8 Contact Center Policies That Should Be Overturned

Brian Cantor

In a landmark gay rights decision, the Supreme Court Wednesday ruled a core premise of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. In a series of landmark customer management decisions, we will rule several common contact center policies un-customer-centric.

Overturned Policy: Thanks to the rise of the Internet and e-mail, we no longer need live agents to support our customers.

Ruling: Digital channels might change the forum through which some customers contact support, but they do not necessarily transform—let alone reduce--their standards for service. No matter their channel preference, many customers desire—if not require—the personalization and resolve of dealing with a live service representative, and if they cannot get help from an actual person, they will not reach a state of satisfaction.

As online, social and mobile channels continue to gain ground, live agents might engage in fewer live telephone communications, but they will absolutely remain a fixture of the customer experience. From live chat to 24/7/365 social media support, the value of a live, human customer service response remains integral.

Overturned Policy: Social customer care is a nice value add, but it is not a core service requirement.

Ruling: That such a notion even exists is a direct affront to the notion of customer-centricity.

Support offerings are to be determined not in the boardroom but in the will of the customers; where they choose to engage is where the brand must respond.

Organizations should not invest in social customer care simply for the sake of being trendy, but if their customers come to expect it—and do so with legitimate standards for the associated experience—organizations must deliver without question.

Overturned Policy: IVR and web self-service platforms should be used to reduce call volume.

Ruling: There is nothing fundamentally wrong with relying on IVR, automation and self-service as customer support vehicles…if the systems are designed with the customer in mind.

Many organizations, unfortunately, make mistake of implementing such systems with their own operations in mind, and though they might indeed reduce call volume and service costs, they do so at the expense of customer satisfaction.

A customer cares about what he experiences rather than how the brand manages internal operations; he will not inherently fault a business for wanting to save money, but he will do so—with good reason—if those cost-savings impact his experience. Knowing that the business needed to staff one less call center agent is not suitable compensation for being forced to work through an impersonal maze of an IVR system.

But just as some customers demand live agents regardless of channel preference, others care, first and foremost, about getting their issue resolved in an efficient, complete manner. There are situations in which self-service is a more effective means of delivering on that demand, and it is in those cases—independent of the business or call volume impact—that organizations should embrace alternatives to live phone support.

Overturned Policy: Now that we’re in the "age of the customer" and committed to "strategic calls," measures related to average handle time and average speed of answer no longer matter.

Ruling: While it is true that internal-facing metrics like average handle time should not govern a customer-facing business unit, it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that they do not matter.

Just as a transactional, efficiency-driven approach to customer contact can undermine satisfaction, the mistaken assumption that all callers demand a lengthy, relationship-minded support experience can prove equally damning. Customer-centricity is ultimately about knowing the individual customer and tailoring the experience to his needs, and there is no one approach—be it a "transactional" one or "strategic" one—that can independently satisfy all parties.

Since average handle time says nothing about customer satisfaction, performance against that metric is independently meaningless in a conversation about success. But since a low average handle time might contribute to satisfaction for some customers who demand a speedy resolution, businesses still need to understand how long agents are devoting to each call and how that impacts the relationship with each individual customer.

Overturned Policy: Since agent turnover is so high, contact centers should only invest in systematic, replicable training.

Ruling: High agent turnover is a product of the typical contact center structure rather than an inevitability of customer service. Robotic, impersonal training contributes significantly to that discouraging contact center environment.

In order to better engage agents, organizations need to embrace coaching rather than mere training. Of course product knowledge and basic contact skills training is necessary, but when it comes to properly incorporating agents into the organization, the business needs to build its learning and development programs around the unique qualities of each individual agent.

By consistently focusing on how to better connect the agents to the fabric of the business, by consistently focusing on how to build a culture of engagement rather than imposition and by consistently focusing on how to map employees’ future within the broader organization, customer management leaders will assure the contact center seat serves as the beginning of a lengthy, inclusive career journey rather than a detour from one’s truest passions.

Overturned Policy: In order to improve our culture, we need to run our call center like Zappos.

Ruling: One would be hard-pressed to find someone who claims Zappos sounds like an awful place to work.

But finding someone who thinks mirroring Zappos’ internal culture is a surefire ticket to improved operations should be equally challenging.

Organizational culture—and especially that constructed within the walls of the contact center—should represent the four-way alignment between what the brand is, what it wants to be, who the customers are and what experience they demand from the organization. Since "fun" contact center cultures produce fun agents, they are valuable in serving customers who desire "fun" interactions.

But some customer bases care about nothing more than quick service and reliable product delivery, and a culture predicated purely on personality might produce agents incompatible with that customer demand.

Since happy agents do produce happy customers, and since contact centers do need to drive higher levels of agent engagement and retention, elements of the warm Zappos approach to culture are welcome in virtually every center. But the specifics of the Zappos culture only fosters agents to adopt the specific Zappos mindset and satisfy the specific Zappos customer base; in order to correctly create corporate culture, managers must strive for that level of specificity in their own organizations.

Overturned Policy: It is important to recognize that some customers cannot be satisfied.

Ruling: There are indeed some situations in which the organization has no choice but to say no to a customer’s specific demands. It realistically cannot give every customer exactly what he requests.

But that disappointing reality should not be mistaken as a reduction in the brand’s customer service obligation. Even when it cannot give the customer exactly what he requests, its commitment to understanding, engaging and retaining that customer is never anything less than a paramount priority.

Customers who make supposedly unrealistic demands or who approach agents with a tone of vitriol and disrespect are still customers, and they are thus still the stakeholders to which businesses owe their entire existence. The calls might be more challenging and less consistent with the scripted experience, but they are important interactions nonetheless, and agents’ eyes must remain firmly on the prize of satisfaction.

Through appreciation for the disgruntled customer’s sentiment and a demonstrated commitment to improving that sentiment, organizations can boost satisfaction—and perhaps preserve the relationship—even when "no" is the only available answer. And even if they fail to delight a given customer, they are still responsible for what drove the customer to outrage and thus still responsible for learning what went wrong, why it went wrong and assuring no future customer faces a similar problem.

By writing off certain customer engagements as unworthy of effort, businesses undermine this crucial component of the service experience.

Overturned Policy: Only those of a certain seniority can go against policy when serving customers.

Ruling: Order and accountability are essential in the workplace; chaos is its enemy. As such, businesses are completely justified in giving control of the rules to only a selection of management-level executives.

But a hardline approach to customer management policy violates an essential tenet of the customer experience: such policies exist not to justify saying "no" to customers but to provide a blueprint for saying "yes." Agents should look to the policy as a source of empowerment when satisfying customers, and in the spirit of that empowerment, they should feel confident making minor modifications when needed.

If an organization wants its agents to function as more than answering machines, it needs to entrust them to make decisions that serve the customer while staying true to the spirit of the business’ identity. Asking them to run bold decisions through management is fine; prohibiting them from thinking critically about how to customize the customer experience is unacceptable.

Do your agents feel they control the destiny of their customer interactions? If not, your contact center is ignoring its commitment to customer-centricity.