The impact of bad call center service is so harmful that it’s surprising how commonly it occurs. We have recently heard about the extreme long waits suffered by credit card holders seeking to discuss the security of their accounts after the recent Target and Neiman Marcus credit card breeches. In situations like this, the poor customer service inherent in being left on hold is usually compounded by a second source of extreme annoyance: endless repetition of the hold message:
“Thank you for calling, your call is very important to us, we are experiencing longer than normal wait times for customer service, please remain on hold.”
After the 10th hearing, it can be assumed most of us understand the message. And the thought occurs to most us – possibly after only the fifth hearing – that if my call is so important why am I being left on hold for so long?
In the credit card situation, we heard of one customer who put his phone on speaker, proceeded with his work, and heard the hold message for nearly an hour before his call was answered by a live call center customer service representative.
The next customer service hurdle is encountered when you start asking questions. Sometimes, the call center services representative is knowledgeable, friendly and delivers the required information. But just as often, the inbound call center agent doesn’t know the answer, transfers your call (with the call often dropped, forcing you to start the entire process over again), in which case you may be put on a prolonged hold again.
Why does bad customer service happen? Even among companies which understand that customer retention requires good customer service, and that more than half of companies’ growth comes from return business, the problem is customer service is not a high-profile function. It does not receive enough senior management attention, not enough resources are devoted to it and hiring practices for call center customer service representatives is not selective enough. In addition, too often the call center services function it is seen as ripe for cost cutting. The result: lost customers and lost sales.
What makes for good customer service? Here are a few essentials:
1. Provide it. This sounds obvious, but the fact is many companies shut down their inbound call center and send their call center customer service representatives home at 5 or 6 p.m. Customers who call in afterward hear a recorded message telling them to “call back during normal business hours.” Hearing this, many customers will contact a competing vendor. Extending call center services into the evening, over the weekend or, when appropriate, on a 24/7 basis is the first step toward providing call center customer service that retains customers. This is where the use of an outsourced call center services provider can play a role, augmenting the company's in-house customer service call center capabilities.
2. Provide enough of it. Companies need to have enough call center services staff resources on hand to quickly answer customer service phone calls. This means having sufficient inbound call center bandwidth available to handle overflow calls when customer service call volume spikes. Here again, the outsourced call center services provider can handle overflow calls on an as-needed basis.
3. Hire good people. Too many companies and call center services providers regard the customer service call center position as entry level work. It isn’t. Most customers expect to be treated professionally, so only those who are at a professional level should be hired into the call center. That means paying them a decent salary and providing employment benefits that will retain them and enable them to develop their call center services skills.
4. Training. This means two things: training for specific customer service programs, and the continual development of the fundamental, universal skills needed to successfully execute most call center services programs. From the look of things, many inbound call center agents are hired and given little more than a headset to prepare them for their work. But quality customer service is an art and a science, it requires continual skill improvement, and this can only happen when senior management leads the drive for customer service training programs.
5. Real-time feedback. For inbound call center quality assurance efforts to work, call center services representatives need to know what they have done wrong immediately or soon after they made a mistake. This requires a dedicated staff of quality assurance managers listening to phone calls, walking the floor of the call center services facility and talking with agents on how to improve their work. It also means follow-up monitoring to ensure that the faulty work has been addressed.
6. Detailed reports. In addition to observing and overseeing the work of call center services representatives, it’s critical that the result of each call is recorded, captured and accounted for in detailed reports that illuminate the work of individual call center customer service representatives as well as the overall program results. These reports are critical for identifying areas of performance improvement and cost savings, and for ensuring that each representative, as well as the overall program, is meeting or exceeding program SLAs.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Call Center Services