public relations activities. More companies than ever before are discovering that money saved by reducing those call center operations can quickly get spent, along with a lot more, trying to resolve the media quagmires that can be generated by disgruntled bloggers, songwriters and consumer activists. Saving money has never been more expensive than it is here.
  3. Lost sales. If customers are five times more likely to stop buying when their complaints are not resolved, it doesn’t take long for that cost to become significant. This loss of business is one of the costs that is most often missed when calculating the TCO of an in-house call center. Few companies have the resources or heart to build the cost of lost sales into their budgeting spreadsheets. But even though it may not be included on paper, it is certainly included in the bank balance, recognized or not.

With these costs looming large, companies will generate a higher call center ROI by focusing hard on improving their call center operations, and focusing on parameters such as their First Call Resolution (FCR) rates. Reducing the number of repeat calls will reduce overall call volume, which will of course also reduce their costs. Far from trying to save money by cutting their call center budgets as tight as possible, companies often see their best savings when they invest enough to make sure their call centers are efficient and effective in caring for their customers. A complaint resolved quickly will often lead to increased sales. A complaint allowed to simmer and boil over will often lead to more trouble and cost than most managers would ever want to imagine. Just ask United.

Nearshore call centers vs. offshore: trying to decide?

Nearshore call center agents have a great record of providing value and client care.

Your call center agents care for your customers and your support strategy.

Offshore and nearshore call centers are nothing new. At one time or another, any company that has staff assigned to answer customer service or tech support calls and emails has wondered about outsourcing. They’ve considered whether or not it would make more sense to let someone else handle the training, retraining, quality control, and all the other aspects and costs of operating a call center. Many will have spent quite a few hours researching the options and trying to find out what others are doing.

Of course, in cases such as extremely small operations, it will be fairly obvious that the best choice would be to keep it in house. And for some companies looking at their own strengths and weaknesses, it will seem just as obvious that they should outsource. But thousands and maybe even millions of businesses are caught in between. The question becomes even more difficult to answer when they balance the question of whether to go with a nearshore or offshore call center. The pro and con columns will often run down the hall, through the boardroom, and past every water cooler in the building, but still have no clear winner. And so those companies go on with the status quo, stopping to reconsider whenever the budgets come up again for review. And if they do decide to outsource, then comes the equally big question of whether to turn to a nearshore call center or go offshore.

It can be a tough call to make. As a nearshore call center outsourcing provider, we would of course love to chat with you about caring for you and your customers. On the other hand, if our services are not a good fit for your needs, neither one of us will be at all happy in a year’s time. So, to help you assess whether outsourcing your call center to a nearshore or offshore provider might be a good idea for you, we revisit some recent survey results from the American Teleservices Association (ATA), and we’ll leave it up to you to decide.

As mentioned in our recent blog post on whether or not your call center makes you feel loved, the ATA released a survey in 2009, called, “What Are Clients of Outsourcers Looking for Now? Three questions from that survey give us a glimpse into how well call centers — and in particular nearshore vs. offshore — seem to be working.

NOTE: To keep things short, we’ve shortened the questions and simplified things a fair bit, but have done our best to keep everything accurate. Please check the original ATA link for more detail or to confirm our accuracy.

Does your call center make you happy?

The responses to this question were very impressive. A full 91.7% said that they were either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their most recent outsourcer. There are not many industries out there doing a whole lot better than that. The survey does not indicate exactly what factors made each respondent decide whether or not they were happy with their call center. However, the responses to one of the other questions — also shortened here but again hopefully without changing the meaning — give us a possible clue…

Does your offshore call center make you happy?

When talking solely about offshore call centers, the percentage who answered either “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” dropped from 91.7% to 70.6%. That’s significant for two reasons. First, it of course shows that a smaller percentage of offshore call center users were happy than nearshore call center users. But secondly, it also means that, if the average of responses about nearshore and offshore call centers was 91.7%, then the percentage of people happy with nearshore call centers must have been even higher than that. Higher than 91.7%? Nearshore providers sound like they’re delivering some solid value.

Of course, it’s one thing to say you’re happy with a service provider. It’s quite another thing to keep investing in it and trusting it to care for your customers. That’s where you really get to see how happy someone is. So how did the call centers hold up? Let’s find out…

In the next year, will you increase, decrease, or keep your current call center outsourcing program?

A full 92% of respondents said that they would increase or keep their current outsourcing program. I have to admit, that’s a very high figure. Unfortunately, the survey results that we saw do not break out the responses for those using offshore vs. nearshore call centers. Certainly though, it would appear that for both groups, most companies are planning to stick with or increase their outsourcing contracts. Once again, it would appear that call centers are doing a lot of things right.

So there you go. Again, these are shortened snippets taken from a detailed ATA survey, and we encourage you to take a look for yourself by clicking on the links above if you want more information. We do believe though that they underline that value that call centers — and nearshore call centers in particular — deliver.

