Your industry needs YOU! SJ Bell highlights some changes we could all make to help improve the reputation of the contact centre.
1. Clamp down on nuisance calls
The reputation of the contact centre industry has unfortunately been tarnished by a handful of rogue companies, who repeatedly pester the public about PPI and accident claims.
Clamping down on these companies, and reducing the number of nuisance calls the public receive, should help to recover the industry’s image.
You can take a stand against nuisance callers in three key ways:
- Don’t be part of the problem. If your business does make outbound calls, phone at sociable hours, keep your customer information up to date and respect the wishes of those wanting to be removed from your calling list.
- If you receive a nuisance call on your personal mobile or landline, report the problem to the ICO. For maximum impact, you should also encourage your agents to follow the same protocol.
- As an industry, we probably need to do much more lobbying to eliminate nuisance calls. We employ over 1 million people in the UK, so we really should start to make our voice heard.
The more pressure we can put on to reduce nuisance calls, the better the image of the contact centre.
2. Staff up properly
The most commonly cited problems with contact centres are the long queue times and transfer times we make our customers endure.
With proper staffing and scheduling processes, this is completely avoidable.
This is often overlooked at board meetings.
We need to fight hard to get the right numbers of staff and investment in our contact centres.
Fortunately, there are now proven links between providing good levels of customer service and increased profits… And to provide good levels of service you need the right numbers of people!
Now is the time for us to build a strong business case and negotiate to get the right numbers of staff for the contact centre.
3. Let’s stop pretending to be customer-centric
Recent research revealed that 80% of businesses think they are customer-centric, while only 20% of customers agree that they are.
This disparity highlights an inherent need for the contact centre industry to start listening to its customers in order to deliver an experience that truly meets their needs.
Common customer pain points include frustration about having to contact a company multiple times for the same reason, being put on hold for a long time and having to repeat an issue to multiple representatives.
4. Don’t outsource your customer service – ever!
If you really cared about your customers, you would recognise the value of handling all sales and customer service in-house.
The only time it is acceptable to outsource calls and general traffic is when you have a huge surge in demand – due to seasonal factors or unexpected events (e.g. if you are a power supplier after a flood).
More and more companies are bringing these core functions in-house and are really putting the contact centre at the heart of their business.
5. Ditch AHT in favour of customer-centric metrics
Another way to improve the customer experience in the contact centre is to change your mix of metrics.
This is because customer-centric metrics, such as First Contact Resolution and Customer Effort, are far more likely to create a positive customer experience than process-centric metrics such as Average Handling Time – which may leave your customers feeling as though they’ve been rushed off the phone without proper resolution.
Not only this, but customers who put the phone down with a smile on their face are far less likely to vent to their friends and family about “the terrible call centre experience”.
6. Stop doing dumb things to your customers
If there is one thing that really winds up customers, it is some of the dumb processes and metrics that we operate.
This extends to broken processes, including “sorry, we are unable to transfer your call (to the person I can wave at across the room!)” or “you’ll have to log into your account at home to make that change (even though I have your account open in front of me!)”.
Even an inability for agents to issue refunds can contribute to an unnecessarily frustrating experience for everyone involved.
As a contact centre professional, you probably know what these ‘dumb things’ are already. If you’re not sure, a day of listening in on your calls will certainly uncover them!
It is also crucial to get your front-line staff involved, as this recent quote from Peter Massey at Budd (whose passion statement is “How do we stop doing dumb things to our customers and our people?”) illustrates:
“One of the key ways to stop doing dumb things is not only to accept that customers and front-line staff know what’s wrong, but positively search out what they know and use it to stop dumb stuff happening. Front-line staff can save customers from a lot of dumb questions about what needs fixing. The hard part isn’t fixing the contact centre, it’s getting buy-in from the rest of the business to fix the root causes.”
This is especially important to get right when your customers have Twitter at their fingertips…
7. Properly train your staff
In this internet-enabled age, it is quite common for customers to know more about your products and services than some of your agents do.
This is due partly to the fact that, after the standard induction programme is complete, many contact centre agents receive very little in the way of ongoing training. Even fewer have a professional development plan.
This is most acutely seen in companies with high staff attrition.
8. Allow agents to do their job
All too often we treat people working in contact centres like large children.
They have limited responsibility to do the right thing for the customer, and often get “beaten up” if their performance metrics are less than ideal.
They also have silly rules frequently imposed on them – including timed toilet breaks!
We must all strive to give our front-line staff the level of responsibility they need to do the right thing for the customer.
We also need to give them the technology tools they need to do their jobs properly.
9. Throw out the IVR
Have you ever listened to customers navigating through your IVR?
I didn’t think so.
If you spent time listening in on their experience, you would hear a lot of frustration and difficulty. You would also likely see a fair number of customers hanging up.
Answering calls promptly with a real person will solve all of this.
Many of the most customer-centric organisations (such as First Direct) have never fronted calls with an IVR system.
10. Professional qualifications
To really change the image of the contact centre industry, we need to get all of our staff up to a professional standard. From NVQs through to degrees and Masters’ programmes, qualifications have a strong role to play.
Giving your agents the chance to develop themselves within the contact centre can also help remove the stigma of call centre work being a ‘dead-end job’.
Is SJ Bell right? What do you think can be done to improve the reputation of the contact centre industry?
SJ Bell is an Experience Design Strategist