Nine Hurdles That Call Centers Place In Front Of Their Customers

Note: This piece is adapted from a podcast by UK psychologist, Donna Dawson, that appeared in a magazine published by communications solution provider and Avaya partner, Datapoint. This version, which appeared in the recent Avaya 2013 Guide To Collaboration Trends, has been edited for length and style.

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Would You Call Your Own Call Center?

According to recent research, the number of calls to call centers is growing at a rate of 20 percent every year. This surge is partly due to the growing number of tasks covered by call centers, both customer-facing and internal to a company, such as help desks. The surge is also due to customers calling on the move from mobile phones.

There has also been a sharp increase in customers giving up on their calls– from 5 percent in 2003 to just over 13 percent in 2010. That rises when customers have to pick their way through multiple options and messages. The resolution rate for their calls is only about 50 percent–maybe as high as 70 percent if a more senior level of help is involved in the call, but still well behind the call center industry’s own target of an 85 percent resolution rate.

Getting help from a call center is like being an Olympic hurdler on the last lap before the finish line. Those are both technical hurdles and operator hurdles. First, let’s look at the technical hurdles.

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Technical Hurdle 1: The Complicated Menu

A menu may come with multiple layers and a selection of four or more choices per layer. This can be made worse by a poorly performing voice recognition system. Time is wasted listening to your options, and stress builds. Stress builds even more if you hear the options incorrectly or don’t hit the right numbers. Stress builds even higher when you find that you have not gotten through to an operator for all your obedience and efforts–but have only reached another level of button pushing. And this is just the beginning.

Technical Hurdle 2: Being Kept on Hold

Being kept on hold was the number one reason for rage in Britain in an anger survey that I conducted a few years ago for a major bank. A customer longs to hear a human voice to explain his complicated problem to–but instead he gets canned music or a time-wasting plug or ad. In a 2010 study by Which? magazine, it was revealed that a well-known British phone company took 14 minutes to answer a call about their broadband services, while a major bank and a major energy company took more than 10 minutes to answer theirs.

According to one call center customer, “I have become so frustrated with the performance of a certain big bank, and particularly with their call centers, that I am closing all of my accounts with them.”

Another customer says, “I’d much rather get an engaged tone. If someone isn’t available to take my call, why frustrate me by trying to waste my time and money being held in a queue. As for automated services, if I phone someone it’s because I want to speak to someone.”

What is the call center customer feeling at this point? Lonely, frustrated, impatient, and angry. What is he or she thinking? That “the company doesn’t really care about me.”

Technical Hurdle 3: Being Charged for the Call

Many call centers have quietly switched over from free to non-free numbers. A well-known low-cost airline charges one pound (U.S. $1.60) a minute after hours and on weekends–even if you’ve been made to wait or been cut off.

“It’s not so bad if the call is free,” said one customer, “but when you have to pay for it, the story changes, especially when the line has a minimum rate call charge.”

Here’s another irate mobile phone customer: “I tried four times tonight to get through … another 40 pence down the tubes. This is a ridiculous way to deal with customers, or is it a way to raise additional revenue?”

We don’t deserve customers if we treat them like this–especially when there are automated systems that can log your caller ID and then automatically call back once an operator is free.

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Technical Hurdle 4: The Muzak

It’s not just being kept on hold–it is to what we are forced to listen. On average, callers hang up after listening to just 65 seconds of canned elevator music. So if customers have to face the music, let’s get the selection right, please.


NOW WE COME TO THE OPERATOR HURDLES.

Operator Hurdle 1: Putting Your Call Center Abroad

An overseas call center may be fine for routine inquiries. It may, if you’re lucky, even be efficient and cost-effective.

But remember how customers see it: “The company is willing to delegate my relationship with them to a third party.” They sense that the company has done this for one reason and one reason only: to save money, not to provide better customer service.

Operator Hurdle 2: The Language Problem

Many offshore operators speak excellent English and can both understand what is being said and make themselves understood. However, many still cannot. One call center customer had such a problem with the language barrier that he resorted to communicating via MSN Messenger.

