What’s up with call centers?

Discussion
Aug 21, 2015

With so many retailers needing call centers for customer service issues, the technology should at this point be easy for consumers to deal with. Yet, I often find call center interactions are like walking through one of those cornfield mazes in Iowa — no easy way out and no easy way to get help.

Part of the problem, according to Advertising Age, is that interactive voice response systems (IVR’s) were designed to be functional to help the business, and not necessarily to help the consumer. Consumer frustrations have increased as call center menus evolved over time to ask for more and more information via more and more prompts.

IVR’s have also been set up to fill dead air with the sound of typing, or something similar, which supposedly makes the wait time go by faster for the customer. The president of On Hold Marketing & Communications says that people get impatient after 30 seconds of hold silence, vs. 45 seconds for music, and 80 seconds with music and a decent hold message.

To offer alternatives, companies like Aspect are provide call center systems that can also handle texts, as well as Facebook and Twitter messages, which theoretically will make things better.

Another option is scheduling a callback for a time when the company is ready to talk and when it is convenient for the customer.

Nexology call center

Source: Nexogy – Cloud-based call center

Praful Shah, SVP of RingCentral, told AdAge that consumers now want to be able to go to the internet and get things done quickly. That, theoretically, matches what companies want because they are looking to control cost by reducing human capital and live operators. But my experience with web chat says that the chat employees often don’t have access to the information they need and are juggling multiple chats at one time, causing delays. Often, one uses web chat and ultimately has to call the contact center anyway.

This week, ShorTel announced a new contact center solution that enables up to 1,000 contact center agents to engage with customers through a variety of channels, and provides them with a lot of information via a single screen. However, haven’t we all had experiences in which information is lost just in transferring from one operator to another? It’s hard to imagine a call center being able to connect the dots between phone calls, text and social media.

Nexogy says the top four customer complaints about call centers are:

  1. Being stuck on hold — because the wait time is open-ended;
  2. Boring hold music or announcements — both of which can be customized;
  3. Being transferred multiple times — due to poor routing operations;
  4. Having to repeat information when transferred — better automation can help.

 

What suggestions do you have for making call centers as customer-friendly and efficient as possible? Which technology options (texts, scheduled callbacks, web chat, e-mail, etc.) offer the most promise to improve the call center experience for consumers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The survey missed an important complaint: the customer is given four options and none of them apply to their question, and there is no option to talk to a live person."
"Communication isn’t half the battle. Callers want resolution. Technologies that enable faster transactions, and policies that empower front-line CSRs are more efficient and customer-friendly."

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11 Comments on "What’s up with call centers?"


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Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

The survey missed an important complaint: the customer is given four options and none of them apply to their question, and there is no option to talk to a live person. One of the reasons Lands’ End has been so successful is its live, friendly, English-speaking call attendants.

Companies that use call centers should require their executive suite to dial in periodically and ask an unusual question. That might be the catalyst to a better experience.

Dan Frechtling
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Callbacks, web chat, email and the like are great communication tools. They offer choice, such as avoiding battery-sapping hold times on mobile phones, and fidelity, such as not having to repeat yourself.

But communication isn’t half the battle. Callers want resolution. Technologies that enable faster transactions, and policies that empower front-line CSRs are more efficient and customer-friendly.

Here are two examples from being stuck recently in a large east coast airport. First was the airline CSR, who was neither able to view schedules nor re-book stranded passengers on other airlines. Further, she wasn’t able to see the airline’s own flight status updated in real-time on the airline’s mobile app.

Contrast that with the CSR for Microsoft’s video app, who assisted me when the movie I downloaded to pass the time got stalled on airport Wi-Fi. He offered an instant refund or a bill-later feature when the Wi-Fi connection improved. Because I used callback, he already knew my credit card information and processed the refund instantly.

