Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Is Personal Touch Worth It?

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: Is Personal Touch Worth It?

Article excerpt

As More Th>n vows to allocate specific managers to customers, Ed Kemp looks at the potential rewards and pitfalls.

Long waits accompanied by interminable ambient music, sluggish callback times and the frustration of repeating a problem to numerous call handlers have resulted in call centres rarely getting a good press. But rather than dispense with them, insurance brand More Th>n has taken the ambitious step of placing its contact centres at the heart of its 'More is ...' brand strategy.

Last week, Royal & SunAlliance announced that it plans to double the size of the business by 2008 and is hoping a bespoke call-centre service will help it realise its goal. Customers who opt into the scheme will be assigned a named personal customer manager (PCM) who they can contact via a direct phone line and email address. Each PCM will be responsible for 3000 customers.

In customer research carried out by the company, a quarter of respondents revealed that they find dealing with people in call centres one of the most infuriating things in their day-to-day lives. 'People told us they get frustrated with call centres when they have to speak to a different person every time,' says More Th>n managing director Mike Holliday-Williams.

Something needed to change. But the fact that an insurance brand should be the first to adopt such a strategy on a large scale is somewhat surprising, given the sector's generally infrequent contact with its customers. The scheme seems a more obvious solution for sectors that experience more regular contact with customers, such as banking. Some banks, such as NatWest, already offer a limited version of this system, although others only do so for high net-worth individuals or customers with multiple bank accounts.

David Payne, managing director of call-centre consultancy Maia Consulting, questions whether insurance customers really mind dealing with a different person when calls are so infrequent. 'Who can tell whether two emails were answered by the same person, and who remembers the voice of the person they speak to on average once a year?' he argues.

According to a More Th>n spokesman, while some existing customers are averse to developing a personal relationship with their insurer, recent trials at the brand's Liverpool contact centre provide anecdotal evidence that the scheme will help build better relationships and, ultimately, customer loyalty. Holliday-Williams claims that when Liverpool FC was beaten 6-3 by Arsenal in the Carling Cup on 9 January, some customers who supported the North London club taunted the company's Liverpudlian call handlers with gleeful emails.

The opportunity for call-centre staff to build personal relationships should make their job more satisfying and therefore improve staff retention, which will be critical to the success of the scheme; with typical call-centre staff churn at between 10% and 15%, the potential of the brand to build relationships will suffer if a customer calls the PCM only to discover they have moved on.

Recognising that call-handlers will not always be available, More Th>n has provided a variety of alternative touch points, such as email and voicemail access. This impresses Ian Bateman, managing director of Inkfish. 'Customers are choosing different methods for contacting a business,' he says. …

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