Call Center Agents
A call center agent is the person who handles incoming or outgoing customer calls for a business such as account inquiries, customer complaints or support issues.
The reasons why you can’t afford the contact center of tomorrow may not be for the reasons you think. It used to be that anyone who could type and was nice, was perfect to sit in a call center seat. Well, it’s not 1980 anymore and we have contact centers now. The archaic mindset of thinking that these are very simple jobs and therefore do not warrant higher education or provide a greater wage than the minimum is just not the case anymore. If you say it aloud it doesn’t even make sense, “I want to hire a multi-tasking problem solver, who is also empathetic, talented, and committed but I only want to pay them $10/hour.” See? Crazy. The contact centers jobs have become more and more complex with each passing year but the mindset hasn’t changed. Continue reading “Why you can’t afford the contact center of tomorrow.” »
Have you ever been disappointed going to a restaurant based on a friend’s recommendation but the great food and service they raved about, and you expected, was just the opposite? I don’t know what’s worse, having the bad experience or lying to your friend so their feelings are not hurt.
Unfortunately, the same disappointment happens in contact centers too – customer experience inconsistency is the bane of our existence! In a perfect world the customers call in, reach a knowledgeable agent, and have their issue resolved promptly and professionally. Done. But, there is no worry in that. It’s the not-so-perfect world that we fear – the customers who have the opposite, disappointing and unexpected experience. Continue reading “How to safeguard against customer experience inconsistencies in your call center” »
This story makes me really sad. You know, I love a good public relations story just like everyone else. And when you hear many of the (genuine) customer service stories coming out of companies like Zappos you understand how they have built an enviable reputation in the marketplace for generating high customer loyalty. I appreciate what they have been able to do and I hope that people don’t try to take advantage of them and companies like them. Continue reading “Send all of your Crazy Customers to Zappos Contact Center” »
I was asking myself these questions as I read about Target Corporation opening stores on Thanksgiving evening instead of Friday morning. Then, I started to think about my years in the contact center industry (and one contact center I worked in) and how over the past few decades the hours of operation have continued to increase. First it was a longer work day, then it was a half-day on Saturday, then it was all-day Saturday, and half-day on Sunday, and finally 7 days a week. Continue reading “Do contact centers hate families or LOVE Black Friday more?” »
If you could create the perfect call center manager, what would he or she look like? Specifically, what traits or management styles would s/he have? What attitudes or knowledge would s/he bring to the table? While you find some of your perfect traits during the interview process, it is difficult to find all of the attributes of a winning call center manager in one single candidate. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take the best of all the call center managers we’ve seen over the years and build the perfect prototype? Continue reading “Crafting the perfect Call Center Manager.” »
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I competed in my very first body-building competition. Between stage appearances, eating hourly meals and making sure my Oompa Loompa-like tan was intact, the customer-service lessons were hard to miss.
1. Forget agent to supervisor ratios. You need expediters. If you’ve never been backstage at a body-building competition, imagine a large room filled with free-weights, (tan) spraying tents, and fans leading to numerous dressing rooms—all connected by a fine mist of spray tan, Pam oil, hairspray and spray glue, amidst the chaos of dozens of competitors pumping up in preparation for their time on stage. Part of the chaos was likely due to the fact that this was my first show. Some competitors had the process down to a science. I think I even caught one competitor on a yoga mat catching a few moments of Zen. But the clear breaks in the chaos were the expediters, like bright beacons of knowledge and organization. The sole purpose of the expediters was to keep the competitors on track with the flow of the competition, make sure they were in the staging area when needed, and on stage when scheduled. And while there were only three of them (compared to over 90 competitors, plus coaches, trainers and helpers backstage), they seemed to be everywhere and have the answers to every question. If you can’t describe your call center supervisors the same way, you need to re-examine your supervisor selection and training process.
