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Call Center Articles

Should We Strive To Return To What Was Or Move Toward A New Normal?

Decisions We Make Today Can Better Prepare Us for Tomorrow

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As writers pitched their article ideas for this issue of Connections Magazine, everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk about coronavirus and Covid-19. While I want the content of this magazine to address relevant, real-world situations, I also didn’t want to let the topic take over every page. I’ve had a similar quandary about what to address in this column, wanting to share content of value for both today and tomorrow.

We’re now moving away from the severity of the coronavirus impact, even though it is still a factor in our everyday existence. Each person must decide for themselves the best way to move forward. Each call center faces the same dilemma.

Many people long for a return to normal. I get that. Many more, however, wonder if we ever will. Instead they see us moving toward a new normal. Though we may lament this as a loss, we can also celebrate it as an opportunity for our call center operations. Here are some examples we can embrace as our new normal.

Distributed Staff

Though by definition a call center is centralized, requirements for social distancing or the need to self-isolate have pushed our centers of operation to become decentralized. Some call centers have already embraced this concept, while others have fully implemented it. However, in our new normal, we’ll see a decentralized workforce occur at an accelerated rate. 

Now is the time to fine-tune our remote staff practices and management. Some call centers do this in preparation for a possible second wave of the pandemic, while others see it as a way to enhance their operation for better outcomes.

Flexible Technology

In the past decade, we’ve seen a gradual shift from premise-based technology to on-demand, internet-delivered solutions. This technology goes by different names, with its proponents debating the various distinctive differences. But the inescapable fact is that this move away from premise-based call processing platforms supplies increased flexibility for call centers.

With this flexible solution, no longer does a call center agent need to remain tethered to a station at one location. And the complexities of turning up a new station at a different site have disappeared to become a nonissue. 

With these various online solutions, anyone with an adequate computing device and an internet connection can log into their call center to process calls. Anytime, anywhere accessibility affords call centers maximum flexibility in deploying their staff as needed. 

Work-At-Home Reality

This crisis has shown what I’ve known for twenty years: there is value in working from home. Aside from the obvious benefits of no commute time, zero travel costs, and minimal dress code considerations, there’s the benefit of being able to continue working in a safe, socially distanced environment. 

Though working in a home office at times has its challenges, the benefits are huge, especially during a pandemic. As many people faced layoffs, reduced hours, or health risks by continuing to go to work, home-based workers continued business as normal. This takes us to another significant point.

An Ideal Industry

As nonessential manufacturing closed and most service businesses ground to a halt, the ability of call centers to tap home-based workers allowed them to continue serving their callers. And for those that had already embraced this operational model or had the flexibility to move to it quickly, their callers didn’t know the difference.

Parting Thought 

Though I hope not, we may again experience a repeat of government-mandated self-isolation to stave off the impact of a pandemic. Isn’t it great to know that the call center industry is perfectly poised to embrace such a reality, if or when it occurs? 

As coronavirus restrictions ease in most parts of the world, don’t strive to return to normal. Instead look forward to the amazing benefits of embracing a new normal.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

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Call Center Articles

Coronavirus Communication

Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

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Call Center Articles

Responding to Call Traffic Fluctuations

You Can’t Schedule for the Unexpected, but That’s No Excuse to Be Unprepared

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Traffic at many call centers fluctuates with the weather, affecting some centers more so than others. Of course, non-weather-related events can also impact call traffic. This includes natural disasters, pandemics, riots, the threat of violence, media-produced frenzies—and the list goes on with as much variety as our imaginations can conjure up.

Although some traffic fluctuations occur with predictable regularity, other call traffic spurts strike with little warning. What’s a call center to do?

Deal with It the Best You Can 

The first impulse in responding to higher traffic than you’re prepared for is to work faster, cut out all nonessential tasks, and answer calls with greater intention. This helps . . . a bit . . . for a while. You may tap non-phone staff to put on a headset and get to work. Cutting breaks and shortening lunches emerges as a tempting thought, but don’t give in to that temptation. Asking staff to extend shifts and work overtime is another approach many call centers pursue. Sometimes this becomes mandatory. It helps to get calls answered, but employee morale takes a hit.

