How can we improve the public image of contact centres?

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Editor

Call Centre Helper


Most days I log into Twitter and see a predictable stream of people getting upset with call centres.

After a while we come to accept this criticism.

But is it right and what can we do to change these perceptions?

How can we improve the public perception of contact centres?


Team Lead

Sykes


Hello,

I remember when I first started thinking about working in a call centre and my mum trying to talk me out of it because of the 'horror' stories associated with this type of work. Stories like having to put your hand up to go to the toilet sound awful - however, i've never seen that in the 9 years I've worked at this company. Further, I love it supported by the fact i'm still here after 9 years, although I am now a Team Lead rather than on the phones.

From the publics perspective I believe it is a back lash to consumer programmes leading customers to believe that the customer is always right - if a customer buys a product and it breaks down and they have to pay for a repair because the waranty has run out or does not apply in the circumstances the customer becomes angry and believe they should get a new product or their money back and their frustration is directed at the person saying 'no' ie the contact centre. So, perhaps customers need to be re-educated about what service they can reasonably expect...

I'd also like to see the governemnt doing more. I keep hearing about the plight of 16 to 24 year olds and unemployment - are there currently any government schemes to support contact centres in providing the opportunity for unemployed 16-24 year olds to gain experience and valuable skills in the contact centre environment?

I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say on this.


Resource Planner/Infrastructure Analyst

Lloyds Banking Group


That's an interesting question. You're right, Jonty. We do often come to accept this criticism and that is a terrible situation to be in. If we accept that criticism then what we are saying is that the customers are being unreasonable in their demands and little effort is made to actually serve the customer.

Why do we think that a GoS of 80/20 or an abandon rate of 3% has any bearing on what the customer wants? Are we saying that we will happily let 20% of our customers wait, or let 3% of them get fed up just because that suits us. Why do we impose complicated IVR options on them that meet our needs and not theirs?

Bunnycatz, Sorry but I couldn't agree with you less. I'm also a customer (as is everybody else here, I'd imagine) and any business which thinks that it needs to re-educate me on what level of service I expect will very quickly lose my custom.


Team Lead

Sykes

Work Experience
I see from todays newsletter that work experience is being offered

https://www.callcentrehelper.com/siptel-offers-work-experience-to-young-people-24046.htm

Jonty/others - what sort of criticism are you seeing 'customers' make about call centres?

Scott Mac - as a customer perhaps my views on contact centres are different, my frustration tends to be with complicated IVR's where I find it hard to speak to a person a recent example being with BT and me trying to get some information about a direct debit charge. I had a live chat with someone, we went round in circles so I asked for a number to call - and was advised no number could be provided - which as I pointed out I felt was crazy as it was after all British TELECOM! - as a customer I got very cross - as a Team Lead I understood the agent was not permitted to provide a number.

Voicesage


Love this topic...

I, like Jonty see the madness daily on twitter of customers angry over interactions with call centres. I think mostly it boils down to not having fully planned or thought out processes which leaves customers talking to an IVR loop and getting nowhere or what they want errs outside of what the agent can handle or understand and frustration grows. perhaps a simplistic view but agents can only do what they're told to do- it has to fall back on management to recognise how the customer is interacting and make it work for them.

Most of the blame is to go on exceptionally bad hiring also- paying a team in bangladesh to handle irish accents for IT problems is insane to my logic... for a communication channel there needs to be a strong enough grasp of the languages to actually communicate!

I'm in the process of moving house so i'm switching accounts and opening new ones and the stress of dealing with agents is more hassle than the actual moving house!


Call Centre Manager

The Private Clinic


I think in essence people like to criticize Call Centre’s for the following reasons clients is tired of going through a maze of IVR options then having to hold for 5-7min before they can speak to someone just to be told they can either not help them or partially help them. I remember calling my bank once, eventually speaking to an agent after 7 minutes then to be told he can help me with my query but when I wanted to add daily text messages to my service, I had to call another department. Does my bank’s call centre need to be criticized for this, yes of course. Moving the call centre to India did not help either as (no disrespect but you get for what you pay) anything asked not on the script became a problem. The bottom line is that call centres has for too long been seen as an unnecessary necessity.

People want to speak to people that has the knowledge and the authority to help them there and then. Get clients to speak to the agent as quickly as possible and let the agent do as much as possible for the client and if necessary have specialists in your team that can help the agent when needed. Value the client from beginning (sales) to end (support).


