Earlier in the week we highlighted an article in Nottingham Post in which a customer was left disappointed when they could not reach a resolution with the company they contacted; We have also discussed the importance of first contact resolution (FCR) in call centres. The biggest block to FCR may be the strict adherence to out dated business rules, conventions and processes that many contact centres subject their customer service agents (CSRs) to. Examples of these can be strong adherence to average handling time policies and restrictions on items each department can handle, making FCR extremely difficult to achieve.
In this article we explore how your contact centre staff can become a team of super heroes for their customers championing their needs and requirements.
In many contact centres agents act both as a front line customer service staff and carry out tasks completed formerly by back office support staff. This gives them the opportunity to be the first point of contact for customers and potentially have greater flexibility on what they can do to help customers. Such contact centres may access multi department systems. For instance one minute a contact centre agent might deal with a registration query the next they might resolve a complaint. From a technical perspective these department systems should talk to each other and be user friendly, (which is not always the case). However in many contact centres the action that an agent can perform is extremely limited. This may be due to a variety of reasons. Chief amongst these can be the relationship between the processes the contact centre follows and that of the main company; in these relationships the company has delegated specific tasks to the back office contact centre team whilst requesting the contact centre forward jobs to them. Typically these tasks are those that they feel are outside of the skills, experience or specialist know – how of the contact centre staff. At first sight, this seems logical and well intentioned, however a customer can all to easily be passed from department to department. This occurs where the lines between what contact centre staff do and what company staff do is blurred. Monitoring of Average Handling Time (AHT) metric can compound the problem with agents unintentionally passing the customer and their problem on without a solution.
The thinking behind the divide in the distribution of work between contact centre and company staff may be to ensure customers receive best advice and assistance from the right person. However because of the wide variety of problems communicated by customers over the phone such a division becomes problematic unless critically examined from a customer perspective. It should be organised so the front line agent is empowered to help. Unfortunately automatic call distributors, used in the contact centre to distribute incoming calls to contact centre staff, are not always effective. The customer can find their call filtered and connected to the wrong department only to be told that they need to be transferred again or worse still asked to hang up and call in again. This can be avoided by allowing your staff a little more flexibility in how they work, so that wherever possible they can resolve a customer request at first point of call.
Flexibility may also mean relaxing the business rules, which staff must adhere to. For example, the finance sector puts a necessarily strong emphasis on data protection. Whilst it is essential to be compliant, one should keep in mind that with a little training most agents could recognise the difference between a legitimate caller and a fraudulent caller.
There are few things as irritating to a customer as being refused access to their account and informed they have ‘Failed’ security because they cannot remember an item, which the agent has been told they must enforce.
Empowering staff to intelligently screen the caller without being rigid in the application of process can allow for a better delivery of service without endangering personal information.
Some examples from the finance sector are:
- Checking a transaction a customer might reasonably give a legitimate transaction from 12 days ago as opposed to one with the last 10 days.
- Giving the customer an extra question to answer as part of the identification process
- Allowing the customer to name a more recent transaction
These slight variances to process above would still provide adequate checks to meet legislative requirements and convey a sense of concern for the customer.
In customer service and in life in general, it is well to remember the quote:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
With the perceived quality of customer service as the main differentiator in so many markets now the interaction at the customer touch points cannot be taken for granted.
Unfortunately, in many large organisations there is evidence that the processes set up to manage the business and presumably once designed to provide a good service are collectively the causes of customer frustration. When poorly implemented they can actually be a source of customer dissatisfaction and attrition.
It is easy to argue that the cost of failure is too high to deviate even slightly from the rules and to do so could mean severe reputational damage. However, perhaps what is important to remember is that empowering staff does not mean giving staff free will to do whatever they see fit. Far from it, empowering staff means to give effective training to staff so that not only can they cover a wide base of different problems but are also given the confidence to deal with these problems effectively, and proactively create a positive customer experience.