Technology and policies that empower outperform those that merely communicate.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
6 years 9 months ago
Scheduled call-back is a terrible idea. The company calls you at a time that is convenient for them, but not necessarily for you. When it’s offered I almost never use it. The company should hire enough people to manage the volume of calls they are getting so that each is answered in an efficient manner. The amount of prompts you have to navigate is definitely getting worse. Here’s the thing; if it’s a simple question, the consumer is probably perfectly capable of self-servicing or getting their answer online. I wonder what percentage of people calling in really do have a simple need that can be answered by the auto-prompts. My questions are NEVER something that can be answered by the auto-prompts. It’s always “Other … for more options … etc.” — just put me through to a real person already! Another trend I have noticed increasing is having to listen to additional messaging – IN THE AUTO-PROMPT system. I’m not talking about hold time messages, I’m talking about an advertising message that doesn’t apply to you… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Which technology options (texts, scheduled callbacks, web chat, e-mail, etc.) offer the most promise to improve the call center experience for consumers?

Ummmm … How about an EMP event that knocks them all out?

Shep Hyken
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Don’t make people wait on hold. Use the message to suggest self-service options that may be in the form of a FAQ section on a website or a video on YouTube. If you must make the customer wait on hold, give them an option (or two). First, let the customer know how long the hold might be. Give the customer the option of being called back. And possibly give the customer the option of choosing when he/she wants to be called back.

Doug Garnett
Guest
Doug Garnett
6 years 9 months ago

One key issue, I believe, is that analysis of call center costs tends to skew toward replacing human capital with digital resources because the analysis never includes the true long term costs of automated systems. My experience is that automated and online shifts are slippery slopes—we are led into them by false belief that the costs are lower and they end up slipping into very serious problems for the brand and company.

None of this is easy. But the value of a well trained and well staffed call center is far more than merely handing the single calls well. It affects company reputation, brand value, and long term sales.

So my advice? We need to stop fearing the cost of human capital so much (that fear seems to have come to dominate business and lead to some very poor decisions) and build good call centers. The payback is far bigger than anything digital.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I’ll get right to the point, and they should do the same: simple menus (no more than 3-4 choices), don’t interrupt with gratuitous messages (did you know we offer you 19 ways to pay your bill?), staff sufficiently so that 33 minute wait times are a rarity and always—ALWAYS—offer “I want to talk to someone” as an option.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 9 months ago

I’ve recently had several good experiences with web chat which sort of opened my eyes to how effective that can be for customer service. For one thing, it eliminates most language barrier/hearing/understanding issues that still seem way too prevalent in many phone interactions with call centers. And a competent rep can usually juggle and handle more than one chat customer at one time without degrading the service being provided. Even the necessary menu selection that precedes the chat seems less onerous and aggravating than the endless loop menu options required to initiate a phone relationship.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Call centers need to be properly staffed in terms of numbers and training and also given the tools needed to resolve the problems, not just answering the query as quickly as possible. Contact centers need to be able to address chat, voice, email, social media, etc to deliver a great experience to consumers, regardless of channels

Ed Gilstrap
Guest
Ed Gilstrap
6 years 9 months ago

I have to share this experience I had with a call center.

I wanted to get a real person, which was not an option. I pressed 0. I said “representative.” I pressed *, #, any button I could think of. I said “talk to a person.” I got the voice prompt for the same four options every time.

In utter frustration I said “go to hell!” — and heard “transferring.” A few seconds later a person answered.

I was afraid to ask where the call center was.

Kai Clarke
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Increase the number of people answering the phone, is the real solution here. By doing this, you not only minimize the wait time, or the need for any alternatives, but create faster, solutions for your customers, who are already frustrated. Once this is done, more companies will stop looking for alternatives to doing this.

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Braintrust
"The survey missed an important complaint: the customer is given four options and none of them apply to their question, and there is no option to talk to a live person."
"Communication isn’t half the battle. Callers want resolution. Technologies that enable faster transactions, and policies that empower front-line CSRs are more efficient and customer-friendly."

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