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AMEX Reveals the Customer-Centric Way to Turn Call Centre into Profit Centre

Brian Cantor

At American Express, the "empty," clichêd promise of transforming the call centre into a profit centre is not empty at all. AMEX continues to find ways to unlock new revenue opportunities from its customer engagements, and a commitment to personalized service is the key to the very-attainable door.

In a brief question-and-answer session with Call Center IQ, Michaela Jacobs, AMEX’s senior manager of relationship care focused on cross-sales and retention, shares how her organization’s strategies for developing meaningful, personalized relationships with its millions of customers enable "American Express [to continue exceeding] earnings at a time when other financial services companies are finding it difficult."

CCIQ: We’re increasingly seeing C-levels recognizing the importance of acting on the voice of the customer, and yet, we’re simultaneously seeing increased pressure to drive revenue from the customer care function. So I’m curious—what feedback have you received from customers in response to upsell and cross-sell efforts?

Michaela Jacobs: In 99% of cases, the feedback is positive as the Customer Care Professional (CCP) takes the time to understand the mood of the customer as well as ensuring any cross sell offer is relevant to both the conversation and the cardmembers (CMs) requirements. This ensures the customer experience remains positive whilst also driving revenue.

CCIQ: And have you found there is a type of customer—or type of interaction—that best creates the opportunity to drive additional revenue?

MJ: I wouldn’t say there is a particular type of customer; as we use sophisticated modeling which includes CM tenure, propensity to buy and targeted offers. Is there a particular type of interaction? Again; I would say that this doesn’t apply; however the CCPs are encouraged to gauge the mood of the CM as well as their profile to ensure that any cross-sell offers are welcomed by the cardmember.

CCIQ: Within American Express, your culture dictates paying attention to the individual and tailoring customer care to the specific customer. With millions of customers and support inquiries each year, how do you establish this kind of one-on-one relationship with the customer?

MJ: We use sophisticated modeling techniques to help us understand the needs of our cardmembers, and all of our CCPs are encouraged to have open dialogue with our cardmembers to understand their individual needs and requirements.

CCIQ: And how do you introduce offers and promotions in a way that feels organic and not exploitative?

MJ: We are able to introduce offers by helping our cardmembers to better understand the benefits of their card and how this pertains to their needs. An example might be advising a cardmember that they might be able to increase the number of reward points they earn if they were to add an additional cardmember to their account.

CCIQ: Given that, what do you say to customer service reps who don’t want to upsell, noting that their job is to SERVE the customer not to market to them?

MJ: We help them to understand that American Express philosophy is not to ‘hard-sell’ to a cardmember but instead to help the cardmember maximize their membership with us. It is proven that if an offer or message is delivered to the cardmember in the right way that this enhances the customer experience. Additionally, our CCPs do not have sales targets to achieve and so don’t feel ‘pressurized’ to sell

CCIQ: And so if the role is going to involve a combination of personalized service and personalized promotions, what should today’s front-line agent look like? And how should the supervisor set expectations and motivate/incentivize those agents?

MJ: Today’s front line agent should be someone who understands that customer service is about understanding the customer’s true needs and being able to meet their requirements by providing first contact resolution, product knowledge and offering additional benefits.

CCIQ: Obviously,there are going to be some costs and changes associated with moving to a more customized customer service offering. What challenges should customer service organizations expect when they commit to this sort of service, and what tangible, measurable ROI has AMEX seen thus far?

MJ: I don’t believe that this service provides any challenges, however it is more of a change in mindset that is required.

CCIQ: In essence, is this about customer experience for customer experience’s sake, or are there real business benefits?

MJ: There are definite business benefits. Since adopting this mindset in 2009, American Express has continued to exceed earnings at a time when other financial services companies are finding it difficult.