An optional strategy is to ignore the escalating number of calls in queue and just process whatever calls you can while working at your normal pace. If the call is important, the caller will hold or call back . . . at least you hope so. Regardless, customer sentiment will take a hit.

Intentionally Overstaff 

Given this situation, call center managers may intentionally over-hire and overschedule. That provides a nice buffer to deal with traffic peaks and longer-term surges. The side effect of this well-intended strategy is that during times of normal traffic levels, you’re either paying for unproductive work or your staff isn’t getting as many hours as they wish. Neither outcome is a good one.

Throttle Incoming Calls 

A third solution entertained by anxious call center managers is to reduce the number of incoming calls during high-traffic situations. One method is to provide a busy signal to callers. A second approach is to play a recording asking them to try later. A third possibility is to allow them to schedule a callback. Of course, for the callback solution to work requires that you’re not still dealing with the high-traffic situation when it comes time to make that return phone call.

Overflow to Another Location

If you’ve concluded that the first three options aren’t good ones, you’re right. If your call center is part of a multilocation operation, an easy solution is to send excess calls to another center in your network. For this to be a viable solution, however, requires that the other location is not suffering from the same malady.

Some multilocation call centers automatically route calls from one location to another based on incoming traffic and agent availability. In these cases, the overall traffic is self-regulating, which means that unexpected high call volume coming into one center will impact all call centers in the network. One center, therefore, can drag all the others down.

Outsource to Another Call Center

Another consideration is to form an arrangement with an outsource call center to take your overflow calls. Not only is this a great solution for high-traffic scenarios, but it also works well for understaffing. You can establish whatever events you want to trigger an overflow situation. It might be the number of calls in queue, the current wait time, or number of abandons.

Just as with sending overflow calls to another call center within your organization, select an outsource call center that’s geographically separated from your location to reduce the risk of them suffering from the same scenario as your call center. 

Conclusion

Though there is no ideal way to deal with unexpected call traffic, there are steps you can take to reduce the negative impact on both callers and staff. But don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis to consider solutions—plan now before you’re swamped with calls.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

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Call Center Articles

The Power of Print

Printed Words Offer Many Benefits over Their Electronic Counterparts

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-call center advertising

In addition to writing a lot, I also read a lot. I read both print and e-book formats. I have a Kindle loaded with content, and I also read on my phone. At one point, I read mostly e-books, but over time I’ve reverted to print. Reading printed books is now my default, and I only read electronically when I have no other option.

Aside from the satisfaction of holding a book in my hand, turning pages, and even enjoying the smell of it, I’ve realized that I better remember what I’ve read in print. This is key.

The same goes for magazines. I prefer print publications and have never read periodicals online. I spend my workday in front of a computer, and when I’m done with work, I want a break from the screen. I want to hold the magazine in my hands. What I read in print, I retain better than what I read on a screen or device.

And I’m not alone in my preferences and practices. Many readers are moving away from electronic and back to the physical. This is especially true for younger generations who want to escape their devices and their constant conductivity when they read. They want to immerse themselves and experience content without distraction.

The Benefits of Print Ads

Marketers are beginning to see this as well, with many forward-thinking sellers shifting from online promotions to print. Yes, online advertising is easy to track and calculate the return on investment (ROI), whereas print advertising tracking is more art than science. But the bottom line is results.

The reality is that people give much greater credibility to what they read in print than what they read online—especially with the escalation of fake news on social media. In addition to people putting more credence in what they read in print, they cite the benefit of having less distractions when they read a physical product. They’re also more engaged with print publications, reading more content and spending more time doing so.

This reality benefits the advertisers who produce print ads. Readers give these promotions more credibility, spend more time viewing them, and are more likely to act. And, I suspect, their decision to buy through a print ad is stickier than a decision made from an online ad. Also, each issue of a print magazine reinforces the buying decision readers have already made. This doesn’t happen online because marketers don’t target existing customers. A customer obtained through online advertising is at risk for being lost through that online advertising.

Call Center Advertising

How does this apply to call centers? Call centers rely on advertising. 

