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.