Now, where does that leave your company? We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to discuss your possible needs for an outsourced call center. If you want to maximize the return on your call center investment, Tacamor may or may not be the solution you’ve been seeking. But we’d love to help you find out. How can we help you?

Does your call center make you feel loved?

Do you love your Call Center?

Your call center should be a love so right.

“How deep is your love?” Remember that BeeGees song from the 70′s? Do you think of your call center every time you hear it? Maybe not. But wouldn’t it be great if you did?

Next week, the American Teleservices Association (ATA) will hold its annual Convention and Expo in Orlando. It promises to be a great event, but for now we’re going to dwell in the past, going back to last year’s ATA event in New Orleans, when they released a survey about that BeeGees song. Well, actually they called it, “What Are Clients of Outsourcers Looking for Now? But we see the two questions as being very similar.

Three questions in particular from that survey brought out some very interesting insights on how companies feel about their call centers. Take a look, and tell us whether or not they stir up some familiar feelings of your own…

What do companies want when they outsource their call center operations?

To give a very brief summary of the survey results, costs rated very highly, as would be expected. However, five other factors rated even higher:

  1. An impeccable compliance record.
  2. Business experience in my industry sector.
  3. Superior security procedures.
  4. Exceptional training and expertise.
  5. Skilled program management.

In other words, companies want to save money in their call center operations, but not at the expense of having things done properly. That makes good sense, of course. It’s always wise to reduce costs, but any manager knows that the business is not really saving money if you’re losing customers and repeat business because of poor customer satisfaction levels. There has to be a balance between finding the lowest cost, and the best results.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the next big question:

How happy are you with your outsourced call center?

Overall, 91.7% of the companies responding said that they were either somewhat or very satisfied with their most recent outsourced teleservices relationship. That’s very impressive. There’s probably not a politician — or even a parent or spouse! — on the planet who wouldn’t love to have a satisfaction rating anywhere near that. Outsourced call centers are clearly doing a lot of things right.

However, there’s an interesting twist in the next question, which asked, “How satisfied were you with your off-shore teleservices outsourcer?” The percentage of respondents who answered either “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” now dropped down to 70.6%. That’s quite a shift. While fewer than 1 in 10 companies using outsourced call centers said they were less than somewhat satisfied, almost 1 in 3 users of offshore call centers said that they felt that way. Those offshore call centers may be delivering a lot lower prices, but the level of value that they deliver is clearly not as impressive.

How likely are you to change your call center in the next year?

This question generated an interesting insight. Even though over 90% of companies said that they were at least somewhat satisfied with their call centers, over half of the respondents — 56% to be exact — said that they were very or somewhat likely to switch to an new outsourcer in the coming year. In fact, 24% said that they were “very likely” to switch. It seems that, even when the service is pretty good, many companies are still always open to something better.

And rightfully so. While the tendency to shop around may not be all that admirable in love, it has its merits when it comes to call centers. The stakes are high, and if you feel your customers are not being cared for by your current outsourcer, you owe it to them to find someone who will.

Love can indeed be fleeting, and that’s one of the reasons why a call center has to work hard to earn high praise from clients. We’ve seen companies try to save money by shifting to an offshore call center. All too often, they just lose patience, money, and customers. Instead, our focus has been on being a nearshore call center that delivers great value while keeping satisfaction levels as high as possible. Our belief is that if customers actually like the people they deal with when they call your company, they’ll end up liking your company too.

So wherever you ultimately choose to look, don’t give up in your search for that perfect partner in caring for your clients. Never forget that a call center should help make your clients feel warm and fuzzy when they think about your company, and when they talk about you to their friends.

Hey, You Should Be Dancing because your call center is just that good! Anything less… would be a Tragedy.

Call Center Outsourcing: What's the Total Cost?

What is the actual cost of owning vs. outsourcing your call center?

What is the actual cost of owning vs. outsourcing your call center?

About 20 years ago, Bill Kirwin of Gartner Group Inc. introduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to the business world. It was a valuable tool for companies to better understand the actual costs of owning vs. outsourcing operations such as call centers.

Toddlers of that day are now moving into the workforce and trying to get jobs in call centers. Surprisingly, TCO is also still fighting to get noticed by many of those call centers. True, many larger corporations have employed it, but smaller operations are still only vaguely aware of it. Or they may have tried it, but seldom in a truly comprehensive fashion, and therefore had less than satisfactory results.

Still, for those companies that do try it, half using it is better than not using it at all, right? Even if there are glitches and some steps skipped, isn’t it good that those companies are at least implementing some level of TCO in their decision-making? Sadly, no, it’s not necessarily a good thing at all. The only thing worse than an obviously bad decision is a bad decision that looks like a good one.

