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10 Things I Hate About Your Contact Center

Brian Cantor

The saddest part about business’ failure to become customer-centric in this "age of the customer" is that they could so easily fake it.

Granted, given the irrefutable connection between customer satisfaction and business results, organizations should not have to pretend. Because the very existence of their business is predicated on satisfying the customer, even the most callous, unfriendly leaders in the world should buy into the notion that legitimate customer-centricity is necessary. They should have no issue putting the customer on a pedestal.

But even if they cannot wrap their head around that concept and instead see customers as nameless, faceless pawns in their games of capitalistic warfare, they should have no issue at least behaving in a customer-centric way. After all, they have access to countless case studies, countless presentations and countless articles not only reminding them of their need to be customer-centric but explaining precisely how they can do it.

And yet, customer-centricity—even an artificial version crafted purely for appearances—continues to elude businesses. And though the complacency will come back to bite the businesses, in the short-term, it is the customers who truly suffer.

Here are ten reasons why engaging with the call centers of these stubborn organizations induces such hate:

1) I can’t get in touch with you.

In today’s multi-channel world, it is the customer, not the business, that chooses the appropriate channel for a conversation. And once that choice is made, it is the business’ imperative to engage the customer in accordance with that preference.

If I want to Tweet your contact center, I do not want to be told to I need to call. If I want to speak to a live agent, I do not want to be told you only honor customer support inquiries via email.

If you can’t even listen to me in the channel I want, how can I expect you to resolve the issue the way I want?

2) You never call.

The strength of a relationship is defined not only by what happens when the couple is together but by what happens when they are not.

Your call center might handle inbound calls correctly, but what does it do when the customer is not banging down the door? Is it thinking about ways to deliver better for the customer? Is it proactively connecting—not to sell something or to push a generic survey but to check in on the customer’s state of mind?

If a contact center wants its customers to remain in the relationship—and continue buying—it must show that it cares. It must make a proactive effort to engage for no other reason than to improve the relationship.

3) You don’t know me.

Given the plethora of communication touch points and the ease of acquiring information from those antennae, businesses should know enough about each customer to proactively meet their needs. They should be able to anticipate potential issues before they arise, and in the rare event that the customer does need to call customer service, agents should know the customer with whom they’re dealing the second they say hello.

But for those who write that off as a weightless ideal, how about this compromise? As my singular call transfers from channel to channel, I should not have to restate my case at each checkpoint. If I input my account number into the IVR, I should not have to again provide the number for a live agent. If I complain about a specific incident via live chat, I should not have to repeat the context when the issue escalates to the phone.

4) You don’t satisfy me.

If there is a common thread among my bad customer service experiences—many of which are documented here on Call Center IQ—it is that agents were content ending calls prior to reaching a point of resolution. Attitudes like "there’s nothing more I can do" and "it sucks to be you" infiltrated calls on which the only motif should have been, "this call cannot end until I have helped you."

Agents must be conditioned not to view themselves as lines of defense between a complaining customer and the business but as empowerment tools for the voice of the customer. Their goal is to, using the business’ resources and philosophical sense of customer-centricity, aid the customer in getting what he wants – not as little as the business can get away with giving.

If a customer is not yet satisfied, the call is not yet ready to end.

5) You don’t see me for me.

Scripts, knowledge bases and policies can serve valuable roles in the training process. They familiarize agents with the types of calls they receive—and the types of responses that are often appropriate—and improve the efficiency of the customer service process.

But when they are not correctly utilized by management, they result in a repulsively negative experience for customers.

Agents should use internal tools as guides for aiding customers, but they should not use such tools to define customers. They should not make presumptions about who a customer is, about what he is calling and the kind of resolution he desires. They should not put words in the customer’s mouth in their effort to situate him within a more familiar, comfortable box.

At the end of the day, every call is about meeting a specific customer’s needs, and agents need to be positioned to provide that level of customization. They should communicate within the personal context of that singular customer’s dialogue to assure the process—and resolution—are consistent with what really matters.

6) You keep things on too tight a leash.

As customer support representatives, agents truly work for the customer—not for their leadership. Why, then, are they made to accept the reverse perspective?

Leaders, obviously, need to maintain order in their business and therefore need to let agents know that poor performance against internal standards will have consequences. But because agents do recognize those consequences, they are very malleable to the demands of the business. Not wanting to get fired or docked pay, agents will do what their leadership says.

Given that, it is imperative that what the agent is saying and what the customer is demanding are completely aligned. In an ideal world, agents would side with the customer rather than management. Since the business world is not an ideal one, leadership needs to assure agents that acting in the best interest of management—and thus not being fired—comes from acting in the best interest of the customer

By giving agents power and leeway to make a difference for customers, leadership assures a successful customer service function.

7) You never listen to me.

Feedback is not an exercise but an imperative. It is the brand’s truest chance to learn about its customers and build product development, branding and service functions around that learning.

And that is why the status quo customer service process is so disappointing. They might be told they matter and even offered the "opportunity" to participate in surveys, but customers rarely get the sense that their feedback is being taken seriously. They do not see short- or long-term changes in response to their voice, and they often do not even get the sense that the agent truly cares about what the customer thinks.

Today’s contact center leads the customer to believe the feedback process is a formality rather than a necessity. It needs to stop talking about—or even asking for—feedback and instead start returning the favor. It needs to show customers that offering feedback leads to a better experience and thus a more desirable end.

8) Your priorities are mixed up.

While performance against operational metrics needs to be tracked in order to make smart leadership decisions, it is largely irrelevant when it comes to the customer experience.

The customer will not reward a business for having a low average handle time or for deflecting calls to other channels. He does not seek a cost-efficient contact center and, in fact, might despise such an operation if required to endure bad or incomplete service as a result.

What the customer does demand is that that his problem be solved, quickly and completely, in the channel of his choice. When done correctly, this will result in operational efficiency, but such benefit comes as a result of—not in place of—customer-centricity.

Far too many contact centers operate with a blatant preference for efficiency metrics and thus a blatant disregard for the simple measures of satisfaction that align with the customer’s expectations and heart.

9) You drive people away.

Arguably a business’ most integral function—it is the truest point of connection between brand and customer—the contact center rarely receives priority treatment in an organization.

Representatives, perhaps as a forfeiture of the fact that they will leave, are treated as expendable. They are not paid particularly well. They are not properly incentivized. And they are trained for tasks rather than coached for career development

As a result, the customer service process suffers. Many agents are in no position to offer elite customer service, and those who are do so based on natural talent—rather than internal training—which is only present in the organization prior to their departure for greener pastures.

For customers to feel as if the brand is invested in the contact center process, they need to be greeted by veteran agents—or at least agents of a veteran mindset—who know the customer, know the business, know the system and know how to deliver results.

10) You refuse to say you’re sorry.

In the interest of "the customer is always right," brands are encouraged to accept accountability for even those problems they did not cause. After all, as the organization receiving the customer’s money and the one most in position to right wrongs, the business should accept an obligation to turn dissatisfaction into satisfaction.

Unfortunately, the world’s weaker call centers replace the apology game with the blame game. Rather than focusing on turning bad experiences into good ones, they focus on dissociating themselves from the bad situation.

They tell the customer he misinterpreted the policy. They accuse the customer of ignoring the terms and conditions. They suggest the customer’s issue is an isolated one—and thus not caused by the organization. And they do it all to shirk their obligatory responsibility of making things right.

As a customer, I do not need a brand to tell me how amazing I am and how it was totally responsible for causing an issue. What I do need, however, is the brand to show me how much it values my business and that it is taking responsibility for the matter at hand.