It isn’t just the understanding of English but the intonation, diction, and speed of talking that can also be issues. Which can be tricky if you’re trying to arrange the transfer or payment of a certain sum of money and you have to keep repeating back the numbers just to ensure that they’ve got them right.

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Operator Hurdle 3: Patronizing the Customer

In order to avoid language or cultural issues, operators often stick to a script, which can make them sound sing-songy, stilted, overly formal, overly deferential, patronizing, and just plain unreal. If an operator is stumped by a question, the result is a long silence and then a repetition of the last line of their script. As one customer put it, “If they don’t know the answer, that’s okay. They should just admit it or find someone who does. But they never do.”

One American call center customer re-routed to India didn’t mind the foreign accent but was “driven ballistic” by what he called the disingenuousness of the operators introducing themselves as “Mike,” “Steve,” “Brian,” and “Walter.” “Friend, I know you’re from India. That’s okay. Just don’t BS me about it,” he said to them.

A call center customer from Scotland was even more blunt. “I simply don’t give my business to any organization that has offshored its call center … When you consider time delays in the call and the fact that they can’t understand my Ayrshire accent, it all becomes pointless and extremely irritating.”

What we never want to hear is, “I’m sorry you feel that way,”implying that it is just our feelings that are out of control. Listen, operator, my feelings are a part of the problem, so sort the problem out for me, please.

Operator Hurdle 4: Getting Cut Off
The customer is left wondering if this is merely a technical error or if it was deliberate. One caller realized that every time he was cut off it was just before 12:30 p.m. He worked out this was probably the operator’s general lunch break. It has also been rumored that call center operators cut people off deliberately if they accidentally input the wrong information or–it gets worse–if they think that you are about to cancel your subscription.

Operator Hurdle 5: Badly Logged Calls
The customer calls back to check his status, only to be told that there is no record of his previous calls. So he has to start all over again. All calls should be recorded–not only to be acted on, but in order to create a history of calls for reference. So why aren’t operators doing this regularly?

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The Elephant in the Room

87 percent of U.K. call center workers complain of work-related stress. The average amount of training for a call center worker fell to 21 days in 2010. One quarter of call center staff leave every year. Call center operators also complain about repetitive stressful work, restrictive work practices (such as how much time they’re allowed to spend on bathroom breaks), a dehumanizing work atmosphere, too-close scrutiny by management, rude customers, and low pay rates.

All of these are issues for another speech by another speaker, but they needed to be raised here because operators are human, too. And it is the human interaction that the customer longs for and so wants to get right.

In an ideal world, all call center operators would have something of the psychologist about them. They would stay cheerful while I whine, and then say something like, “I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this problem but I’m going to do my best to sort it out for you, and if I can’t I’ll find someone who can.” What we never want to hear is, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” implying that it is just our feelings that are out of control. Listen, operator, my feelings are a part of the problem, so sort the problem out for me, please.

For the customer, the operator represents the company. Whether the operator works for the company directly or not, they need to pretend that they do and act accordingly. That can mean actually thanking customers for a complaint as it allows you to hear about the problem and to do something to resolve it.

So how can the operator remove the hurdles on the track to make the customer experience a smooth run to the finish line?

1. Come to the phone armed with options. This exudes an intoxicating sense of power and control and gives the customer a sense of control as well.

2. Give the customer your full name, including surname. Do you know how many Marys, Steves, or Alis there can be in a call center? If the customer may need to ring you back, they’ll need your full name. Also give out IDs and extension numbers.

3. Promise to do something quickly. Time is of the essence for us all. A rapid response proves that you are serious about your promises and provides the highest level of customer satisfaction and retention.

4. Ask the customer what it would take to meet their needs or requests. Based on that, explain what you are going to do.

5. Ask if you don’t understand anything and if there is anything that the customer doesn’t understand. You could even say, “If I do so and so, will that meet your needs?” Then do it. Words like “but” or “however” should not be part of an operator’s vocabulary. “I’m taking personal responsibility for this” should be.