What any company should remember is that most people want to make a positive contribution in their work. Contact centre staff can provide excellent customer support, if given the right training and environment to work in.
A recent post in the Nottingham Post suggest that good customer service can produce a veneer of professionalism however if a satisfactory resolution can not be reached with the customer then this results in the customer becoming more frustrated; naturally as we have explored before good customer service and first point of contact resolution go hand in hand.
We at Dancing Lion have spoken at length about the importance of an integrated customer service solution; here is an interesting article courtesy of Biztech Africa hammering the important part social networks, mobile phone and the internet can play in providing excellent customer service.
Traditionally the contact centre has been at the forefront in providing customers with information as well as a major first point of contact for customer requests; it has played a huge role in the delivery of information to customers. However in a new world with smarter customers and the Internet how does the contact centre adapt for the 21st century? At dancing lion, our position is that the contact centre’s role remains very much the same. While the Internet provides a powerful tool for providing information and allowing customers to self-service account requests, it is by no means self-sufficient.
Some example from financial services:
The human interaction provided by the contact centre allows companies to identify the needs of customers that they themselves do not know that they require. One great example of this can be found in the finance sector where credit cards might be sold to customers however some often do not realise the convenience a simple direct debit would offer them in managing their account.
In today’s contact centre world it is vital to understand your client, the service/product that you support and how to match what the customer needs or wants with the services or products the company provides. To provide good customer service it is important to recognise the difference in recommending and selling a product or service as opposed to pushing unwanted items on to the customer. Effective communication skills on the part of the agent or CSR are vital. Identifying needs, understanding wants and matching individual circumstances are essential. At dancing lion we train sales staff in an approach we call “Sales through Service.” It only works when front line staff genuinely search for a ‘win-win’ outcome and help the customer get the best result. Of course, this is the best long-term basis to secure a customer relationship.
Drawing again from the financial services market, a popular product in credit card services is a balance transfer. This is where a customer decides to pay off their old credit card with a new card under the promise of an interest free period. What you often find in financial contact centres are customers rushing to take up a new product despite having no knowledge of what the product really is, or can do for them. Fixated with headline grabbing titles and bombarded with information from many sources via email, text messages on a continuous basis through out the day, people’s attention spans are usually short – typically 10 to 15 seconds. Whilst smart customers may be adapting to assimilating information more quickly, even they do not always read the small print on promotions! Customer error here can be compounded by the popular use of jargon (much in evidence in business generally) and a mistaken belief that they have all the relevant information on a product.
The benefit of the contact centre
The real benefit the contact centre provides is an agent who can talk to the customer and help them understand what the product is and advise on whether they truly need the product or service. This human element gives a valuable higher level of customer service, which the Internet simply cannot provide. It is these types of product scenarios where a company should decide whether customers can really make an informed decision on a product online or whether they need to speak to an expert by telephone or chat. The contact centre acts as the guide in these niche areas helping the customer make the best decision and providing information that they might not know or have overlooked.
Of course smarter customers may mean less work for contact centres, but from a cost reduction perspective this could be a double-edged sword in the long term. The contact centre benefits from the growing intelligence of its customer base as it feeds into product and service development and demands more from its service provider. But this development means extra training should be provided for staff so they can meet the growing expectations of the customer.
We predict that as customer calls become increasingly more specialised and the availability of information increases it will mean that the number of staff required to resource a contact centre may be reduced. To meet future demand call centre staff will need to be able to adapt to a constantly changing environment and keep three steps ahead of the customers. They will need to be willing and happy to work within a contact centre setting, and the training needed for these roles is likely to become more specialised and possibly longer in duration.
Not every one is well connected…
Perhaps more importantly however is that there will always be customers that simply do not have access to the Internet or even a mobile phone. For those customers the role of the contact centre remains as it has always been. A quick and convenient way to find out more information and a first point of contact to request a service or to purchase a product.
The development of smarter customers is not a death knell for customer service, far from it. The development of smarter customers means an evolution of the role of customer contact centres.