Call Centers

Ideas at Work — The Need for a Comprehensive Call Center

During the past several years, the call center industry has grown more than 14 percent. In the United States alone, there are more than 2.7 million call center agents making up 3 percent of the total workforce. With this explosion, customers are demanding a higher level of personal service, an increased number of contact channels and immediate answers to unresolved situations. Companies are finally responding and placing a greater emphasis on call centers as a cost effective and productive vehicle to service global customers.

Communicating With Customers

With the advent of the Internet and other technologies, there are more efficient and interactive ways to communicate with customers than ever before. The call center is often the first point of contact when a customer is looking for information, attempting to voice a concern, or purchase additional products and services. However, it is often the lowest priority for the organization in terms of technology investment and management focus.

Typically, an organization’s business model puts priority on external sales and marketing, while the contact center is viewed as a “service” necessity, and often seen as a cost center. However, with the right amount of planning and focus, the call center can actually be a profit center — through up sell opportunities, customer retention programs and improved customer loyalty.

Companies should begin to view their contact centers as an opportunity to drive sales, market new products and services and improve customer relationships. The fact that more people are using the Internet than ever before combined with a more sophisticated customer calling a call center and call centers continuing to maintain the same technologies and philosophies they have had for the last decade, can be a recipe for disaster.

More Access, More Questions

As customers are given access to more self-service options and online support, they become better informed. At the same time, the support provided by the call center often shifts to more in-depth questions and resolutions. Call volumes may actually increase and talk-time may rise as a result of the new access that the Internet provides. Without access to a strong knowledge-base system and detailed training curriculums, call center employees become even more challenged as they attempt to resolve customer issues. As customers continue to evolve, so too must the customer contact channels.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiatives are being developed and implemented in most large and medium-sized companies. The initiatives often bring changes in technology, but fail to address the large needs in the areas of process re-engineering and organizational improvements. Only 12 percent of companies that have implemented CRM software report it has exceeded their expectations, largely because of employee resistance to change, according to a study by ANR Research. Why do employees resist the new systems? Often because they are not using the technology to its full capacity, especially in key touch-points like the call center.

As companies seek to understand and improve their customer service and transform their call centers from mediocre to exceptional — as they seek to create a Comprehensive Call Center — many questions need to be considered.

Key Questions to Consider:

  • Does the call center organization have a clear vision and mission statement that supports the overall sales and service strategies? Are the statements and strategies communicated throughout the company?
  • Do all employees who support the customer touch-points have access to the same customer data (a 360-degree view of the customer)?
  • Does the call center have a culture where employees feel important and understand their value to the company?
  • Is turnover in the call center tracked and managed? Is there a turnover problem?
  • Does the call center have a recognition program in place that supports the culture? Does the call center have “fun” included in their objectives?
  • Do all employees who support customer touch-points have access to information about every product or promotion the company is offering? (Including special offers unique to certain geographical areas or customer segments?)
  • Do customers have multiple ways to contact the company? Do they receive the same level of service and information? (telephone, chat, e-mail, Web, instant message, palm, mail, etc.)
  • When answering a call, can the agent determine the value of the customer and their loyalty level?
  • Are contacts prioritized based on the customer’s overall value? Are they directed to the appropriate agent to provide service based on their value?
  • Can all employees who interact with customers see real-time history so that immediate recommendations or solutions can take place? Does the information allow the employee to provide service without requiring the customer to “re-tell” what has already happened?
  • Do all employees have access to relevant real-time information that illustrates the value of each customer so that retention strategies can be executed?
  • Are there processes in place to allow the company to constantly evaluate how problems are being resolved and re-prioritize or adjust in real-time, so that contact points are always using the quickest and most relevant resolution paths?
  • Does everyone in the organization know in advance about all communications that are provided to the customer so that any inquiry can be addressed without confusion? (i.e. advertisements, Internet, direct mail, e-mail, bill tags, etc.)
  • Are there service level agreements in place with all departments? (Marketing, IT, Sales, etc.)
  • Is there a comprehensive quality program in place that recognizes superior customer service?

Agent Idea:

Ask yourself and your manager how you can become engaged in a team to review the key processes in your center.

Manager Idea:

Take half a day off, go the local park or coffee shop and spend some time answering these questions. The answers and the impact on your center will surprise you.

Bob Furniss, President of Touchpoint Associates, works with organizations that want to increase productivity and profits by bringing out the best in their people.

Scott O. Thomas is a senior partner with Tamer Partners Corporation working with clients to design strategies and implement effective solutions in sales and service organizations.

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