BrainTrust Query: Call Center Caution – It Can Rocket Loyalty or Kill It

Discussion
Aug 24, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Hanifin Loyalty blog.

The call center can either be the gem in a loyal customer relationship or the Achilles heel that kills it. It is the most personal of touch points and the one that creates the most vivid impression of a brand’s responsiveness. Unfortunately, too many brands still do not manage this contact well, leading to heightened frustration by a customer exasperated by the experience.

"Why do I need to repeat my credit card information? I already gave it to the automated voice."

"I’ve called three times about this problem, and each time you ask me questions as though it’s the first time calling."

"You lost my information?"

Yet some companies, such as American Express, employ all the right methods to create a great experience. That includes advantageously using "big data" — all known demographic, transactional, and behavioral information, plus all contact information from all channels (i.e. social, email, previous calls) — to provide the most informed and customized customer relationship.

Combining the knowledge from big data with other seemingly easy (but mysteriously lacking at times) service rules means that:

  • If I need to be placed on hold "for the next available representative," tell me how long my wait will be and keep me updated every few minutes.
  • Keep my journey through the IVR (interactive voice response) brief but worthwhile. Don’t make me repeat my card number or nature of my call to to rep.
  • Arm the rep with all of my data and history of any previous interactions I’ve had with the brand (e.g., purchases, complaints, phone calls).
  • Ensure the call is always a positive one, directly aimed at gaining my satisfaction or resolving my problem.
  • Don’t unnecessarily try to sell me additional products.
  • If you need to follow-up with me, please do so. Ask the best way to reach me.

Surprisingly, one of my most satisfying call experiences occurred when I needed to contact the New York State Department of Labor. On this particular call, an IVR explained that there was a 20-minute wait. If preferred, I could leave a callback number and they’d call when I moved up to first in the queue. Sure enough, after 18 minutes, my phone rang. A live rep came on in seconds, knew my name and the nature of my inquiry and proceeded to give me outstanding service and resolution.

It makes you scratch your head when a government bureaucracy can get it right, but some big companies can’t.

We’ve all had awful call center experiences. Can you relate a tip from a good one you’ve had? Why are many call center interactions often vexing for consumers? Are some legal, privacy or security hurdles inhibiting the smoother managing of transactional or personal data? Why aren’t customer service reps often as empowered as they seemingly should be?

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13 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Call Center Caution – It Can Rocket Loyalty or Kill It"


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Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
Try to visualize this scene. In my left hand is my landline. Neeraj (he told me he is located in India) is on this phone. Jose is on my cell phone…in my right hand. I have them talking to each other. Neeraj from my bank is proving to Jose from Equifax that I closed an account that Jose must now convey to others from the same bank. It took 45 minutes to arrange the call. My bank representative (in the US) was prohibited from speaking to another representative from the same bank for proof that I closed the account. It had to go through Equifax. No one told me how to make that happen. I asked for phone numbers and arranged the visually amusing, but nevertheless effective conversation. Neeraj was delightful. Jose was very accommodating. It’s the bank’s system that was at the very least cumbersome. I’m guessing there is no one looking at these processes. Instead there are those assigned to create the restrictions. And of course I had to repeat my entire social… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Call centers can bring great satisfaction or infuriate. They can support a carefully built brand image or destroy it. In the end, it all comes down to money. Companies may talk about putting consumers first, but they don’t make consumer satisfaction a priority, whether it’s on the floor, through engaged, empowered sales associates, or on the phone with empowered customer service staff. Too many companies budget as if customer service is an afterthought.

How many jokes and complaints have we heard about “Joe” from India and his inability to speak discernible English or to solve the problem; yet companies continue to outsource call centers?

Surprisingly, I’ve found that AT&T has good customer service through its call center. They ask for a number to call you back, and empower their employees to make decisions and solve problems.

It’s not hard to run a quality call center. It simply takes dedication to do so from management and the necessary funds to make it work, which means making customer service a priority.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
The real problem here, I believe, is that senior management never walks their own sales floor. That is, CMOs and VPs of Marketing do NOT use their own products. Yes, the call center IS a product. And often an outrageous one at that. As if management really hopes you will just go away. Expanding the concept a bit, I have serious reservations about a lot of packaging in the marketplace with instructions for opening that simply do not work, or work very poorly. It reminds me of a story Bob Stevens of P&G (now deceased) used to tell of an in-home visit to review the laundry process. A diminutive lady was illustrating in her laundry room, and needed to open a fresh box of Tide. Bob asked her if she ever had any trouble opening the box, and she said, Oh, no. As she reached for a large screwdriver and proceeded to assault the top of the box with vigor! 😉 I fear what she would be doing with some of these call centers with… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
9 years 9 months ago

A call center experience is the next best thing to direct human-to-human contact that can, just like an in-store experience, make or break the customer relationship. Regardless of the reason for the call, and even further, regardless of the agent’s ability to achieve one-call resolution, being able to relate to the customer, listen to the customer and align with the customer will make a fundamental impact.

