X-Raying Your Customer Touch Points: Is Your Call Center In Concert With Customer Demand?



Anupam Jalote
08/04/2010

The global economic crisis of 2009 has been done to death. I mean wherever you look, you have articles, blogs, Web pages, TV shows and even the odd book or two—all warning, preaching, scaring us into numbed acceptance that the economy will never achieve its former health.

Whether the economy will return to perfect health or not is a moot point. The important question today is "what should we do to manage our customer relationships today to keep our current customers happy through flat-lining revenue streams?"

That set me thinking—do we really need to do anything apart from what we are already doing? So in my mind I went step by step and followed the following logical path:

Like it or not, we are at an inflection point—the old days of easy economic growth have moved on. Since the market is no longer growing so fast, competition is becoming more intense. It is becoming a buyers’ market. There are more products and services chasing the same customers’ wallets.

When the rules of the game start to change, always go back to the fundamentals—check your basic premise: Why do you the company exist?

  • To earn profits? No not quite. There is more to it...
  • To maximise shareholder value? Again no, there is yet more to it...
  • To profitably meet a specific customer need by your products/service? Yes, yes, yes!

Now stay with this thought—if my company and I exist to meet some need of the customer, and the money that I earn comes from the customer, and that by extension, I exist at the mercy and pleasure of the customer. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is important for me to understand my customer, her needs and the overall experience she has in dealing with me.

If my previous statement sounds a bit bitter, it is intended to be. For the past decade at call center conferences I have been hearing that "customer service and customer relationships are the only sustainable, non-replicable competitive advantage that we have, yada, yada, yada..."

However, very few call centers put their money where their mouths are. This is reflected in the allocation of budgets (or lack of it) for call center customer relationship building or modulating the customer experience. This is also reflected in the power structures with little real power being devolved to the call center who manages the customer lifecycle.

A sale merely opens the door—how much you actually earn is a function of how well the customer life cycle is managed. What do customers really care about? They definitely do not have an interest in your call center processes, your strategy, your organizational structuring or your advertised commitments. They do have a deep interest in a seamless and smooth experience with you and your product or service.

Therefore, while you see the call center’s customer as present value and potential revenue streams, the customer sees you as the sum total of the experience she has had with the call center, the call center representatives, or any other touch points, physical, telephonic or electronic (Web, IVR, etc.).

This is the point where most of us get blindsided. Take a small example of a telecom company and their cellular subscriber. The company takes great care of its brand, and also focuses on providing a strong cellular network so that the basic product is delivered well. At great expense it designs beautiful encounters where sales and service staff attend to customers. It has a well designed website and efficiently run call centers. All bases covered, you would think—right? It would certainly appear to be so.

However, you as a customer have accidentally subscribed to a particular value added service—say a musical callback tune. Now you want to unsubscribe to it. You call the call center, and a polite interactive voice response voice guides you through the maze of menus, but you are unable to unsubscribe to this service. You try to reach a live call center representative, but they redirect you to the interactive voice response the moment they hear your complaint. Frustrated, you write an e-mail—same result. So finally you take the time out to physically go to their outlet. There the call center representative—a very polite young man, regretfully bounces you onto the interactive voice response saying that as per process, he is not authorized to stop your service.

Call center customers are human and they have egos. At this point in your transaction with the interactive voice response system, you really don’t care about anything but the pain of being taken for a fool. You have now started to take this personally, and probably want to terminate the service, all because of a very small design defect in the virtual agent service (VAS).

At this point, the ego of the customer has stepped in and is driving the relationship. The cause of all this was an ill thought through, badly designed customer experience.

Ignore the customer’s ego at your own peril. Call center customer experience is intimately linked to ego gratification. Take care of the ego, and a positive experience is generally guaranteed.

In troubled times strengthen the fundamentals of your call center’s relationship with your customer. These fundamentals are really very simple:

1. Renew your understanding of what the customer experience really is.

This is trickier than it looks. Most of us are intelligent and experienced. We tend to assume what we know about the customer to be true. Also we have a host of studies and surveys that purport to tell us what the customer wants.

However, we had just agreed that we are in changing times and that the old rules might no longer apply. Therefore, make direct contact with just 10 of your customers. Talk to them yourself—without any intermediaries and pre-conceived notions. Remember—a firsthand understanding of what your call center’s customers are really experiencing is the pure oxygen supply of your business. All else is stale air.

Armed with these insights, now commission focus groups and surveys to validate your findings, or if confident, directly jump to the next step.

2. X-Ray all your customer touch points to ensure that they are in concert with what the customer wants.

Again this is tricky. We tend to forget the customer contact points that we have outsourced to channel partners, we often overlook some virtual contact points, but the customer bumps against them again and again, causing a negative experience to be reinforced.

3. Refine and redesign the processes and touchpoints that need changing.

This is the easy bit.

4. Get a small group of actual customers to review the changes and relive the entire experience cycle.

This is a critical step—to not fall into the trap of mental arrogance that causes you to think that you know. There is no substitute for hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

5. Go live and build up a fundamentally strong relationship with your customer!

Take care of the basics, and the customer relationship will automatically fall into place. Don’t get caught in the "complexity" trap that causes us to pursue complex solutions where all that is needed is a very simple one.

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Finally, remember that a relationship is all about mutual value transfer. The customer has trusted you by giving you his money. Now you need to redeem that customer’s trust by ensuring that in addition to the product or service your call center provided, the experience of dealing with your entire organization is a seamless and pleasant one!

Get the basics right, and a strong customer relationship will follow!

First published on Call Center IQ