A different strategy

The future of the contact centre is about asking questions.

Read time 4min 20sec

It's time to make radical rather than incremental changes to one's approach to customer service, particularly as expressed through the contact centre. Not just because organisations are realising that customer satisfaction is the only differentiator left, but because the old way just doesn't work anymore. Everything about customer service, from the customer him or herself, to customer servicing technology, has changed.

Most contact centres have evolved organically, because very few shifts in the industry have been true step-changes. When they appeared, new technologies and methodologies - such as fax, e-mail, or voice recognition - could be bolted on. They did not fundamentally change behaviour in the contact centre, in the branch, or on the shop floor. And they did not change customer behaviour.

Now, however, because customers are mobile and have social media through which to share opinions and ideas about organisations, they have a new sense of power and independence.

They're technologically savvy. So, they're demanding contact in ways for which most organisations are not yet prepared.

Also, customers have access to unprecedented amounts of information. When they do make contact, they're asking much more complex questions. Having embraced self-service for resolving their routine queries, the customers are expecting the contact centre agent, the branch employee, and the shop assistant to go far beyond the customer satisfaction responsibility for which organisations are training or paying them.

In essence, the market has moved into a league where most companies' existing customer service strategies, let alone their customer service capabilities, cannot follow.

The only responsible way forward is to stop and reassess. Ask questions.

Who is talking? How are they talking - or wanting to talk - to the company? What are they talking about? What is the company's current customer service landscape? Does the company have the tools to enable the conversations the customer wants to have?

Is data the answer?

Answering the questions gives the organisation data. The next logical question, therefore, is: "Who in the organisation needs the data being gathered and analysed, and how can they get it to the right person at a time that is optimal for that person to influence the customer?"

Very few organisations are asking this question because, bizarre as it seems, they have not acknowledged how utterly dependent they are on frontline staff for positive customer relationships. The Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report 2012 shows that 20% of companies are not giving their customer-facing people access to customer details or customer purchase histories. And, in contact centres, agents have to jump between multiple screens in order to get anything like a sensible grip on the customer's most basic information.

Yet, organisations are still judging their agents on first-call resolution rates and call handling time. In effect, what they're paying agents for is to do an ineffective job and annoy the customer - and taking comfort from the fact that they're doing it in the shortest possible time!

More questions

Imagine a company that isn't quite that confused and is giving its agents the best and most comprehensive customer data. Are they trained to use it effectively? Does the company need to spend more on their training? Or, does it need to recruit a different type of person? One that is capable of answering complex questions, enjoys using his/her initiative, and actually welcomes the responsibility of building customer loyalty.

Customers have access to unprecedented amounts of information.

If so, is the company prepared to pay this person according to his value to the company, and honour his likely ambitions to make a career for himself? Is the company prepared to adjust its HR strategy to make all this happen? Because it does seem, surprisingly, that HR has a direct role to play in customer satisfaction.

Here's the big picture of tomorrow's customer-satisfying contact centre. It's backed by data analytics packaged and delivered, through systems integration, in the most appropriate way for every agent - and, indeed, every customer-facing employee - to use it on the fly to satisfy the customer. The contact centre is operated by a different order of superbly trained agent, who has the ability to eventually take a place on the company's management committee or board, ensuring the organisation's sustainability. The company's contact centre technology is agile, enabling it to onboard any new media or communication technologies when it makes sense to do so.

Most of all, however, the contact centre is simply an extension of an organisation-wide strategy that ensures that everything the company does and everyone inside the company who does it, is focused exclusively on delighting the customer.

Which means the board must take the same responsibility it expects of contact centre agents.

Sandra Galer

strategic consultant for call centres and customer service at Merchants.

Sandra Galer is one of Merchants’ strategic consultants. Starting as a call centre agent, Galer has since held a wide range of operational roles, including setting up and running contact centres for international clients around the globe. With over 20 years’ experience in the contact centre environment, Galer is able to bring best practice and a common methodology to Merchants’ operations. In the role of strategic consultant, Galer brings her practical operational experience to the fore and applies it to clients to set up and enhance their customer service requirements. Tenure with Merchants: 20 years Years of customer management experience: 24 years

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