How to Create "Walk-Through-Fire" Customer Loyalty Through Your Call Center

Dennis Snow

As a call center leader, opening a newspaper or checking online news services can be a frightening proposition that makes you want to crawl right back into bed. Companies are filing for bankruptcy, or closing their doors completely, at an alarming rate. Yet despite the doom and gloom, some companies are weathering the storm very well. Indeed, some aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving. Business for them has never been better. One of my banking industry clients just posted record financial results, and that’s in an industry being panned in the news headlines every day.

What are the thriving call centers doing that allows them to continue building business while other call centers are scrambling to exist? And what can be learned from these ailing call centers?

The big difference between the call centers that are thriving and the call centers that are barely surviving (or not) is that the thrivers have a laser-like focus on generating intense customer loyalty—what I like to call, "walk-through-fire" customer loyalty. Most of us have favorite stores or restaurants, and we’re willing to drive miles out of the way, passing competitor after competitor, just to do business with them. That’s what I mean by walk-through-fire customer loyalty.

So, what can you do right now to generate that kind of loyalty through your call center?

1. Do not, whatever you do, scrimp on call center quality—As soon as your customers, even the most loyal of them, notice a drop in quality you’re starting a downward spiral that’s difficult to pull out from. When, for instance, customers started noticing the quality of Starbucks coffee was diminishing due to over-brewing, many formerly loyal Starbucks customers switched to McDonalds, which Consumer Reports ranked #1 in coffee taste. In June Starbucks announced the closing of 600 stores.

Sure it’s important to watch call center costs and reduce where you can. But the lesson here is to not cut those things that earned your customers’ loyalty in the first place.

2. Train, train, train—Now is the time to ensure your call center employees know exactly how to delight your customers. Customer service, while always important, is especially vital right now. Make sure every call center representative is able to demonstrate flawless product knowledge (or knows where to get product information instantly), knows to be supremely responsive and demonstrates genuine care and empathy in every customer interaction. Call center leaders must clearly articulate the behaviors expected and hold the call center representatives accountable for delivering.

3. Stay in touch with your best (and most profitable) customers—Solidify call center relationships with those customers who have been loyal to you in the past. Information about loyal customers can come from your sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, your Rolodex, or by simply asking your call center representatives who the regulars are. Make personal contact with those customers, letting them know that they’re appreciated.

A company’s loyal customers get frustrated when they see all of the perks going to programs for attracting new customers. The long-term customer thinks, "Hey, what about me?" Make sure your call center’s loyal customers know just how much you value their loyalty.

4. Be picky in your hiring practices—With more people looking for work due to businesses downsizing or closing, you can be more choosy in your hiring than you were able to be just a few years ago. Review your call center’s interviewing and hiring procedures to ensure they are designed to identify those applicants whose values are aligned with those of your company and are "wired" to delight your call center’s customers.

5. Involve your call center representatives—Who in your call center is better positioned to know customer likes and dislikes than your frontline employees? One of the best ways to light a "customer loyalty fire" is to hold meetings with your call center representatives to discuss best practices for delighting customers. For example, a bank employee somewhere must’ve been the first one to suggest, "When a customer comes through the drive-through teller line with a dog in the car, we should put a dog biscuit in the container when we send it back out." Dogs and dog owners have appreciated that simple idea ever since. Leverage the best ideas throughout the company.

6. Treat your call center representatives well—Make sure your call center representatives know how much you appreciate their loyalty. Now more than ever it’s important for call center leaders to recognize, reward and simply offer sincere thanks to those employees who contribute to the call center’s success. You don’t want your superstars to even think about a move to the competition.

The economic downturn can be viewed as a curse or an opportunity. Looked at as an opportunity, smart call center leaders know that this is the time to distance themselves from the competition. This is the time to build walk-through-fire customer loyalty.

FIrst published on Call Center IQ.