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Call Centers Suck Why So Many Call Centers Suck

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Can I speak to someone who can actually help me?

Every year or so, I call my local cable company and try to negotiate a better rate. It’s part of the strategy my father calls "If you don’t ask, you don’t get." Wise words.

But I dread it every time, because after suffering through a string of IVR messages about my balance, or last payment amount or some other crap that I have absolutely no interest in, I find myself in contention with everyone I talk to on the other end of the phone: the first unlucky soul who I want desperately to bypass altogether, then the guy she routes me to, whose job it is to convince me to take a lesser deal than I want, and the "retention specialist", whose job it is to placate me so I won’t jump ship.

I’m persistent—more persistent than many people, I think. I keep repeating my mantra over and over: "I’m thinking about switching to your competitor, because they are offering me a better deal. Can you beat it?" Usually, after about 45 minutes on the phone, they come close. But by the end of the conversation, I’m even less happy than when I started—not what the company wants when they think they are satisfying or retaining a customer.

What this company call center desperately needs—and many others too, I believe—is to rid the IVR insanity and employ the concept of the "Expert Agent".

Research shows that for most call centers the IVR messaging forced on all customers resolves less than 10% of caller inquiries. It therefore seems call center managers are pleased to annoy over 90% of their customers by wasting their time with irrelevant recorded messages and prompts. These are the call center managers that immaturely and arrogantly view Customer Relationship Management (CRM) from the company's perspective, and not the customers.

The solution here is simple. First, recognize CRM is about customer relationships - that is, building them, not destroying them by wasting their customers' valuable time with a senseless maze of irrelevant nonsense. Second, recognize that actually talking to customers isn't such a bad thing. Yea, it costs a few dollars, but making the investment will pay dividends in customer experience, satisfaction, up-sell, cross-sell and retention. My father also reminds me periodically not to be penny wise and pound foolish. Some sage advice for call center leaders.

The second idea is to quickly escalate a call to the right expert, avoiding long, unproductive encounters that can make customers bitter.

The way contact centers have traditionally handled escalation just won’t cut it. Manuals and knowledge bases quickly become outdated, and ticket escalation systems often don’t work. What’s more, "experts" often consider handling these annoying calls as an interruption and sometimes ignore them.

Blair Pleasant, president of consultancy COMMfusion, has been talking about this concept since 1998, and it still elicits a strong response from her.

"Let’s say you call into the contact center and you tell them your problem, and they say they need to talk to someone else to get the information. Let me put you on hold or call you back. That may or may not happen," she says. "What they need is a system where the agent can look at a list of subject matter experts, see their presence status and shoot them over an instant message. Either that expert will send them back an IM with the information or be brought into the conversation."

The result is that customers don’t suffer frustration, long waits and disconnections, and companies respond to customers quickly and effectively. Ultimately, that will increase contact resolution and customer satisfaction.

There are actual vendors out there selling this stuff, such as CRM and contact center software that includes ask-the-expert capability using instant messaging, multi-channel engagement and presence technology. It's not rocket science. However, contact center technology only works if there's a legitimate CRM strategy, that considers the customers perspective, and a genuine culture that wants to help, engage and retain customers. End

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Contact center technology only works if there's a legitimate CRM strategy, that considers the customers perspective, and a genuine culture that wants to help, engage and retain customers.

 

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