Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Customer Service and the Call Center

April 28, 2011

Customer Service over the phone is undeniably the most difficult form of customer service at which to excel. At the same time, it’s also the place where the majority of company opinions are formed. New statistics from Purdue University show that over 92 percent of customers form their opinion of a company based on its call center.

Further data from Frost & Sullivan show that most companies that plan on adjusting their customer service mediums this year have their web presence, including website FAQs and help sections, social media, and live web chat, on the front lines. So are the majority of businesses looking in the wrong direction for answers to customer service challenges?

Well, no. Focusing on the web is a crucial part of building a customer service network, and the first line of defense in self-service. As the customer service industry has discovered in the last few years, there are no separate customer service channels, there is only one – the multi-modal channel. This includes website, phone, social media, e-mail, chat, SMS, etc. In 2011, B2C businesses need to incorporate all of these aspects and do them well.

The website is where customers can knock out most if not all simple self-service needs - tracking a package, navigating the website, making orders, etc. Designing an easy-to-use website, full of valuable information, directly impacts the company’s bottom line – less people calling, lower cost of taking inbound calls, lower cost of employing customer service representatives.

With a good website set up, why do people look towards call centers for help? There is a plethora of reasons. First, one must differentiate between those who call customer service to complete tasks that can be done using the website and those who call customer service for tasks that cannot be done on the web easily.

Those in the first group turn to call centers for a few reasons. The first and most obvious is that the caller isn’t comfortable or familiar with the Internet. This is clearly not sustainable, because at a certain point everyone will be familiar and comfortable with the Internet. Another reason is that the customer doesn’t have a smartphone, or isn’t comfortable with using it. Again, this is not sustainable, because at a certain point, all or the majority of phones will be Internet capable and all B2C businesses will have mobile equipped websites.

The most valid reason, and one that won’t become irrelevant over time, is that the customer is on the go and needs to complete self-service transactions. I am speaking of the customer who would like to reserve a rental car on the way to the airport, who would like to check an order status while driving, etc. There are plenty of times when we are on the move and would like to multitask, and making a call is the easiest way. This will remain one of the largest target markets for IVR self-service.

The other category of customers who call customer service comprises those who need more complicated tasks. While it may be possible to complete these tasks over the Internet, or through a Google search, the easiest method may be by simply calling a customer service representative. For example, if you need help installing a cable box or if you need to speak to a sales representative. While this is common, we all know why most people call customer service for complicated tasks – an error on the company’s behalf.

A faulty cell phone, a late shipment – things the customer perceives to be much easier to handle while speaking to a person. Why? Because although the individual customer service representative could probably care less about your late shipment, we assume the voice on the other end has empathy and can understand your problems and what you would like to accomplish by the end of the phone call.

And that probably explains why we make such a strong judgment of a company based on its call center. We interact with a call center, we imagine these customer service reps as the face of the company – even though the representatives may be outsourced in Asia or may be hosted reps that aren’t employed by the company – and we connect the help we receive from customer service to the company image. A good analogy might be on an individual level: You can see a picture of someone and read their biography, look at their Facebook, or read their blog, but the defining moment in which you base your opinion of that person is when you interact with them. And the most personal form of interaction is through voice, not e-mail or chat.

So, companies need to take on the multi-modal approach to customer service, including that of their customer service lines. And what a perfect opportunity to do so – when people have the lowest expectations! Think of it like this – people expect amazing website access and great self-service. What do people expect from IVRs and customer service lines? Short hold times? Representatives speaking fluent English? Organized menu prompts? People almost expect a large company’s phone lines to be problematic, so why not strive to be at least better than average if not phenomenal? After all, 92 percent of your customers are judging you on it. 

Dan Fox is a marketing analyst at Interactions Corporation.

ContactCenterSolutions publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.

Edited by Jennifer Russell