So what’s been keeping companies from employing TCO in their outsourcing decisions? The costs of outsourcing are relatively easy to measure — most proposals itemize them in great detail. However, the costs of an in-house call center can appear to be immediately obvious when in fact they are often hidden and difficult to measure. Small companies or projects on a shoestring budget are especially vulnerable here. They will have a quoted price from an outsourcer, for which of course they would have specified that every possible price be included, to ensure that they don’t get stung on hidden costs once the contract is awarded. They then compare that price to a seemingly thorough review of the in-house costs.

The obvious cost is payroll, and that’s actually the only one that some companies use when they compare outsourced call centers to in-house. They then conclude that it would be less expensive to keep their operations in-house. But in reality that’s just the start of the costs. Other significant investments include computer and software purchases, networks, office space, agent desks/cubicles and other furniture, real estate, and parking spaces. Other in-house costs are even easier to overlook or underestimate. These include power consumption, insurance policies, janitorial time and materials, payroll, added administrative workloads, searches for qualified workers, training, retraining, sick leave, and many similar by-products of an in-house operation that seldom make it onto a comparative spreadsheet.

In-house costs can be even more difficult to pinpoint if your call center is to be multilingual. What will be the additional costs of finding those agents and assessing their language skills let alone their customer-service capabilities? Who will handle your quality control and monitor the calls in three or four or five different languages? Will you even be able to find the needed languages within reasonable distance of your call center, or will you need to look at hiring and monitoring those remote agents in other cities or countries, or working from their homes? Will any cultural differences become issues? If so, what will be the cost of that? What will be the cost of any morale shift or changes in work habits by your remaining in-house staff as you adapt to the new arrangements? And will there be any effect on the level of service your customers experience? Will people start hearing them talking about their call center frustrations? Will there be any revenue losses that should also be included in your cost analysis?

Other more “trivial” or unforeseen costs can quickly take the total even higher. Who will clean up the coffee when it gets spilled by an operator? What will it cost to find, recruit, hire, and train a skilled new worker if an agents quits halfway through a major client project? What will be the cost of that interruption to their relationship with other employees and the client? If they haven’t put a figure to these and other such costs, then they really have not calculated their total cost at all.

And so the challenge continues for TCO. It still knocks on one call center door after another, resume in hand and with high hopes of being let in so that it can show its potential. But many small to mid-sized operations still see it as overqualified, and stick with other methods and best guesses instead.

How about you? Have you seen examples of call centers that could clearly have benefited from their Total Cost of Ownership being calculated? What do you feel smaller centers can do to identify and better incorporate costs as part of their decision making.

Are your call center's complainers really complaining?

Complaining customers may be trying to tell you something

Complaining customers may be trying to tell you something

I saw an interesting survey quite a while ago, and even though I have not been able to go back now to find its source, I believe it can still teach a great lesson for your call center and customer service planning. In the survey, managers were asked what percentage of their employees were proactive in helping the company address challenges, and they responded — to the best of my memory — by saying about 60%. Employees in the same companies were then asked if they themselves were proactive, and well over 80% responded that yes, they were. This clearly created a gap. Why was there such a huge difference between how employees saw themselves and how their managers saw them?

To answer that question, the researchers went back and asked the employees how they defined proactive behavior. Workers replied that it was alerting managers to problems as soon as they saw them. However, when managers were told that, the common response was, “That’s not being proactive. That’s just complaining!” The managers explained that they saw proactive behavior as not only identifying problems, but suggesting solutions.

That’s a difference that may be more common than we think, and that helps explain many frustrations for companies and their customers. Callers can often think they are being helpful or supportive by pointing out problems with a product or service. In fact, companies often encourage such feedback in their marketing materials or products. Everything from cereal boxes and candy bars to bags of soil will usually give a phone number or Website url. Unfortunately, call center agents are not always prepared to see these calls as helpful hints from valued customers. Instead, they often see them, just like the managers in the survey, as complainers. Sure enough, the resulting tone of voice or sense that the agent is not really listening or appreciating the input can sometimes turn even the most helpful caller into a complainer.

Similar problem can occur when special promotions are planned or in the unfortunate circumstance of a crisis, when the number of calls can dramatically increase, but the company may not have found time to properly advise its call center team and update the scripts. Suddenly agents are dealing with calls but have responses that don’t quite fit, or they may simply not understand what motivated the call.

While many details will be involved with avoiding this on a consistent basis, a few key steps can be easily considered as a checklist:

  • Ensure the call center planning and training are worked into the timelines of every promotion and crisis communications plan.
  • On an ongoing basis, ensure adequate responses are scripted for callers who are genuinely helpful.
  • Consider offering incentives such as coupons or even just a thank-you note to be sent out to customers who take the time to call with a helpful hint.

And if your call center agents are telling you that there are problems with the calls or the way they’re being asked to respond, listen carefully. They’re not complaining; they’re being proactive.

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