Why the customer service call center Isn’t dead

People seldom notice old clothes if you wear a big smile - Lee Mildonphoto © 2008 rohit gowaikar | more info (via: Wylio)
When Forbes.com ran an article this week entitled, “Why The Customer Call Center Isn’t Dead,” they hit a nerve that many people have been all too aware of for years. Call centers have gained a notorious reputation for being the prime example of how customer service has gone downhill. We picture long rows of agents without personality, handling call after call without emotion or genuine care. While that may be the image that has often been projected, it is actually a far cry from reality for many call centers today.

Like virtually any industry, call centers have realized that in order to survive in this ultra-competitive world we live in, they must maintain the highest possible standards of service for their customers… and their customers’ customers. To do this, they have consistently raised the bar with regard to hiring and keeping highly qualified call center agents. They have also focused on ongoing training and improved technologies to bring out the very best of those agents. The resulting good news, as Forbes notes, is that a customer service call center, “can actually help boost a company’s competitive advantage.”

The Forbes article notes that, “it can cost up to 10 times more to acquire a customer then it does to retain one.” This is a vital point that underscores the value of call centers for most businesses. Companies cannot afford to lose even one client any more than they can afford to ignore or turn down 10 new ones. So making the extra effort to be sure those customers are not only content but delighted to stay around makes all the difference for companies today. And there are few better ways to do that than by offering exceptional customer service through a great call center.

Improved service standards, new technologies to offer a full range of social media responses, and better-integrated CRM software systems allow companies to be more responsive than ever before imaginable. Organizations can now not only respond to inquiries, but be aware of complaints before anyone at all ever makes a single contact with that company.

Perhaps one of the main challenges for call centers has been that, when callers receives great treatment and personal care, it’s easy for them to assume they are dealing directly with the company. However, when they encounter a stone-cold response or overall poor service, they may assume they are dealing with a call center. To some degree, the first part of that is great news. Call centers should indeed be virtually invisible to callers and give the impression that the company itself is handling the call. However, the second part definitely create some challenges as call centers work to boost the image of their overall industry.

As the Testimonials on our Website show, companies do indeed recognize and appreciate the value that call centers deliver… when those call centers go above and beyond the call of duty. So, while the image challenges may remain for the call center industry, for now we can at least take consolation in the fact that our happy clients appreciate us… and that’s a wonderful place to start.

Dealing with angry customers: are you making this mistake?

Angry tigerphoto © 2004 Guyon Morée | more info (via: Wylio)
Let’s face it: of all the situations that customer service and technical support teams face, dealing with angry customers can be the most draining. The agent — and sometimes several agents before the caller is done — can be exhausted from being verbally pummeled. The time spent on the call skyrockets beyond any goal or target ever imagined. And at the end of it all, chances are good that you have not won back the customer, but won a new vigilante voice out there who will be attacking your company at the dinner table, in the workplace, and most dreaded of all, in a blog.

That’s why, in many call centers, the angry customer has another name: the “worst nightmare,” and every agent there dreads getting that call. Quite understandable.

So why does Tom Peters (Remember Tom? Possibly the world’s top business guru, he has been mentioned before here on Talkamore) in his book, The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence, make this outrageous statement?

“There’s nothing, but nothing, better than an angry customer.”

Even for Tom Peters, those are pretty strong words. There is merit in what he says though. As we noted in the past post that mentioned Tom, research has shown that [Read more...]

American call centers, Canadian call centers, and your customers

A call center can be a profit center rather than a cost center

A call center can be a profit center rather than a cost center

Taking care of business ultimately means taking care of both your customers and your profits. If you can make people happy while also generating a healthy profit margin, you’ll be just fine. Of course, one of the big challenges is that it almost always costs more to care more. Customer service and profit margins don’t always walk hand in hand, so if you try to increase one, it can often drive down the other. As your high-school math teacher would have said, customer care and profit margins are inversely proportional.

That’s an oversimplification, of course, since increased customer service levels should actually lead to increased customer satisfaction ratings, which will in turn lead to more business and, eventually, higher profits. But there’s no denying that more money has to be invested in the first step well before the rewards are seen at the end. As a result, customer service investments such as call centers are often treated as cost centers rather than profit centers, and many companies have done whatever they could to drive those costs lower and lower. Hours of service were reduced. Staff training was cut back. Phone numbers were made less visible, and users were instead directed to Internet sites with prepackaged Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). And in the case of many larger companies, North American call centers were shut down, with the work being outsourced instead to some far-flung location. [Read more...]

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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