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6 Things Call Centers Should Do; 6 Things They Will Do in 2014-15

Brian Cantor

What might serve as a tired clichê on the motivational speaking circuit must serve as gospel within customer service communities.

There is a difference between thinking and doing.

Deeply into the "age of the customer," call center professionals—and executives at large--no longer question the theoretical importance of the customer experience. They no longer saddle the call center with the dreaded "cost center" label. They no longer attempt to refute the rather irrefutable connection between customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and revenue.

When it comes to customer service, the average organization is excelling at the "thinking" part.

The average organization is not, however, excelling at the "doing" part.

Believing the customer experience is important and creating one in adherence with that importance are two vastly different things. One creates the environment in which a business can succeed. The other drives the actual success.

That so many businesses settle for the former is why, despite all the hype surrounding customer-centricity, customers remain unsatisfied, agents remain disengaged and customer service remains stigmatized in the marketplace.

Times, hopefully, are-a-changin’.

In conjunction with its annual customer experience report, Call Center IQ recently inquired into the actions organizations will undertake in pursuit of customer satisfaction. From the solutions they will purchase (or continue utilizing) to the best practices they will implement (or continue fostering), the research uncovered which "talking" will manifest as "walking."

Before understanding those actions, however, it is important to understand which solutions and strategies will have the truest impact on the customer experience. While "doing" is always welcome in a historically stagnant customer management community, doing the easy thing is not the same as doing the right thing.

By understanding how planned actions for the next 6-18 months align with those deemed important, we can determine how committed businesses truly are to the promise of customer-centricity.


Solutions that drive customer satisfaction
Call Center IQ asked respondents to assess the role thirty popular call center and/or customer service solutions play in driving customer satisfaction. The three most significant solutions (based on mean score on a scale of 0-5) were as follows:

1) Call center coaching/consulting – Supporting the notion that technology is no substitute for effective talent development and strategic planning, a whopping 71% of respondents claimed that coaching and consulting play a "big" or "pivotal" impact on the customer experience. Only 10%, meanwhile, deemed the impact non-existent.

2) Customer interaction management software – As interactions span multiple agents, multiple channels and multiple agents, organizations need to assure their means of interacting with customers is on point. The very essence of a customer service interaction is a nuisance to a customer who expects his good to "just work" and service to deliver "as promised." Any additional effort or complexity, while a welcome engagement opportunity for right-minded businesses, fuels dissatisfaction.

Given that reality, 74% of respondents called the customer interaction management suite a "big" or "pivotal" driver of customer satisfaction. Only 11% dismiss its relevance.

3) Agent recruiting and training solutions – The respondents could not be more clear. It is the people behind customer service who drive customer satisfaction.

The respondents identified "coaching" as the greatest driver of customer satisfaction. They, meanwhile, identified "agent recruiting and training solutions" as the third most important driver.

Having the right mindset is crucial to agent development (and thus customer satisfaction), but without the tools to find the right talent and the platforms to facilitate the learning, the mindset will be inevitably wasted. 65% called agent recruiting and training solutions "big" or "pivotal" drivers of satisfaction. Only 8% said they have no impact.

Strategies that drive customer satisfaction:
Call Center IQ asked respondents to assess the role twenty five popular best practices and/or strategic initiatives play in driving customer satisfaction. The three most significant options (based on mean score on a scale of 0-5) were as follows:

1) Agents empowered to offer customized solutions – Why bother having live agents if they are not allowed to interact with customers on a personal, human level? Unable to compellingly answer that question, respondents agree that empowering agents to deliver appropriate, custom solutions on the fly is an essential driver of customer satisfaction. They agree that requiring agents to adhere to strict scripts and policies for resolving customer issues is a practice best left in the past.

68% of respondents called agent empowerment a "big" or "pivotal" driver of satisfaction. Only 4% find it irrelevant.

2) 360 degree customer view available to all reps – Customers accept that their interactions with businesses could span channels, agents and transactions, but they will not necessarily accept the notion that each phase of the customer lifecycle should represent a separate, disjointed moment. They are seeking seamless experiences; regardless of with which agent they are engaging or in which medium they are participating in that engagement, they demand the business know them, their history with the business, their current issue and the resolution they deem appropriate.

Meeting that demand requires businesses to provide all representatives with a 360-degree view of the customer. It is only with that level of insight that agents can deliver the experience customers are expecting.

53% of respondents called it a "big" or "pivotal" customer satisfaction driver. Only 11% call it irrelevant.

3) Seamless cross-channel experience – There is a theme here. Customers do not anticipate a positive correlation between an increase in interaction points and an increase in the complexity. That they are embracing the opportunity to span contact channels is not a sign that they are willing to devote more effort to the support experience.

The notion of a seamless cross-channel experience, therefore, is essential. Valuable to those customer management thought leaders who say having a few channels that "talk to each other" is better than offering every conceivable channel on a siloed basis, the seamless cross-channel experience was rated a "big" or "pivotal" driver of satisfaction by 50% of respondents. Only 5% write it off as unimportant.

Solutions that will receive priority focus over the next 6-18 months:
Per the aforementioned research, we know which solutions are of importance to the customer experience. But insofar as the implementation—and optimization—of solutions requires significant time and effort, there is no guarantee that knowing will translate into doing over the next 6-18 months.

Here, however, are the call center and/or customer service solutions that definitely will be focuses for organizations. They rated highest on a scale measuring intent to initiate or increase use.

