By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
In recent months there has been a great deal to cogitate about. There was a media preoccupation with the U.S. presidential election, coupled with a focus on the credit crisis, which seemed to worsen every day, eventually turning into a financial crisis and threatening the global economy. Throughout it all, businesses in general, and the call center industry in particular, have been left wondering how to best weather the worsening economic storm.
Firstly, consider the presidential election. Although the campaigning and the voting are behind us, the ramifications of new leadership still lie ahead. Will the promises that were made be kept? Will the dangers that were forewarned be avoided? More importantly, what will these actions and nonactions cost? Will the tab be borne directly by businesses or the employees (“taxpayers”) whose work allows those businesses to function? There are many unanswered questions, and it won’t be until well into next year that we will even begin to see the answers emerge. It is correct to say that this is a U.S. election with the questions being USA-centric, but the ripple effect will be felt around the world, which in many respects is holding its collective breath, waiting for what is to come.
With this uncertainty, however, comes the opportunity to prepare for the future. In anticipation of these changes, optimize your business now: tweak polices; fine-tune procedures; review hiring practices and employment structures; and pay down or eliminate debt. Then you will be prepared to capitalize on whatever changes occur, whenever they occur. We all know that change is coming; those who are ready will be positioned to capitalize on it.
Next is the credit crunch. This hits hard those businesses that rely on credit to make their operations function – along with those companies and consumers who do business with them, which means just about everyone else. Having debt is more worrisome than not having debt, but we are all hurt when lending institutions are afraid to or unable to loan. This tight credit market has sparked overall financial fears, which portends economic woes. Unemployment is increasing (which, although good for those who want to hire, is bad for those wanting to be hired); inflation is also on the rise (which is a concern for just about everybody). From a practical standpoint, the steps already taken to shore up the financial markets should be sufficient to work. Unfortunately, the media – which excels at proliferating the negative – is effectively propagating unsubstantiated pessimism. That will serve to hold markets down and stymie growth until sound thinking resumes, thereby restoring balance.
Until that happens, for those who have access to money there is great opportunity to make sound purchases and wise investments. You might opt to replace older, business-limiting equipment, or you could acquire new technologies that will enable to you to offer new services or capabilities. Either way, you are establishing an infrastructure that is future-focused and poised for growth.
For those who wish to invest money, the current conditions present an ideal opportunity. Follow the simple yet astute investment advice to buy low and sell high. Now is a great time to find good deals, as many people are panic selling; they bought high and are selling low – a poor investment strategy.
The next consideration emanates from a series of customer service experiences I have recently encountered. After upgrading the operating system on one of my computers, I spent hours on the phone with a technical support group trying to resolve all of the driver issues and unexpected side effects. After multiple calls and callbacks, there are still pending issues. Because of communication challenges (resulting from the agents’ poor English-language skills and subpar audio connections) the calls lasted much longer than they should have. I am left wondering how much money is really saved when a call takes several times longer to resolve than it would have if effective communications were not a limiting factor.
I also subscribe to another service that provides phone support to resolve computer issues. The annual fee is shockingly low – and the service I receive matches correspondingly. I find myself putting up with many problems because the hassle of trying to report them and frustration in communicating with the agents exceeds my aggravation over the problem. I would gladly pay ten times as much for good service; in fact, I might pay twenty times as much for superior service. As it stands now, I don’t even plan to renew my subscription.
In another situation, I repeatedly tried to subscribe to an online service, only to receive an error message. The problem was apparently common enough that the message included a link to “report” it. Unfortunately, the link landed me in a generic troubleshooting section. Nowhere was there a means to resolve the problem. This is ironic given the fact that I was trying to pay them money. Additionally, since this subscription was for a service to protect my computer, I am now questioning how reliable the service would be since that they can’t make the subscribe function to work.
There are examples in many other areas as well. I have found the practice of medicine to be similarly frustrating. I tend to avoid my doctor’s office because the most likely outcome is a series of bills from multiple sources and no tangible diagnosis. Although a call center can’t address poor medical care, it can play a key role in resolving billing issues. I currently have a medical bill that is almost a year old. I am anxious to pay my portion of it, but despite my repeated calls I cannot convince them to submit it to the right insurance company. I’m about ready to pay the full amount, just so I don’t have it hanging over my head.
This solution of pursuing the “path of least resistance” is taken more and more often by more and more people because customer service is so poor and the likelihood of a satisfactory solution is so low. Consider how often you put up with an inferior or broken product because it is too much of a hassle to seek a resolution. How often do you pay a bill because it will take too long to correct an error?
In another area, I have missing credits and questions about the “rewards” program at my office supply store, but no easy way to get them answered or resolved. This pushes me to seriously consider their competitor, something that I wouldn’t otherwise contemplate.
Although I could provide more examples, I won’t. The point is that each of these instances demonstrates a negative change from how service used to be. Each change presents a great opportunity for anyone with the insight to divine a superior call center solution and offer it in a compelling way to the guilty parties.
Yes, things are changing – and within those changes reside great opportunities. Are you ready to capitalize on them and come out with a winner amongst this deluge of change?
[From Connection Magazine – December 2008]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.