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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.

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Call Center Articles

Is the Future Our Friend or Foe?

Be Ready for Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionize Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

One of the spaces I inhabit is the call center industry. Another of my worlds is writing. These two areas intersect in this column. Another commonality is how technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), will affect both sectors.

Futurists in the writing community talk about how AI will arise as a disruptive force. Indeed, the disruption has already begun, with computer programs writing poetry, song lyrics, a screenplay, and even a novel. Much of the writing community isn’t aware of this emerging reality. Other writers deny that AI even exists and consider it a pipedream. Some see it as the end of writing as we know it and a threat to their livelihood. Last are those, like me, who see AI as a tool that will help us write more, write better, and write faster. Yes, writing as we know it today will change dramatically, but that change is something to embrace.

AI is also making inroads into the call center industry, and the reactions to AI in the call center space are much the same as in the writing world.

Blissfully Unaware

Many people in the call center industry aren’t aware of the burgeoning developments with AI and how it will dramatically change call centers and their provision of customer care. They view AI as the topic for sci-fi movies, scientific labs, and a far-off future reality—one that will occur long after they no longer care.

Instead, they focus on the day-to-day urgencies of hiring, training, and scheduling agents. They look at metrics such as first call resolution, speed of answer, and average call length. They consider the number of calls in queue, time in queue, and abandonment rate. And their world focuses on resolving customer complaints. There’s nothing wrong with these worthy pursuits, but it keeps them from considering tomorrow and embracing the future.

Deny It’s a Threat

Others acknowledge the existence of AI, but they don’t see how it could help call centers serve customers better. If anything, they assume AI will make customer service harder and therefore perpetuate the need for live agents. To them, AI is another call-center fad that will receive a lot of hype for a few years and then fade away. Their response is to maintain the status quo and pursue business as usual. 

Fearful Over the Future

Next, are the Luddites, those who oppose technology. Though some call centers embrace technology much more than others, every call center has some degree of tech in its infrastructure and operations. These people have formed a comfortable truce with the tools they use, and they don’t want any more of them. They have enough, and everything works fine, thank you very much. More tools, especially AI-powered solutions, makes them shudder. They fear that self-learning programs will take over the call center space and eliminate their jobs. 

Embrace It with Optimism

The final group looks at AI as an intriguing call-center solution. Yes, it will fundamentally change how call centers operate. And this transformation could happen much sooner than most people suspect. Yet instead of fearing uncertainty over the unknown, these forward-thinking futurists welcome AI as a smart solution to many of the challenges call centers to face.

Yes, in some cases, AI will replace jobs, just as answering machines, voicemail, automated attendants, and IVR have done in the past. In other cases, AI will assist call center agents, helping them work more effectively and efficiently. This will occur just as our existing tools have improved the results produced from our prior toolset. Then, now, and in the future, the customer benefits by realizing enhanced outcomes.

Thanks to AI, in the future you won’t need to hire as many people to staff your call center. And those you do hire will benefit by having AI to guide their work. These employees will find their call center job less dreary and more invigorating. The days of routinely shuffling through repetitive calls will end, replaced with variety in handling challenging calls that AI can’t address. This will provide the opportunity to excel in call-center work as never before.

AI isn’t coming. AI is here. What role will it play in your call center?

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

How to Enhance the Customer Experience

Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

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

What Kind of Customer Experience Do You Provide?

Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword—It’s the Path to Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

People love to share their stories about their experiences when interacting with various companies. They post things online, which can have a far reach and may go viral. They also tell people face-to-face, which doesn’t have the reach but has more impact.

The types of stories they like to share seldom fall in the category of typical. Instead they pick outlier examples to tell others about. These are either interactions that went amazingly well or ones that went shockingly bad. The normal experiences are just too average to warrant much attention.

Instead they want to share extreme examples, which are far more fun to recount.

Negative Customer Experience

Most of the time, extreme customer experience examples are not positive ones. This may be because companies let us down more than they delight us. Or it could be because bad news garners more attention. If you doubt that, just watch the nightly news. Better yet, don’t watch the news, and take my word for it. Rarely does the news include any feel-good stories, even though they do exist.

The more horrific the customer experience, the more interesting it seems, and the more it resonates with everyone who hears it. Revealing their bad experiences to others results in a shared experience of customer service gone awry. We’ve all been there. We all have our stories. We tell them in person to our friends and families, and even strangers. We post them online, forming a permanent record for all to see of how poorly a company treated us and how badly they wronged us.

