Customers’ top 3 call center irritants, according to Ameyo Callversations, are:
- The “IVR Abyss”
- Long holding times
- Agents who cannot resolve the issue
Today’s interview guest, Jim Rembach, of Beyond Morale and Customer Relationship Metrics (www.metrics.net), and host of the Fast Leader podcast, has worked with call centers since the 1990s. He’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
In this episode we discuss some of the common call center mistakes that companies make, and how contact centers can make themselves valued by the rest of the organization.
(Note: I was a guest on this episode of the Fast Leader podcast. If you check it out, let me know what you think. Very different style podcast from Frank Reactions!)
Prove Its Value
Does it drive you crazy when you are at the checkout counter in a store and the rep takes a phone call instead of helping you?
You’ve probably also been on the other side of it though, when you are trying to reach someone in a store and the phone rings and rings and rings because the staff are all too busy dealing with the customers in front of them. One of Jim’s first jobs was with an auto parts retailer that realized that making retail staff also handle phone calls was a recipe for bad customer experiences. So instead it created a call center that, even in the pre-Internet days, was taking orders on the phone that customers could pick up in the store.
The call center was a huge success, lowering the amount of time customers had to spend in the stores while driving the average sale value way up. It rapidly grew to over 800 agents in two centers. Sadly, when new senior management took over, they closed the call center, concluding that it was too expensive. They sent the calls back to the stores.
It may well be that at 800 agents it really had got too big to be effective. Ultimately bureaucracy sets in and lowers the marginal returns in any organization as it gets bigger. But at the same time, Jim believes that the shutdown was the result of a common senior executive miscalculation: they looked at the cost side of the call center and not the value it was creating in increased sales and customer satisfaction.
To get respect (and ongoing funding) those responsible for call centers must learn what’s important to the executive team. Then look for metrics that can prove the center’s value in terms of helping them achieve those metrics.
Make It Great
Effective contact centers do add measurable value to their organizations. They:
- increase sales
- lower the need for product returns (which cuts costs)
- improve customer satisfaction (leading to repeat and referral business)
- are tremendous sources of insight into what is important to your customers (which leads to more successful product development and sales).
But if your company isn’t handling things right, they won’t be effective.
Focus on Coaching, Not Controlling
More and more companies are doing post-call surveys with customers who contact their help desks.
This is a good thing, but can backfire if it is handled wrong. You know how the automated systems always say “this call may be recorded for training purposes”? According to Jim, it is important that the recordings and the post-call customer surveys are, in fact, used for training, not for punishment.
Far too often, the survey results become a whip rather than a training tool.
If you don’t invest in developing your call center staff, you will end up with poor customer service and high turnover. Then, surprise, surprise, top management won’t value the call center. As Jim points out,”These are human beings who are interacting with your prospects and customers. If you think of them as “butts in seats” that’s what you are going to get.”
Don’t Expect Mega-Multitasking
Research has clearly shown that, despite what we like to think, humans can’t actually multitask. People who think they can are actually just good at switching quickly among tasks. But even the best of them lose time every time they have to switch.
Yet we expect contact center agents to switch constantly among calls, and often among different types of contact (e.g. calls, live chat, social media, email). The more we pile on them, the worse their performance will get. Despite this, a quick search of traits to look for in hiring call center agents shows “multitasking” on almost every list!
In an ideal scenario, there would be separate teams handling the different types of contact. Although this is not always feasible, try to limit the amount of switching agents have to do between people and types of contact. The more they get to focus, the better your customers’ experiences will be.
[Call center photo credit: Diana Varisova, Plantronics, Creative Commons]