The Death of the Call Center?

We all have a call center horror story in our repertoire. Maybe you've been put on hold for hours, bounced around between dozens of experts, or were forced to hang up with no real resolution. Whatever form your call center nightmare takes, chances are it impacted your overall opinion of the company you were trying to reach.

So it's time we put ourselves in our customers' shoes and put an end to call center horror stories once and for all. Call centers are one of the most expensive lines of business in any organization, which means it's time for companies to view the call center not as a cost center, but rather a leading indicator of what drives long-term customer loyalty. Ensuring your call center operates smoothly and provides great customer experiences is no easy task, but it's well worth the effort, as it can save your company money, build customer loyalty, and reduce churn.

It's time to adopt an integrated call center approach. Here's everything you need to know:

Call Centers Aren't Just for Taking Calls

This might seem counterintuitive. After all, it is called a call center. But just because the name is outdated, doesn't mean the service should be. The way we communicate with customers is rapidly evolving. Feedback and support requests come from numerous channels, including social networks, website forums, emails and beyond. According to VB Insights, there were more than 879 million complaints on social media directed at companies last year.

But 60 percent of call centers have no capacity for social media, which means requests coming in on channels like Facebook or Twitter are left unattended or handled by another department, like marketing. With such a high volume of customer questions coming in from these channels, the call center can't afford to just take calls anymore. It's time to take on an integrated approach in which the call center is responsible for taking requests from any channel. That way customers can get the help they need in whatever way is most convenient for them. And your marketing department won't have to worry about responding to concerns or complaints they aren't trained to handle. Let your call center experts do the heavy lifting so your marketing department can focus on what they do best — marketing.

What's more, integrating social customer service into your call center could ultimately save money. According to HBR, responding to a customer on social media costs less than $1 per interaction, whereas telephone support is typically at least $6 per call. If your company offers quick and accurate customer support on social, you'll be able to keep customers from making those costly phone calls.

Go Beyond the Band-Aid Fix

First and foremost, your call center experts must be empowered to resolve each customer's complaints. But fixing one problem at a time isn't enough. If one customer is experiencing a glitch with your product, it's likely the same issue will arise for other customers in short order.

When your call center handles phone calls, social feedback, emails, and beyond, agents have access to a wealth of data. It's important that you have a system in place for collecting and analyzing this data so that you can fix problems before they grow out of control. Identifying spikes in trends allows you to resolve problems for everybody all at once, quickly. For example, if a few customers are tweeting at an airline that they're having issues with the online booking process when applying loyalty points, your call center can flag the problem for your online team, who can then fix the issue and resolve it before it spreads to thousands of other customers.

Keep Your Call Center Connected

Similarly, it's important that your call center is in constant communication with the rest of your company. Research shows that 52 percent of call centers don't share customer intelligence with other departments within their company. That means valuable customer feedback data is going to waste, when it could be used to inform product updates, marketing positioning, future strategy, and beyond.

Ensure call center professionals are empowered to direct pertinent customer feedback and trends to corresponding departments. For example, all feedback on billing should be shared with the billing department, even if immediate action isn't required. Doing so allows each department to see how it is impacting the customer experience, what it's doing well, and how it can improve down the road.

As customer experience consulting firm Smith + Co said in a recent eBook, "the role of the call center should be elevated to become part of the brand promise. The call center is a fundamental component of the business strategy, and its teams should be empowered with the true, omnichannel voice of the customer." Ultimately, an integrated call center means better customer experiences and a more cost-efficient system.

Susan Ganeshan is chief marketing officer at Clarabridge.