6. Ensure that your call centers and branches or departments actually talk to each other so that an operator can do what he or she promises. There is nothing worse than a branch or department referring a customer to a call center which either isn’t aware of how to deal with the problem or, worse, doesn’t care. It will be the fastest way for your customers to label your call centers inefficient.

As one expert says, you can make call centers perform anywhere if you have the right processes and good management in place. Indeed, “I have seen this situation from both sides, as a customer and once as a call center worker,” one customer told me. “My personal view is that companies simply don’t spend enough money on keeping customers happy once they have them, and far too much money on trying to get them in the first place.”

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Avaya Aura® Platform—The Original Pragmatic Hybrid Cloud

In a recent InfoWorld post David Linthicum wrote of “an organic movement driven by rank-and-file enterprise IT people who simply want to solve their issues using the best technology and approach.” Linthicum called this the “pragmatic hybrid cloud.” Reading this from the perspective of someone with decades of experience in the enterprise communications market, my immediate reactions was, “Aha, he’s talking about the Avaya Aura® Platform.” He isn’t, but here I’ll explain why this thought struck me.

Linthicum writes, “What this movement has discovered is that you can combine the public cloud and modernize some of your legacy systems to be more cloudlike.” That is exactly what Avaya customers have been achieving in an evolutionary process spanning almost two decades. Long before the term cloud came into vogue, Avaya customers have been able to gain the benefits of the cloud paradigm while avoiding the need to comprehensively lift workloads to a public cloud provider and the need to wholesale forklift and abandon existing investments.

Today, many Avaya customers—including a large swath of the globe’s most notable organizations in industries ranging from financial services, to healthcare, to government, and many small and medium businesses—process their mission-critical workloads using a combination of premise-based solutions and both public and private cloud-served applications. It is a “pragmatic hybrid” approach that since the mid-2000s has provided these Avaya customers with unparalleled reliability, cost savings, and business agility.

The Avaya Aura Platform is the reason why. Avaya Aura had its genesis in a time tested methodology for allowing geographically distributed organizations to link islands of resources to gain economies of scale. Back in the day, to create either a contact center that followed the sun or a single enterprise communications solution that served the needs of a worldwide workface, expensive dedicated circuits were required. As IP Telephony evolved, companies began to use packet-switched technologies to more cost-effectively link together distant resources into single holistic systems. Rather than centralized in isolated locations, communications applications could now be seamlessly and cost-effectively shared across distances. This made new ways to organize communication assets and the work that depended upon those resources possible.

Avaya’s great insight was to take advantage of the session initiation protocol (SIP). Over time Avaya’s customers have “pragmatically” converted the networking connections of their existing standalone investments to create fabrics of SIP internetworked appliances. The Avaya Aura® Session Manager lets companies treat their owned assets as part of a private cloud and combine those resources with public cloud capabilities both from Avaya and from a growing ecosystem of additional providers. It is a strategy that has resulted in significant cost savings while unleashing new innovation.

Today the Avaya Aura Platform has moved far beyond simply a “pragmatic hybrid” for sharing resources. It has become a strategic tool for many organizations. It gives companies a flexibility and agility to adapt and reconfigure at the speed of business. Avaya Aura has also opened the doors to both internal Avaya inventions and new external development.

Avaya Breeze™ Platform is but the latest application development platform that takes advantage of Avaya Aura. Avaya, Avaya’s customers, and an industry of third-party companies are leveraging Breeze with their own creativity for solving business problems. Breeze allows the creation of unique ways to leverage the inherent capabilities of Avaya products in combination with cloud and third-party capabilities. Whether those assets reside in a private data center, on premises-based servers, or in public clouds, because of the Avaya Aura Platform, the only barriers to progress are the limits of human ingenuity.

Linthicum concluded that, the “pragmatic approach is very sensible. It makes the most of what you have, reducing the need for new resources and letting you transition to the cloud at a pace you can handle, both in terms of cost and time.” Your Path, Your Pace, Your Choice, where have I heard that before? Avaya circa 2004 maybe? Nice to see the industry finally following Avaya’s lead.