1) Customer satisfaction measurement solutions – While organizations identified coaching, training and interaction management solutions as most important to driving satisfaction, their greatest investment focus will be directed towards measuring that impact. Tools that can measure customer satisfaction, via behavioral insights, social media dialogue and direct customer feedback, will see the greatest increase in utilization over the next 6-18 months.

While only 3% of organizations will make such tools "paramount" investment priorities, an impressive 60% will either initiate utilization or increase the extent to which they utilize customer satisfaction measurement solutions. No organizations will reduce or discontinue use, but 12% will continue to refrain from utilizing the form of solution.

2) Call center coaching/consulting – We have a match! Proving that thought sometimes can translate into action, the solution category theoretically labeled the most important driver of customer satisfaction will be one of the biggest utilization focuses for organizations over the next 6-18 months.

Growing support for coaching and consulting reflects the extent to which engagement within the call center is essential for managing engagement from the call center. Instead of simply relying on standard systems and script training, businesses are going to prioritize meaningful skill and mentality development. The result, if successful, will be happier, more productive agents and, ultimately, happier, more loyal customers.

9% confirmed they will make coaching a "paramount" investment for the next 6-18 months. 53% of organizations will start or increase use, while only 3% will reduce it. 15% will continue to do without investment into coaching and consulting.

3) CRM applications – Being an obvious, ubiquitous solution is not the same as being an unimportant one. CRM applications might not possess the same "sex appeal" as other call center solutions in 2014, but they remain an integral part of the customer experience.

That customers are demanding more personalized, relationship-driven service creates a particular need for effective CRM solutions in the present. Those that can integrate properly with new call center infrastructures and manage data from the host of new and developing contact channels will reign particularly supreme in the coming 6-18 months.

9% will make investment into CRM "paramount" over the next 6-18 months. 47% will increase or initiate use, while 0% will reduce reliance on CRM applications. Despite their establishment in the marketplace, CRM applications are not used—and will not be used—by 21% of organizations.

Strategies and practices that will receive priority focus over the next 6-18 months:
Here are the strategies and/or "best practices" that definitely will be focuses for organizations. They rated highest on a scale measuring intent to initiate or increase use.

1) Self-service options in all major channels – By emphasizing the importance of strategic, relationship-oriented calls, customer management thought leaders risk suggesting that live agents are a necessity for all customer interactions. That is not necessarily the case.

Depending on the particular situation, a self-service option—in all major channels--might be more convenient and valuable for customers than the hassle of dealing with a live agent. Just as certain customers hate being badgered by floor representatives when they are "just looking" for goods in a retail store, many customers want an option for resolving brand issues on their own terms.

Consistent with the customer’s preference for limited effort and high efficiency, self-service options also promise rewards for businesses’ bottom lines. By removing some transactional matters from the live support queue, call centers can more optimally focus resources.

Important to remember, however, is the fact that self-service options should, first and foremost, fill a customer need. Operational benefits are a great bonus of an effective self-service option, but they should not drive businesses to introduce self-service inconsistent with customer expectations.

12% of respondents will make "self-service in all major channels" a strategic priority over the next 6-18 months. 59% will begin or increase a focus on the strategy, while none will tone down its emphasis on self-service. 24%, however, will move forward absent such an initiative.

2) Customer feedback via surveys – Consistent with the aforementioned interest in "customer satisfaction measurement solutions," it is clear organizations are committed to amplifying the "voice of the customer." They want to know how customers are reacting to their service experiences, how they are reacting to the brand at large and how those reactions correlate with satisfaction, loyalty and purchasing habits.

For all the emphasis on the intelligence organizations can mine from social channels and in-store behavior, it is clear good, old-fashioned surveys remain en vogue for customer-facing organizations. Committed to understanding how they are truly faring, businesses want to gather—and measure—actual, substantive, direct feedback from their audiences.

An impressive 12% of respondents will make "customer feedback surveys" a paramount strategic focus in the next 6-18 months. 50% will initiate or increase use, while only 3% will reduce it. 21% will continue to refrain from reliance on surveys.

3) Proactive Customer Service – Customer service, in far too many organizations, is a game of response. When something goes wrong, the business does its best to make it right. While successfully making it right can produce a more satisfied, more loyal customer, it nonetheless forces the business to operate from an inherent position of disadvantage.

Something did go wrong, and no matter the customer centricity of the responding agent, he will likely struggle to completely erase the customer’s doubt about the business. Righting a wrong is good, but preventing the wrong from ever happening is far better.

That is the mindset behind proactive customer service, which asks that the business use product and customer data to anticipate needs before they happen. Potential production problems or service issues should be addressed before they become a source of customer anger. Customers who have repeatedly encountered a particular issue should receive guidance before their next calls.

6% label proactive customer service a "paramount" strategic priority for the next 6-18 months. 50% will initiate or increase proactive customer care offerings, while only 3% will reduce the extent to which they fill that potential customer need. 32%, however, will refrain from offering proactive customer service during the next 6-18 months.

When determining how best to satisfy customers, it is clear organizations are focused on empowering agents to best serve customers, proactively meeting customer needs, better understanding and measuring customer sentiment, improving the efficiency and efficacy of interaction channels and improving the tools with which it manages customer relationships.

Taking place June 9-13, 2014 in Las Vegas, NV, the 15th Annual Call Center Week features an innovation hall rich with solution providers who can help businesses fulfill their action goals. It also features an agenda overflowing with illustrious, accomplished speakers who can vividly advise on how to put the aforementioned strategic endeavors into practice. Get details and register now!