Encouraging Customers in the Call Center: To Know Them Is to Love Them


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ATLANTA—Most people will do just about anything to avoid calling into a contact center, but if they have to, how do you serve them so that you create customer loyalty?

That question was asked by Lisa Ford, a customer service expert and contact center trainer, who gave the keynote speech at this year’s ICMI CallCenter Demo & Conference, speaking about delivering everyday excellence.

Ford cited research from Ovum that said that 74 percent of customers use three or more channels for support interaction. “Most everyone is searching online first before they bother to pick up the phone,” Ford said.

Additional research from Harris Interactive found that more than half of customers would likely switch to another company if it provided them with more options with connecting with the company, and that for those 45 and younger, that number was more than 75 percent, according to Ford. Customers don’t want to sit through menus, complicated IVR systems, the possibility of being on hold too long, transferred, or disconnected, or having to repeat themselves.

“Customers are anxious to do anything but talk to us [the contact center],” she said. “Our culture and our strategy must be looked at, because when that call finally does come in, especially voice to voice, the stakes are high, because now the customer expects better treatment. In [customers’] minds, they are already escalating because they have…tried everything that they know to do to avoid the contact center.”

When it reaches that point, Ford said it’s up the contact center to make sure that the customer sticks with the company. “You may have a great product, but [contact centers are] the keepers of customer loyalty,” Ford said. “We think that we can just declare ourselves as being faithful to the customer and that everything will just magically fall into place, but how do we pull off providing incredible strategies around culture, training, and leadership?”

Ford said that for contact centers, knowledge may be present, but executing that knowledge is another thing. She asked the audience how many people know about diet and exercise and many raised their hands. Ford then asked how many people actually put that into practice. Customer service, she said, is the same.

“The knowing and the doing sometimes don’t match,” Ford said. “Do our actions match our attitudes; does it match the execution? Too often we are processing a customer and not serving them. Serving to me is when people finish with us regardless of channel. Are we processing transactions or are we creating relationships, deep relationships that create loyal customers?”

To create these relationships, it’s vital to understand what customers want, which comes down to reducing the amount of effort that they have to put into what’s required to resolve an issue. Often that means anticipating the customers’ needs and issues before customers bring them up.

“At this point, I’ve got to anticipate what that next question might be so that I respond and answer it so we don’t get a follow-up call, a second call,” she said. “Is it really clear? Have things been mapped out to solve their problem?”

Customers also crave a relationship and an experience with the companies they do business with. Ford used the example of Starbucks, and how the company took a low commodity item and transformed that commodity product into an experience. For example, Starbucks has a vice president of waiting-in-line experience. When lines get too long, often an employee wearing a headset will take drink orders from people standing in line. “They are constantly saying what’s new, what’s next,” she said. They have taken a store and made it into a drive-through.”

Another key piece to the customer service puzzle is showing customers that you know them and show them how valuable they are to your organization, Ford said. Whether it’s by email, live chat, or the contact center, a company needs to have some idea of what customers have been through now that you have them at this channel.

“You’ve got great information at your fingertips,” Ford said. “The hard part that many of you are dealing with right now is narrowing all the channels and data so you know what your customers have been through before they get to the next channel.

“You can say something like ‘I see you’ve been our customer for seventeen years, thank you.’  As simple as that is the customer will love it, will appreciate that acknowledgement, that recognition.”