Account Manager

Commsworld


I wonder if technolgy in some way is becoming a hindrance getting through IVR can be quite a battle

Maybe the only way to improve things is to strip out all the complexity and go back to basics where you have one ACD system enabling agents to pick up the calls.

Maybe having agents who have higher skill levels would help to cover as many of the customers questions would be good

Also to empower the agent to enable them to deal with as much of the enquiry as possible to get away from the scenario of wanting to speak to their supervisor , if they are not dealing with the query in the best way possible and give them more decision making power

But I think in essence going back to basics is a start, think there has be to much reliance on technolgy to solve all the problems , when a more human one may be the answer

We humans do like to over complicatate things sometimes


Team Lead

Sykes


Hi nicholson,

above you mention 'empowering agents' and giving them more decision making power. I have seen lots around this, for example agents being able to award gift vouchers.

I can see the merits in this - and if you work directly for the company then perhaps there is room to empower agetns - but perhaps this isn't so simple when you work for an outsourcer like me?

I'd be interested to know if other members work directly for the company in a customer service contact centre environment or like me for a major outsourcer and how that may/may not impact on things like this?


Customer Experience Manager

Miele UK Ltd


Jonty - Aside from the inevitable horror stories from customers about Contact Centres, my view is that as an industry we need to drastically evolve.

There is some really great work going on in some Contact Centres but in the main there has been little or no evolution from the times when Contact Centres began.

The frustration for me is that if we think back to the late 70's early 80's ( I know switchboards existed before then)Contact Centre began as central places where basic simple transactions could take place primarly over the phone. The design of the Contact Centre and the strategy behind the formation of Contact Centres were that they were always seen as a cost saving proposition and thus there was a great deal of focus on space utilisation, hot desking etc etc.

During the 80's we then saw some specialist operations open up whose whole premise was based on Contact Centres such as First Direct. However, the basic design of the Contact Centre has remained the same.

Over the years organisations have begun to appreciate the importance of the Contact Centre and in today's world we are very much "preached at" that our agents are an organisation's most valuable asset. We all know they are the highest cost.

However, we do still treat them differently to other areas of the business. Do we see for example project managers, marketeers, or HR staff hot desking in impersonal limited desk space? I would say very rarely and therefore I think as an industry we do ourselves no favours as employers.

Will there come a time when the design of the Contact Centre moves away from this space utilisation cost driven model (I know most offices have some sort of limitations)and more care is taken to ensure that our most important assets have as good as (if not better) environments than their colleagues who work outside of the Contact Centre?



By the way is the use of Twitter and other social media advices the next step for Contact Centers to interact with ther customers? Because we got all our information on one of this new cloudsystems from ECT and have to learn all the "social media stuff", like rules on twitter, irc chat or facebook. I ask my self often, if the future wont be so much about the telephone but about chat and something like twitter or emails.

@ Bunnycatz: and at the same time we got more information, we got also more power and make choices how to engage the customers problems. I see connection between the new social medias, the cloudsystems and the empowering of the agend. and its a good thing!


Team Lead

Sykes


Hi MarcS, What sort of additional power did your agents get? I'd be really interested to know? how did the agents then decide when they could apply this power to engage the customer?

I fully believe this can help improve the customer experience, but it has a cost and at the moment everyone including huge companies are trying to find ways to cut costs.

We recently lost a big client based on cost (they moved to an Irish Contact Centre where there may be grants, tax schemes etc - but also as one of the workforce management team pointed out as there are no alternative jobs the employees there can easily get and so it is easier to get agents to work split shifts and so on at lower slaries than where my office is based).

So, is the current economic situation likely to trigger 'cuts' to the quality of service provided and as such drive customers to have an even poorer opinion of the service we all provide?



Hi Bunny.

We can make the customers some offers, when the want a refund. So we have small power over the budget, but its redirect to our incentives.

but the last question is essential. because its the old theme about: massproduction vs. quality. I think that the service business can only survive with quality. in the long run the cheap supplier will die.


Owner and Consultant

CCL


Hi all,

Great debate - thoroughly enjoyed the read this morning.

It's very interesting for me as I've worked for many large call centres in the UK... my immediate thoughts are - lots of companies suggest they 'Put the Customer at the Heart of every call', but are we truly understanding the customers’ needs and wants and therefore correctly placing them at the heart - also are we changing and adapting our approaches quickly enough for today's climate?

Ken Blanchard's book 'Raving Fans' is a simple read about customer service and explains, in brief, that customers:

1) Talk about Bad Service to everyone

2) Rave and Shout out about service that exceeds expectations and needs

3) Stay quiet about service that meets expectation

Would be great to know how many customers there are out there who are staying quiet because they're happy (but not wowed) by the service received!!

