5 Questions Great Call Centers Must Answer

Brian Cantor

Good news, your efforts have begun to pay off. Your call center is no longer despised by leadership as an organizational pariah.

But has it become something about which the business can truly brag?

Over the past few decades, customer management leaders have worked tirelessly to escape stigmas. They have tracked data, shared anecdotes and retooled their strategies to prove their vast importance to the organization and make sure the labels of derision will not stick.

While a meaningful step on the road to improved customer management, it is not a finish line. The best organizations are not simply aware that they must pay attention to the contact center but instead able to actively and continuously identify value being created by the center. More than a necessity, elite call centers represent competitive advantages.

What special competitive advantages does your call center create? Why would every brand in the marketplace want to outsource its customer service function to your team?

Here are five questions to determine whether your contact center deserves to be valued…or merely tolerated:

Are You Performing in a Way That Matters to Customers?
So proud of its performance, MetLife is actually willing to use the dirty phrase "call center" in its ongoing television campaign.

The campaign, which aired as recently as Sunday, touts its confidence that customers will be able to successfully sign up for life insurance on a single call.

By so publicly committing to first call resolution, MetLife is touting the fact that its agents are driven to perform in a customer-centric manner. The convenience of a single call matters to customers and therefore matters to the contact center team.

Does such a connection exist in your contact center? The answer might not be first call resolution—but if your call center is truly committed to a positive customer experience, it must be able to trace what it does on a consistent basis to what customers are hoping to achieve in their interactions.

Do You Know Your Customers?
Do you know your customers? Or, better yet, do you even know what it means to know your customers?

IBM’s latest Big Data campaign examines the situation perfectly. In past days of customer management, it was appropriate—if not amazing—when brands were able to target customers by demographic. Today, in this era of "Big Data" and customer-centricity, that is no longer enough.

When interacting with customers, call center agents should not be limited to scripts and knowledge bases that help "normalize" the situation. They should also have, at their fingertips, a complete understanding of who this customer is and what form of resolution he will be expecting. For how long has he been purchasing with the brand? What previous feedback has he offered? Prior to calling with his latest question, did he connect with a brand representative in another channel (or comment about the situation externally)?

We all know the annoyance of having to repeat identifiable information after getting transferred to a "specialist." But that is not the only concern for the modern contact center. The knowledge at the hands of the agent should not just encompass the entirety of the customer’s current call—it should document the entire relationship the brand has with that customer.

Would Your Customer Prefer a Refund?
Regarding this weekend’s Invicta FC mixed martial arts online pay-per-view, which suffered significant technical issues, F4WOnline.com’s Dave Meltzer wrote, "I also know some people who enjoyed the show so much that they are going to refuse the refunds, feeling it was worth the $7.95 many times over."

Though a special circumstance, the aforementioned example sheds light on an important reality: customers spend money on a product because they would rather have that product than the cash equivalent. And as long as the product—and the service experience that surrounds it—delivers for the customer, they will stand by that decision.

To what extent does your contact center cement that value? When something goes wrong with a product, does the support agent provide a resolution so meaningful and valuable that the customer is comfortable proceeding with the relationship? Does the service experience add enough value to compensate for what went wrong? Or, does it prompt customers to simply part ways?

Make no mistake, there are situations in which refunding customers is the best strategic option for a brand. But if the situation involves comforting fuming customers on the way out rather than helping advance an ongoing, trusting relationship with the audience, it is a sign of customer management failure.

When something goes wrong, "necessity" contact centers work to minimize the brand impact. "Valuable" contact centers use the situation as an opportunity to grow trust with the customer and make him even more confident that his decision to purchase was the right one.

What Business Was Created in the Contact Center Interaction?
Insofar as support is an inherent component of the customer experience, brands suffer immensely if they are incapable of responding to customer inquiries.

But that protective barrier is in itself only a small piece of the customer management puzzle. Elite contact centers derive a net-positive business impact from each customer interaction.

In some centers, this means actively upselling customers into a new service. In others, it means fighting to prevent them from canceling their subscriptions.

Regardless, when the call is over, the brand should have a greater likelihood of commanding the customer’s wallet share than it previously did.

Inherent in the DNA of call center managers is a demand for organizational respect, a plea that the C-level recognizes the value it creates. In order to attain that respect, the center must actually be producing value according to a definition that matters to the business. If the strategies and procedures within the center are not uniting to create positive business value in each and every call, the organization is unequivocally failing to deliver an elite experience.

Do Customers Want To Connect With Your Agents?
There are self-service and social community options that exist because they are the most appropriate channel for a particular customer concern. And then there are those that exist because customers feel they have no other option.

The premise of "multi-channel" says that a successful customer management unit connects with customers on their terms in the media that they choose.

But we cannot ignore what prompts customers to make their choice.

It is easy to pretend that customers unequivocally prefer alternative, online channels for their actual value, but the reality is grayer. Many turn away from the contact center because they do not find contact center interactions to be meaningful.

Whether that interaction entails a physical phone call, a social media interaction, an e-mail or a live chat, customers have expectations about convenience, rapidity and resolve that need to be met each and every time. If they cannot count on that productivity, they will pursue alternative means of acquiring information…or simply take their business elsewhere.

Live agent interactions are often the most desirable for organizations, since the direct contact with the customer provides the ideal opportunity for building brand credibility and acquiring customer insights. When an organization does not do everything in its power to make inbound calling the preferred option for customers as well, it squanders that opportunity and leaves customer dialogue in a less-policed, less-constructive arena.