Unleash the Creative Power of Your Call Center

Kathy Herrmann
Posted: 04/14/2010

Ask most people what they think of their experience with the call center and the common answer will be "frustration." First they’re forced to wade through an automated system that impedes their ability to connect with a real person. And when customers do get to a real person, the customer experience is often less than satisfactory, even when their issue is resolved.

It would be easy to blame the reps. But take a step back and ask yourself "how much of the service problem is systemic, resulting from managerial over-control of the customer engagement process?"

The hallmark of great customer service is being responsive to the customer. And if you want to achieve or exceed great service expectations, then you need to empower your call center representatives to individualize the customer experience.

That means call center representatives need to listen and engage with customers in order to solve the issues the latter raises. Your call center representatives really aren’t doing either if they’re focused on following a script or pre-established engagement process. Generally, in this scenario, the agents are required to follow the process or face punitive measures.



Hallmarks of Great Customer Service

Assuming you hire reasonably talented people, there are a couple of factors leading to great customer service.

These are:

  • Training. Call center representatives need good interpersonal skills. These result from a combination of innate ability and training. It’s especially important to include techniques on how to mitigate and lessen customer anger. Additionally, reps need to be well-versed in products and services. The agents should know as much or more than customers.
  • Information sharing. Give call center representatives access to good and correct information to accelerate first call resolution and the means to easily add new information. Additionally, expose agents to a full range of customer information. So for these last two items, I’m talking about the need for good customer relationship management and knowledge management systems.
  • Authority. Next, empower agents to make decisions about customer accounts including billing decisions.

To make those bullet points fly, though, you have to empower your call center representatives so they can provide individualized customer service. Do this and you help solve another problem. Attracting talented people to join your team so they have the inherent skills to achieve high customer service objectives.

Control Versus Creativity

So how do you empower agents in your call center?

There are two ways to express power: as control or creativity. Control is a destructive force that drives people apart. Creativity brings forth something new and life-giving.

And here’s the thing about control versus creativity. They’re opposing ends of the same continuum.

You can’t do both at the same time. Thus, the more controlling your call center, the less room for employee creativity. The latter is stifling not only for call center representatives but to customers as well. Not to mention it will accelerate employee turnover. The trick is to find a balance. Companies always need to have processes and that means some level of control.

Let’s look at a case study from Rackspace, a company that understands the control versus creativity continuum.

Empowered Customer Service For the Web Enabled Call Center

Rackspace Email provides "fanatical support." It’s not just words. Rackers do it. Racker call center representatives never follow scripts because the company believes in creating an individualized customer experience.

It starts with listening to customer’s describe their issues.

If the customer engaged in trouble-shooting before calling in, the call center representative doesn’t repeat those steps. Additionally, Rackers are well-versed in their customer service offerings and the supporting technologies. This means a rep will actually know as much, and most likely, more about an issue than a customer will.

Solving customer problems is also a team effort. If the first-level call center representative can’t solve it, he escalates it. No muss, no fuss. And if second-level needs a bit of time to find a resolution, then the call center representative, yes the same one a customer has been talking too, will contact the customer once a resolution has been determined. Yes, really.

And oh yeah. Rackers consider an email problem their problem no matter its source. That means even if the company’s servers are running just peachy but a customer has a snafu with an email application, the Racker call center representative stays on the issue until its resolved. Yes, really.

The net result of Rackspace customer service? High customer satisfaction. Problems are solved in ways that respect the customer’s time, intelligence, and needs. It’s delightful–and all achieved without following call center scripts or rigid resolution processes. And guess what? The company also achieves high employee satisfaction among their call center representatives.

How Rackers Are Empowered Customer Service Agents

Rackspace Email employs a combination of training and incentives for its Racker call center representatives to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction.

Shannon Forrester, Director of Customer Care for Rackspace Email said:

"We don't believe you influence an incredible customer experience by using a punitive approach. We prefer to use side-by-side leadership and coach our folks through positive reinforcement and leading by example. The leadership team adheres to the belief that the people we hire sincerely want to be great at what they do. They don't look for opportunities to be average—they look for opportunities to be great."

Call Center Metrics

The company does measure the activities of the call center representatives. Primary call center metrics include:

  • Customer satisfaction.
  • The Net Promoter Score methodology.
  • Written feedback from customers regarding individuals that have assisted them.
  • Efficiency metrics. In the Rackspace approach, though, efficiency metrics are used to inspire competition rather than be something reps fear.

Racker call center training typically lasts three to four weeks. The first two weeks includes dedicated classroom call center training covering the company’s products, processes, and resources.

Forrester applauds Rackspace's call center training and said,

"A unique aspect of this training is that it is developed and delivered by the Rackers who actually do the job. They get to take time out of the regular day to teach the classes. We feel this helps with ownership and accountability. Not only do [experienced reps] have to stay up to date on their skills, they feel ownership in the success of the newest Rackers."

The second half of the training is spent out on the floor where new Rackers shadow tenured Rackers. Once the newbie gains a comfort level, they take over and drive the customer interactions under the supervision of the tenured call center representative.

Lastly, Rackspace provides supplemental call center training and call center information sharing once the Racker is out on the floor and owns the customer service experience through a variety of call center training and mentoring methods.

Call Center Training and Thoughts on Call Center Metrics

Ceding more autonomy to call center representatives so they can be truly responsive to customers and decisive in their help is a challenge that good companies can and do hurdle. Rackspace email is a great example but there are other companies doing their own brand of call center training.

Hurdling the challenge is a combination of training (life skills as well as product/service knowledge) teamed with the right technology tools (customer relationship management, knowledge base, etc).

Another challenge for call center managers is the need to recognize that "good" decisions may not always fit into a neat call center metrics category that can be checked off. Thus, companies may need to find alternative ways to measure call center representative effectiveness—as well as customer satisfaction.

Additionally, if you empower your call center representatives, you may find your initial costs climb? For example due to higher training costs. However, higher retention of call center representatives will also drive down call center training costs. The net result could be either a constant call center training cost or be driven down.

Expect to see higher revenues from referrals and after-market sales, though, from customers with heightened satisfaction from call center representatives providing more effective and responsive customer service.

So it’s your choice. Control and drive down customer satisfaction—or empower your call center representatives through call center training and gain higher customer and employee satisfaction as well as revenue potential.

First published on Call Center IQ

Kathy Herrmann
Posted: 04/14/2010

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