Magazine article Marketing

Special Report: Contact Centres - Cracking the Code of Contact

Magazine article Marketing

Special Report: Contact Centres - Cracking the Code of Contact

Article excerpt

Contact centres come in for severe criticism, yet they provide a unique opportunity for one-to-one customer communication. We asked a panel of experts to give their responses to the top five customer complaints, and suggest how to avoid causing them in the future.

Nothing is more likely to send a consumer into fits of rage than a drawn-out and ultimately futile experience with a call centre.

Despite this, many companies have failed to grasp the fact that bad customer service can have a severe impact on their brand's reputation.

A survey by Harris Interactive found that nearly two-thirds of those who have had bad experiences with contact centres stopped using the company in question - and more than half said that they would consider switching to another company.

During the downturn, there is a temptation for marketers to cut back on their contact centre spending by employing fewer agents, scaling back on training and even outsourcing the operation overseas.

It might look good on the balance sheet in the short term, but the long-term implications are likely to be significant as customers start deserting unhelpful and unresponsive brands. Customer service is often the most important differentiator in many consumer-facing businesses, and the power of social media means bad news travels fast.

More enlightened companies have realised that contact centres are vital as the first point of brand experience, and can even reinforce existing brand values. These companies have invested more in staff training and the most up-to-date call-handling software.

With this in mind, Marketing asked a panel of field experts to respond to five situations that will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with contact centres on a regular basis.

Whenever I phone up to query my electricity bill, I am put on hold for anything up to 30 minutes. Why can't they answer my call more quickly?

Jane Ingram: Once is bad enough, but when the incident occurs two or three times the customer quite rightly becomes a 'terrorist' - someone only too willing to tell other people how bad their experience was. A few thousand incidents like this and before you know it the media is involved and the damage to brand equity can be catastrophic.

The solution is really quite simple: invest more in the agents and choose the right technology, such as Queue Buster, which allows you to ring people back at less busy times. If you get it absolutely right, your profitability will grow as your overheads reduce, your brand advocacy increases and your attrition rates shrink.

Jason Sharpe I think it is more to do with this business needing to develop its frontline staff to be multi-skilled and able to access procedures and assist with customer issues quickly. If the query is more complex than the staff member is able to deal with, then they must manage the expectations of the customer by explaining what they are about to do with the call, where it is being transferred to and how long it might take.

Rachel Robinson: Nobody should be expected to wait 30 minutes - technology exists today to prevent this. Call-query technology can be employed in such a way as to recognise that people are holding and offer options during their wait time. For example, give them the option to leave their details for a call back.

Whenever I call my mobile operator I am put through to someone whose accent I find hard to understand. I have to ask them to repeat themselves several times, which I find embarrassing.

James Le Roth: A consumer backlash has led to something of a swing from offshore to more local contact centres recently. Cultural differences are a difficult barrier to overcome and understanding different accents, dialects and colloquialisms are even more daunting. Companies are realising that, while 'offshoring' is potentially cost-efficient, if callers have a bad communication experience, it can be extremely costly to a brand. …

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