And linking back to my original point - I wonder how many Call Centre Advisors truly understand what they can do to meet and exceed... is it still all about service or in today's climate do customers have more varied and flexible needs? [Speed, Cost, Variety of Options, Efficiency].

Linking to the social media comment - how can businesses use this as a forum to get the happy customers talking more and shift the balance...

QUESTIONS QUESTIONS QUESTIONS!!!!!!!!!


CEO

T-impact


Great topic!

I agree with many of the sentiments in this post. Sprint tried an experiment in the early 1990's. They empowered their call centre agents, giving them a monthly budget to utilise as they like and paired this with a up sell budget to bring in new revenue. As agents successfully up sold services, they earned both commission and customer credits. They also gave the Customer Services Director a substantial quarterly budget to allocate to other departments to resolve the top 3 customer issues of the quarter. It seems many organisations have regressed from these heady days of trust and empowerment.

Over the last years the call centre agents has become more difficult - with new tools, channels and management controls often adding to the complexity rather than improving their ability to service the customer. We need solutions simplify the administration, enabling the agent to focus on the customer.

There are some great advances in this area but adoption has been slow. Too many Customer Service Executives are afraid to trial new technology, looking at the tools they have received from their "innovation partners", you can't blame them!


Director

Jaguar PR


The way to improve the image of call centres is to improve the customer journey. Customers want to talk to intillegent, skilled and empathetic agents. The agents need to be happy in their work, as this will come over in their calls. If your team knows that they are valued they will feel supported and enabled to do a good job. We also help our agents to understand what 'exceptional' and 'acceptable' standards are, so they strive to achieve 'exceptional' results. It’s also essential to have regular feedback from customers and agents.


Lead Consultant

Polka-Dot Consultants


Surely, despite the complaints of customers, which have historically always been there, the other main focus must be the psychological contract between organisation and staff. So many call centres are awful to work in that it tends to overshadow the good work done over the last twenty years by the real professionals. In addition, I am still surprised that home working has not been fully utilised as yet. Often customers will get a better service from a part time, well trained remote worker as they are generally happier about the work they do.

I have to say that in my experience most call centres I engage with are fairly poor, with staff lacking the empowerment to make decisions and/or lacking knowledge. I can tell the good one's easily. It is over and done in minutes. A very good example is the DHSS who I had to call recently. Despite the long wait for an answer, once through I could not have wished for a better service.



Hi,

Really nice to read the replies by the above contributors.Directly attached with the image of a company is how the services are delivered.No matter via any showroom or a call center.

Expertise in the product knowledge & how we sense the questions of the consumer would help. I second Kate's take that "Customers want to talk to intelligent, skilled and empathetic agents."No one likes to teach the call center agent as the receiver should understand what he is supposed to talk about.

Call centers are dependent on calls.Just human reciprocation & image would shoot up .

Thanks,



Great debate

Most call centre have promoter score , just as some of the above post talk about, and I totally agree that each individual agent has the chance to provide an outstanding customer service . however most call centre jobs are not highly paid and these promoter score are now use as a tool by companies to allow agents to earn a bonus . The issue is that depending on the call centre or client there is a little thing called Average Handling Time. Take for instance the big companies who give out work to outsources . The outsources will have a handling time lower than the actual companies own call centre.

For instance I work for an outsourcer ,and as posts have pointed out technology has evolved .mobile phones 15 years ago the customer could call and text. Now they are smart your own personal couldn't be without hand held PC . Agents now have 10seconds more than they did 15 years ago to answer a query.

customers want to talk to Intelligent, skilled and empathetic people, are just some of the words used to describe call centre workers . Here are some more . Abused,, threatened and bullied not by the company but the customers . The customer want a good service which everyone is entitled to , the call centre worker are entitled to work in a safe environment.



@ Amber - I run a outsource company and I always tell clients we would be fair to accept current call handling and times as what they actually operate in there centre. If not I ask why should we lower ours and has lead to me rejecting Million £ contracts however at end of the day I rather stand on my principles of being fair, open, honest and Transparent.

I must admit our Centre is starting to get a REAL wide type of people. We have 16-60+ olds working in our centre and I must admit it does give a really good experience and more a friendly experience and work lifestyle.

We work with CWU to operate a Zero Torrance to Abuse in workplace and we have at times released calls when customers refuse to stop swearing and threating us however I have found that people will give more abuse to call centre than they would if they went to a shop.


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