2. It’s all about relationships. When you think about any competition that involves any degree of primping, you probably think you need to keep your finger on the record button of your flipcam so you don’t miss the impending cat fight. Instead, what you would have found were male competitors spotting each other in the pump-up room, women helping each other with make-up and glue, and competitors joking with the MC while on stage. If, as a manager, you can’t recall the last time you genuinely laughed with an agent or left working thinking, “We accomplished a lot today, but we had fun doing it!” your call center is at severe risk for agent burn-out. Continue reading “Six Lessons body-building can teach you about customer experiences.” »
Guidelines and talking points sound different to customers than do call-controlling scripts. A call center agent who sounds like an advocate or advisor because they naturally converse (what they are told to say), deliver a better customer experience. With your effort to help agents connect with the caller or to control the content of the call, your scripts easily become a cause of poor customer experiences.
You know that being a call center agent is extremely difficult. Were you aware that multitasking is close to impossible for human beings to do? Did you know that with each additional task added to the basic task of listening, efficiency and effectiveness degrade? Add the need to say specific things during the call to the list of tasks that have already decimated the ability to perform and what do you get? Well, you get call center agents who sound like idiots (and robots) because they resort to reading the script and not one who is thinking about what the caller is saying. As far as your customers are concerned, you have engineered intelligence, common sense, and human emotion right out the door.
Your customer experience and/or speech analytics can help to identify agents who are desensitized due to over scripting. If you are only doing traditional quality monitoring then you are not actually listening what your customers are saying. Here are some examples of what you could hear: Continue reading “Do your call scripts make call center agents better or dumb?” »
I recently had a small issue with Verizon that I wasn’t able to resolve on the web site. Not a big deal. But when clicked on ‘Contact Us’ and then ‘By Phone’, instead of giving me the phone number, I was met with a pop-up window that said: “We’re sorry…we are not able to process your request.” Great, if you are going to hide the number you need to cough it up when we follow the clicking path to get it! Is this a new call avoidance tactic that I missed? Now my small problem is bigger. Understandably miffed, I relayed this story to a co-worker who had just called Verizon a week prior and had a completely different experience. She said she got right through to a knowledgeable call center agent and after the billing issues were resolved was transferred to another live agent in service to get the phone line checked. She even said how surprised she was that a company so big had such good customer service, while I on the other hand, couldn’t even locate a number to call. Do you worry about the consistency of the customer service experience? Are you protecting your brand by having a uniform calibration process and parameters for evaluating service?
While collecting scores and customer comments for analysis as part of our External Quality Monitoring (EQM) managed services we uncover significantly more than ratings about contact center agents. See what I mean:
“I tried calling your service number and each time it rang once and disconnected me. Talk about poor customer satisfaction.”
“I usually get right to a contact center agent whenever I have service issues but this time when I called I was on hold for 30 minutes. I got so frustrated I finally hung up. What gives?”
“Every time I order from your company my package is delivered quickly but this time it took almost a month and it was damaged. I don’t know what’s going on with your customer service.”
“Last week I was told by Kevin that I would get a form in the mail to request my refund. I didn’t get the form so I called today and was told by Susanne that I am not eligible for a refund and she’s not sure why Kevin told me that I was.”
How many of you remember getting a gold star from your teacher for good work or good behavior? I remember thinking that the tiny little symbol filled me with a sense of pride for a job well done. What we find over and over again in our External Quality Monitoring programs is that call center agents want to feel empowered and they thrive on performance recognition. Just like those gold stars from our younger years, when call center agents are held accountable for resolving customer complaints quickly and efficiently, and they are provided the tools to improve their performance, it’s not hard to see the link between satisfied agents and quality customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Continue reading “Call center agent empowerment leads to customer satisfaction and customer retention.” »
I recently ordered two wall hangings for my child’s room and they showed up damaged. I was undecided about the picture situation, but since I bought them so cheaply on clearance ($5!) I decided against the hassle to return them. The store’s customer service rep told me I would have to the store in person, bring a driver’s license and I couldn’t get my money back, only store credit. So I tossed my damaged pictures in the trash because ultimately I felt my time was more valuable in the end. This experience will not affect future purchases from this store. They had a return policy which they were enforcing which I was aware of (albeit in the fine print on their web site). I chose to forgo the policy. It had little to do with how I was treated on the phone by their customer service agent, she was perfectly nice. My decision had more to do with how I valued the purchase and what I was willing to go through to make it right. Does your company weigh the risk versus reward for your return policy and analyze how the good will extended beyond the policy ultimately affects the bottom line, including the customer experience and satisfaction?