Of course this happens more easily with data and insights about the customer, but it’s also about having the right people, the right culture (this is where empowerment is key), and the right goals/objectives for the call center function.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
Despite all the negative things I have heard about the cable companies, my experience with Comcast has been great. They ID our account by our phone number and seem to have all the information about the services we purchase on their screen. The people have always been very helpful and resolved any issues fairly quickly. One of the more frustrating issues I have experienced with call centers is the delay in escalating the issue to the next level. I envision the person on the other end of the line following a script that is not leading them to the answer. When questioned they ask for a few more minutes. When I finally ask them to escalate to second level support they are generally hesitant to do so. I assume this is because their records will show that they were unable to solve the issue. When it does occur quickly I always tell the second level support how great the person was and how quickly they were to forward the issue upward.
Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 9 months ago
There are the delightful call experiences — Lands’ End, for example — and the horrible ones. In 2010 I had just arrived in New York prior to the NRF show, where I was to manage 11 different events for clients using my Capital One business credit card. Moments after my arrival my husband called me, and in a frantic tone told me that my card had just been canceled because I’d bought a coffee before the trip. He and I got on the phone with Capital One and begged that the card be reinstated, that the purchase was legitimate. “Customer service” was no help at all and patiently explained that they could cancel any card they wanted, at their sole discretion. We would receive a new card “within seven days.” We asked repeatedly and demanded to talk to a supervisor, to no avail. “I’m the supervisor,” he asserted. We had to scramble to ensure that my small business didn’t collapse as a result. A week later my husband told Capital One not to bother sending… Read more »
Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

In my personal experience, many times call center staff are not empowered to truly resolve issues. They can handle simple questions or simple needs, but when it comes to truly resolving an issue with any level of complexity it is difficult without going to the supervisor (or multiple supervisors). And that is after you have waded through multiple levels of IVR menus.

My best experiences recently have actually been with Delta. When I have a flight issue and call their phone line I have been helped quickly and efficiently every time by the person answering the phone. It has been refreshing!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 9 months ago
It can do little to enhance loyalty; American Express being the lone exception (that I am aware of). The primary problem is that the process makes consumers very aware of how little the companies that utilize call centers respect their time and intelligence. You call in seeking a solution to a problem. You give them information that is not related to the problem, hoping to get help. Then you are told to call another number and are asked for all the information you have already provided again. Now you have invested 15 to 20 minutes in this call! After putting you on hold for 5 minutes the ‘representative” starts trying to talk you through procedures that have nothing to do with your problem! Any company who thinks so little of their customers, that they would hire a call center (are you listening AT&T, VERIZON?) that puts their customers through this should be forced to pay consumers $5.00 per minute for every minute they spend on the call beyond the first 3 minutes! The only thing… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Short-sighted management overlooking the long-term effects of poor service. We all have examples where just a bit of empowerment could have saved the sale and the customer lifetime value.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 9 months ago
The reason why AMEX shows up in this discussion so often is because they invest in technology to support the rep. I’ve spent many days on the floor of a call center — for loyalty programs and credit card servicing. The detail on any given screen in most environments is daunting. The requirements that the rep has to follow in protocol is just as frustrating to the rep as it is to the customer. Both legal and privacy requirements demand verification — to the benefit of the customer in most circumstances. I can tell you that at the end of the proverbial day what matters is metrics. The rep, on up to the GM of the operation, crunch numbers all day long to manage call volume, talk or “handle time” and assess the back-end survey you may or may not complete post call. It is a people intensive business that for the most part results in something between aggravation and a sheer scream of frustration by the customer. Who is doing it well? Verizon, Marriott,… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

“Surprisingly, one of my most satisfying call experiences occurred when I needed to contact the New York State Department of Labor.”

Surprisingly? Maybe not, though I’ve never dealt with the NYDOL, I regularly deal with state agencies and the IRS, and found them to pass muster in that (1) either the calls are answered promptly or a realistic wait time is given, and (2) once contact is made, the rep is usually able to resolve the problem; and finally — chauvinistic though it may sound — yes, it’s nice to deal with someone who isn’t half a world and several cultures away.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I would like clarification of whether the repeated requests for ID numbers, SSNs and others are due to legal requirements. I cannot imagine that any brand would encourage or allow this aspect of process to take place unless it was mandated by law.

Sometimes I think call center operators would be better to disclose the reason for their questions to the customer. Maybe in that case, expectations would be better set and customers would be more tolerant of the process, however burdensome.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
9 years 9 months ago

First, the problem is that I am getting the call in the first place. Second, they are often reading a script and are not listening. Third, if I have a legitimate issue, they often can not address it. The good ones I have had start with a person who has a smile in their voice, they pause and let me respond, and they truly seem interested in treating me as a customer.

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