If you’re a corporate call center, your company advertises to drive sales and produce revenue. If you’re an outsource call center, you need to continually seek new clients to replace those you lose through attrition and to grow your client base.

I’m not advocating that you give up on online advertising, but I am advising you to shift some marketing dollars into print. The challenge is finding a publication that serves your target audience. But when you find the right periodical, create an ad with a strong call to action, and advertise consistently, you will generate more sales and create long-term customers.

Remember when I said that I better remember the things I read in print? The same applies for ads. An online ad is easily forgettable, with it disappearing as quickly as it pops up. A print ad is more tangible, longer-lasting, and carries greater impact. It also possesses the highest credibility. 

Whether people want to buy a product from your corporate call center or hire your outsource call center to handle their calls, credibility is key. Credibility is how you close sales, and credibility is how you keep customers.

Print ads can help make this happen, regardless of what you’re selling or to whom you’re selling.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

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Call Center Articles

Customer Service Makes the Difference

The Way Companies Deal with Customer Issues Has Future Implications

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer service

A day and a half into my week, and I’ve already endured three major customer service issues from three vendors. Their responses could not have been more different.

One issue was with a global company that whisks money around the world in seconds. Usually, everything works flawlessly. But if there’s a hiccup, they leave customers hanging. I’m left with filling out an online resolution dispute form. 

Doesn’t Care

At best they get back with me within a week, never hours or even a few days. At worst they told me it would take one to three months. Since it only took them three weeks, I suppose I should be grateful. This week’s issue needed a quick resolution, so I didn’t bother to contact them. It only took the person I sent money to and me an hour and a half to figure out a workaround resolution on our own.

This company is hard to reach. I suspect it’s part of their business model. Deprioritizing customer service seems to work for them. They’ll surely retain market share until someone matches their features and provides good customer support. Then they’ll wish they had given customer service more attention.

Puts Forth a Good Effort

The second episode occurred with an even larger global company. People often complain about their customer service. As for me, they always try to help, and they often succeed. That’s not a grand endorsement, but it’s far better than the first company.

Though hard to find, this company gives two customer service options: email and call back. If my question isn’t time-critical or I must convey a lot of detailed information, I opt for email. They respond within twenty-four hours, usually two or three.

However, they encourage phone support. I complete a short form online (picking the right options is the hard part), verify my phone number, and click submit. My phone rings within seconds, and I’m connected to a person within a minute. That person usually resolves my issue on that phone call, without transferring me. 

This time, after spending hours trying to figure things out myself, I contacted them. But I reached the wrong division. The woman instructed me to contact a different group. I don’t know if she couldn’t transfer me or didn’t want to.

The second person was hard to understand, and the audio level was low. For each point, I had to confirm multiple times to make sure I understood correctly. Her words often seemed to contradict what I thought she just said. Eventually, we got through everything, and I obtained the information I needed. As a bonus, it turned out to be correct.

Though this company pushes people to self-service solutions, they do provide personal customer service. From my perspective, they succeed in most instances. However, their smaller, nimbler competitors outshine them in this area, and the company’s market share is shrinking.

Customer Service Excellence

The third incident was with a financial institution. Over the weekend, they upgraded their website and online banking services. They clearly communicated the timetable, what was involved, and what to expect. Despite their meticulous planning, glitches occurred. Though I needed to download a new app, I had trouble finding it on the App Store. This took an hour to resolve. I spent another hour trying to navigate their new interface, configure it correctly, and accomplish the one urgent banking task I had to do.

At one point, I found myself locked out of my account. This required calling them to reset it. Unlike the other two organizations, this one wants people to call. They have their number promptly displayed on every page of their website and each page of their statements. Someone answered on the first ring. Her enthusiasm sounded like this was her first call of the day. Without coming across as haggard or rushed, she reset my password, stayed connected as I logged in, and asked if she could help me with anything else. It was a remarkable experience.

Renowned for their excellent customer service, this successful, rapidly growing, mid-size financial company has won awards and received national recognition as a leader in their sector. 

I have no doubt their success and growth come from their excellent customer service. 

Why don’t other companies get this?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.