Seven Important Contact Center Principles

After 30 years of consulting with contact centers, I thought I would share a number of learnings that would be helpful for you to think about when deciding to make changes to improve the customer experiences you provide. Here are seven of them:

1. Keep it Simple.

A few years ago, I heard Sally McMahon, vice president of channel management at SiriusXM, speak at a conference on customer experience. As a veteran contact center executive, Sally knows that keeping it simple still works, even in this environment of multichannel communication. Her staff actually named her passion, "Keep it Sally." If a customer had a problem that was not resolved, Sirius had a button on its website that said, "Unresolved." It wasn't frequently used, but it made it easy for the customer to get immediate attention and allowed Sirius to assign a higher priority to its resolution team. Making it easy and effortless to resolve issues that weren't fixed during the first inquiry should be important foundations of any service delivery.

2. Don't Make Customers Go Through Hoops to Speak to a Live Agent.

Before the era of self-service, customers would frequently need to listen to four or five menu options to reach a live operator. That was frustrating, but it was a reasonable use of technology and call distribution. It made sense to try and route customers to the right department to handle their specific issues. It's like journeying through a haunted house with no doors. Why? I don't understand. If customers are taking the time to call a company, there is a reason. They cannot find answers to their questions themselves. Making it impossible to reach a human to get help, and that's often how it feels, is leaving the customer vulnerable to your competition. If the customer is a prospect, and all customers potentially are, making anything difficult doesn't make sense. It's as if a company had a sign hanging in a brick-and -mortar store that read, "We are closed, even when we are open." That's what a customer feels when he can't reach a live agent.

3. Customers Are Fickle.

Customers are less and less loyal and quick to change brands if not satisfied. Accenture Consulting named this the Switching Economy. Customers have more options than ever. This, coupled with a customer's propensity to change from one company to another, sets up a dangerous platform where customers can jump. Loyalty is strongest when it's created and built between two people. If companies can figure out how to generate loyalty person-to-person, either by phone, text, or a face-to-face encounter, the chances of consumers remaining with them will increase.

4. Respond in the Customer's Channel of Choice.

When consumers post a question or a complaint on a company's social media site, it is no longer acceptable to ask her to call your company instead of responding to her right then and there. Consumers expect a response in the same channel where the question was posted. If your company has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you are automatically inviting consumers to interact with you on those channels. Companies truly need to respond; that's the definition of interaction.

5. Personalize the Encounter.

Consumers want to feel that their business is appreciated, and they desire a customized experience. An interesting note is that the demographic with the highest percentage of people willing to pay more for better customer service is the millennial cohort. That information is golden and should be both an opportunity and wake-up call for anyone who thinks the desire for personalized service has disappeared in our technological age. In the retail space, even millennials say their best and most lasting memories of happen in physical stores, not online. That's no surprise to me.

6. Know the Customer's Loyalty History.

Use technology to your advantage. It is critical to know if a customer is new to your company or has a long history with your company. Coupling automation with a human connection provides your front-line associates with the tools to target their loyalty messages. First-time purchasers should feel especially welcomed and loyal consumers appreciated. No one likes to have his business taken for granted. Multichannel communication makes this task more challenging, making it even more important to figure out how to do it right.

7. Demonstrate the Value of the Contact Center.

Some changes are simple: Hire people who innately understand the importance of smiling and how to actively listen and respond to customers to build and create relationships. This process should be part of any standard training. There are, however, customer experience enhancements that require large funding. Numbers will do the selling for you.

Creating and delivering an exceptional customer experience demands time and attention. There is no silver bullet. Multichannel communications make multi challenges. Get started today. Think of ways to incorporate the ideas above into your customer experience strategy.

Richard Shapiro is founder and president of The Center for Client Retention.

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Posted May 10, 2019