When we vent, we feel better. This may be the only redress we’ll ever receive for the wounds inflicted upon us by some company. It doesn’t correct the mistake, but it does lessen the sting—just a bit. Unfortunately, the company who stands as the villain in these stories can suffer much and suffer long, especially when the stories are posted online.

Positive Customer Experience

Much less common is a positive customer experience. Though it’s possible they may not happen as often, it’s more likely that we aren’t so compelled to share them. We gain more traction by sharing our horrors than our delights. Even so, astounding customer experiences happen every day. It’s just that we’re less aware of them, because people are less inclined to take the time to share them.

Yet when shared, these stories serve to create a positive bond between us and the company. These tales create loyalty, and they produce repeat business. This is true for us, and it carries over to positively affect the people who hear them.

Just as negative customer experiences have a harmful impact on the company, positive customer experiences create the opposite.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

The customer service bar continually rises. What consumers considered excellent service five years ago is now the minimum standard. Furthermore, what was the acceptable standard five years ago may have now degraded to unacceptable.

Just to stay even, we must seek to enhance the customer experience. And to gain ground, we must go beyond merely enhancing customers’ experience to overhauling it.

We don’t achieve the needed changes by making incremental improvements. Tracking metrics and seeking to improve them seldom correlates to enhanced customer experiences. Instead, we need to rethink all we do in our customer-facing interactions. This includes knocking down internal silos of information and control, empowering agents to do what’s right to best serve customers, and integrating communication channels.

As we do these things to overhaul our provision of customer service, we will enhance the customer experience. But remember, enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek.

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

Is Your Call Center Ready for Anything?

How to Survive When Receiving Twice the Calls or Having Half the Staff—or Both

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Running a call center is hard, at least doing it right. Even under normal conditions, managers struggle to balance traffic and staffing levels while maintaining high quality and minimizing complaints.

But what happens when conditions aren’t normal? If you’re slammed with calls for an extended period, how will you fare? What happens if several agents can’t make it into work? What if the remote access portion of your system goes down, leaving your local staff to deal with everything?

One solution is to ignore the risk and hope nothing abnormal happens. But eventually, something abnormal will occur. It might be a weather event, a natural disaster, or a manmade crisis. Use your imagination—it’s easy to see that any number of things that could cause call traffic to spike or your staffing levels to drop. In fact, these both could happen at the same time. How well could your call center manage trying to handle twice the number of calls with half the staff?

Here are some ideas:

Multilocation

call center

If the source of the problem that moves you from normal to not normal is local, having a multilocation call center is one easy solution—provided that the other call centers are far enough away to not have the same scenario affect them. Of course, this strains the other call centers in the network, but more locations and more agents to share the load reduces the negative impact.

Remote Workforce

Many call centers use some work-at-home agents, whereas others prefer all staff to work from one centralized location to allow for better management. Regardless, allowing staff to work from a remote location during a crisis is a key way to minimize the impact. This could provide options for staff unable to make it into the office, as well as make it easier for staff not scheduled to login and help.

Strategic Partners

Having multiple locations and allowing staff to work remotely are key solutions to deal with abnormal call center scenarios. However, these tactics only go so far. To supplement these two approaches, form strategic partnerships with other call centers that can help during an emergency. But select a call center partner geographically distant from you. If you’re on the coast, work with one who is inland. If you’re in the north part of the country, find one in the south. If you’re east, go west.

Vendor Solutions

Check with your vendor to see what disaster mitigation solutions they offer. They may be able to help you better handle a not-normal call center situation. They could also recommend strategic partners for you to work with.

Outsourcing

If you’re a corporate call center, you may want to arrange with an outsourcing call center to help during a crisis. And if you’re an outsourcing call center, you know how this functions, so work with another outsourcing call center to help you.

Automate

Regardless of your paradigm to provide people to help people, sometimes automating portions of your call response will serve callers better than by not answering their phone calls at all or making them wait in queue a long time for the next available agent.

Plan Now

The key to make any of this work is planning. When things are going along normally for you and your call center, it’s the ideal time to come up with solutions for when normal goes away. Don’t wait for a crisis to hit and then scramble for answers.

Preparation today will help achieve success for tomorrow, even under less-than-ideal situations. When disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you have a plan to deal with it.

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