Your Secret Weapon for Digital Success: Your Call Center

Companies seeking to launch new digital products or improve the effectiveness of their existing digital channels often overlook a massive resource at their disposal: their call centers.

Our company spends a lot of time in call centers to get clarity on how to improve the online experience. Here are three key reasons why this is a meaningful exercise:

Customer Insight

An important ingredient that's missing in most unsuccessful digital strategies is effective customer insight. The people who work in your call center talk to your customers all day. It's a treasure trove of customer experts.

Furthermore, if you want to know who, out of a sea of call center cubicles, truly understands your customers, take a look at your call center statistics. The reps with the best sales and customer stats have things figured out. It's fine to ask the senior vice president of marketing about the customer, but if you want the real story, talk to agents in the call center.

Second Line of Defense

Customers and prospects often contact the call center because the digital experience has failed. Properly captured, this data can be an invaluable way to identify barriers to conversion that might not be visible from other means of research.

Fast Feedback

Digital improvements are generally implemented via a "test and learn" approach. Once a hypothesis for an improvement is identified, you want to find the fastest and cheapest method to get initial feedback on customer reaction.

Now that you have the reasons behind gathering call center data, here are three specific tactics for using the call center to get these types of benefits:

A Day in the Life

Have members of your digital team spend a day or two at the call center, interviewing reps and listening in on calls. Our preferred model is to pair digital designers and strategists with agents for blocks of about two hours at a time, and then have them rotate to other stations. During that time, agents take calls as they normally would, and the member of the digital team jacks in, listening to each call on a second, silent headset. After each call, the agent takes herself out of the response queue to answer questions from the embedded member of the digital team.

If your digital project focuses on only certain aspects of the experiences, like billing problems, you can usually have the call center route calls matching that description to that agent during that time. That way, the observer is hearing calls that have a high likelihood of being relevant to the project.

However, listening to customers for a day or two about a range of issues can be enlightening to team members in ways that are hard to predict. So don't worry too much if not every call is right on topic.

Visit the Library

Most call centers record all calls "for quality assurance purposes." If you are studying certain types of issues to improve the digital experience (e.g. customers requesting RMAs for returns,) you can log into the CRM system and find calls tagged with that specific type or disposition. This makes it possible to index thousands of calls to extract the recordings about a particular topic. This doesn't have the benefit of a post-call question-and-answer session, but can be done remotely, without having to visit the call center.

Quantify the Data

You can aggregate large volumes of call center data to help quantify certain customer issues or requests. If you want to study where problems on your site caused customers to contact the call center, add a question to the agents' script that inquires whether the caller tried using the Web site prior to calling, what task he was trying to accomplish, and what the fundamental issue seemed to be (lacking a feature, too confusing, error messages, etc.). Then, follow the data over the course of a few weeks or months to get a sense of which aspects are creating the most severe problems.

Remember: your call centers have rooms full of customer experts! Involve them in strategy workshops, bounce ideas off them, or use them any time you want someone who really lives with the customer on a day-to-day basis.

Howard Tiersky is CEO and founder of FROM, a digital transformation company. He has led major digital media and business transformation projects for some of the world's largest companies, including GE, General Motors, NBC Universal, Avis, Universal Studios, and Allstate.