 

Zang Serves Up a Special Delivery for Your Mom this Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is the one day in the U.S. when the most phone calls are made. According to this cool Mother’s Day Facts site, 122 million calls are made to mothers on Mother’s Day in the United States alone. Considering there are only 85 million mothers in the U.S., Mom must be pretty busy taking calls from her multiple children, and Dad must be busy making reservations at the favorite family restaurant (Mother’s Day remains the top holiday for dining out).

To help make sure Mom gets that special call on Mother’s Day, Zang today announced a Zang-built service for those who 1) are multiple time zones away from mom (ie: military, working or studying abroad), 2) just want to send another thoughtful gift to Mom to let her know she’s loved, or 3) frankly, for those who have a track record for forgetting (you know who you are). With the Zang Forget Me Not service, anyone can record a voicemail for their mom before Mother’s Day, designate the date & time the voicemail should be sent, then receive a text confirming the voicemail was delivered. The new service was created using  cloud-based Zang Comms platform as a service, which allows anyone to create communication applications and services just like Forget Me Not.

How does it work, you ask? Simple. First go to www.zang.io/callmom and complete four short steps:

1)  Enter your telephone phone number
2)  Enter recipient’s telephone number
3)  Pick the time you would like the recording to be delivered
4)  Zang Forget Me Not service will then call your phone number for you to record, review and approve your message for delivery.

 

Go ahead—give it a try! It’s just one more surprise you can give Mom this Mother’s Day.

Next time you visit Dubai, take a public transport

With happiness being a key focus in Dubai, government agencies are looking towards contributing to the goal of raising the quality of life of customers and ensuring public happiness. These agencies are quickly realizing that the key to delivering a better and more personalized experience is technology. Using the latest services and solutions paves the way to guaranteed customer retention and loyalty.

One of the leading organizations in the area of customer care, winning multiple awards for its contact centre operations including a Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart Government Award, is the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA).

The RTA has a wide remit including Dubai’s Metro, public buses, private road vehicle registration, traffic management and more, so it has a diverse customer base negotiating Dubai’s busy transport system, with a volume of customer enquiries to match. It therefore comes as no surprise that the RTA is investing in multiple channels of communications with its customers, to improve standards of service, increase efficiency and gain valuable feedback from its user. It is also looking to technology to help improve the quality of interactions with clients and to improve overall levels of customer satisfaction and engagement. It has utilized a number of different solutions to increase its outreach to customers, and over time the focus of these efforts has evolved, to include voice communications, smart apps and multi-channel engagement.

From projects and operational perspective, RTA has a big focus on alternative smart channels. It offers 173 smart services under nine apps, that can help customers complete their transactions with a click of the finger through the automation of the main services the authority provides. It is dedicated to opening up more channels of communication, with an omni-channel strategy, that includes delivering services through channels such as self-service kiosks. At present the RTA has deployed around 16 kiosks, which offer smart services to users in RTA service centres, and in future it plans to have around 100 kiosks all over the city. The Authority has a well-established customer care line, which handles enquiries across the range of its activities, running on Avaya contact centre solutions. In 2015, the centre handled over 2.5 million calls, with over 80% of calls responded to in 20 seconds, and 90% of issues resolved in one call.

To make this possible, last year the contact centre underwent a major technology refresh, to put in place the latest generation of solutions. With Avaya Aura, RTA is now using the most recent software to increase the efficiency of the contact centre. With the aim to deliver the best possible interaction experience to transport customers, Avaya aligned with RTA’s Customer Resource Management strategy to consolidate channels and mediums into RTA’s first, best-in-class contact center to host multi-channel interactions. Among the capabilities that the new technology has enabled is an advanced Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which has helped to improve operations by automatically handling some of the more common customer enquiries. On New Year’s Eve the centre received some 12,000 calls, with the IVR handling one third of all enquiries.

The RTA is a pioneering example of how technology can make the difference in delivering quality to customers through the creation of a seamless and hassle free experience. As we share the RTA’s vision in excelling in customer experiences to achieve happiness, my advice to you is that, next time you visit Dubai, remember to take a  public transport.