“I had to fill out four forms, come down to your store twice and spent countless hours on the phone with your contact center agents to get my damaged TV replaced. You’re practically doing everything you can to avoid returns and that does not feel right to me.”
“To my surprise you took back my kitchen appliance with zero hassle. It was my fault the lid broke but you took it back without any issue – talk about customer satisfaction. You have me for life!”
“I was so upset when my bookcase arrived with a huge scratch down the side. It took a bit of complaining to your call center agents (and their supervisors) but I got a full refund.”
We’re taught from a young age to ‘love thy neighbor’, to be a conscientious citizen, to do the right thing. But often what we find is that some call centers aren’t equipped to deal with help from customers. They have a very strong culture overly focused on cost reduction (speed) and have processes to follow, and if there is no process for your request…they’re lost.
For instance, I recently received a call from a colleague who had phoned his local electric company about a severed wire he saw dangling over his neighbor’s house. He said he called for three days in a row to try and get someone from the electric company to come out to deal with the wire. The agents told him, they were clueless as to what to do or who to transfer him to since the problem wasn’t specific to his property. Did he have an account or claim number? No. Was the electric out in his own house? No. But the message he received was very clear; agents are doing what they are told to do and when a concerned neighbor or customer calls in with something out of the ordinary that is beyond their regular scripts and call topics, they freeze.
Aren’t we all focused on enhancing the customer experience using our web sites to handle common customer service issues and questions to help reduce call center costs (headcount, resources, etc.)? What I find to be a bit of sad irony is that while time and energy is being spent to beef up web site content, few people within the company have the slightest clue as to what is on their web site. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself.
I recently called a company about a service issue and the call center agent promptly let me know that my issue could be solved by going to the web site. I say, “thank you for letting me know that. I did try to serve myself and couldn’t figure it out. What exactly do I need to click on to get the information?”….radio silence. The agent had no idea. So, we both think this should be possible but neither of us knows how to do it. The shame is that I am not the only one having this customer experience problem.
We’re told all the time to ‘think outside the box’. In school it meant looking at a passage in a book to see the symbolism; that the words were more than mere words. In the call center it means something as simple as creatively solving a customer’s problems.
I recently tried to book a summer vacation house and after tireless research and dead-ends I called the Board of Tourism. There I spoke with a lovely woman that gave me countless phone numbers to try, web sites to further my research and even offered to call some of her contacts in the area to see if they could assist me. I was blown away at her resourcefulness and willingness to help. She called me back the very next day with vacation packages and pricing as well as the personal phone numbers of her contacts. Too often agents lose that can-do, problem solving spirit.
Here are some recent customer comments from External Quality Monitoring programs:
A few weeks ago I had a mishap with an electronic billpay that brought together – and then set apart -three financial institutions. Admittedly, I made a mistake in creating the electronic payment request. My local bank generated a physical check rather than transferring the funds via ACH (Automated Clearing House), and sent it on to institution #2 to process for financial institution #3 located in the United Kingdom. This error took hours of my time over a number of weeks to resolve. When it was finally over, I wanted to blast one financial institution on every social media platform I could find, wrote a thank-you letter to another and felt as indifferent about the third institution as they felt about me.
My local bank, First National Bank of Omaha took an electronic request for the transfer of funds and executed it via paper and then sent it via pony express (kidding, it was US mail), losing the tracking capabilities possible with an ACH. But the moment I called their customer service department, I had their attention and their commitment of assistance. My agent, Tania, conferenced me into First National Bank’s billpay department, inquired about next steps and stayed on the phone with me for over two hours as we made our way through the phone-tree-from-hell and more transfers than I could count at GIANT BANK (not their real name). My local financial institution received a thank-you letter, along with my business for as long as I remain a resident in their coverage area. Continue reading “You vs. your competition, head-to-head, how’d you do?” »
For all the bad customer service that we see, feel (and sometimes even deliver), there are companies that consistently delight their customers. Do you also wonder, ‘if they can do it, why do we struggle to achieve that level of service? Why is it so hard to duplicate a successful customer service model?’ Continue reading “If good customer service is so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?” »