How Call Centers Develop Long-Term Relationships with Customers

Bill McGovern

Editor's Note: This interview was first run on Call Center IQ on 5/27/2009.

Providing the value customers expect while increasing productivity within the call center leads to long-term relationships with the call center and the customer. Bill McGovern, Director -NAM Customer Service Center and Common Support Applications at ABB, the technology-based provider of power and automation products, systems and solutions is an expert on customer relationship management. In this interview, McGovern explains building compliant resolutions process, transaction surveys and how to convert loyal customers into strategic partners.

How can companies build compliant resolution process and transaction surveys into loyalty surveys?

Over the years we have transformed our complaint resolution process into two categories: product support (a request for support, not necessarily a complaint), and a process deviation resulting in customer dissatisfaction (complaint). Product or Service support is now easy to identify with a transactional survey. Collection of transaction survey responses as well as customer complaints into a database, which can be sorted and filtered, and yields a Pareto analysis and resultant set of key issues or problems. Listening to customer calls and text analysis of email cases often yields a set of unarticulated needs or desires. These two sources provide the input to address the "report" (quality) and "rapport" (emotional) aspects of the customer experience, and ultimate customer loyalty impact and index. Focused surveys on loyalty are developed for specific clients in a specific industry. Building on the knowledge gathered from "operations level" transaction information and feedback, the loyalty survey is specific to a period of time relevant to ABB and the client and sent to the client "decision makers." These are typically six to 10 questions max and intended to enlighten the client about the genuine interest we have to delight them by lowering their effort to do business with us. Sometimes these loyalty surveys are given face to face by a representative of these "key accounts."

In the same regard, an employee loyalty survey is developed to address changes in process, product knowledge, employee satisfaction (especially as it relates to reducing customer effort) and empowerment. These are typically 10-20 questions max and strong encouragement to respond (we have a greater than 86 percent response rate).

What is the one challenge in converting loyal customers into strategic partners?

Converting or migrating a customer from "satisfied" to "loyal" is fundamentally a simpler step in the overall process than the leap from "loyal customer" to "strategic partner." This is especially true in our industrial market where the customer is (or has been) a loyal or strategic partner for a product in one division, but has a different opinion or attitude in regards to another division’s product or services.

The challenge resides with a deeper understanding and respect for and between the two companies. As provider, the opportunity to convert this loyal customer lies within the deep understanding of the full scope value proposition to both organizations and their sustainable target growth. While understanding what makes the loyal customer "tick," the provider now must present the business intelligence case, which demonstrates the mutual benefits in terms of realized production improvement, sustainable increased revenues and improved profitability. Strategic partnerships permeate all levels of the provider’s organizational structure.

How do you develop customers into strong advocates for products and services?

Listen. (Do I hear what the customer is saying?)

Listen. (Do I understand what the customer said—stated and unstated?)

Listen. (Inform the customer of what you heard and how you will respond )


Deliver. (On time! Be responsive and responsible.)

Deliver. (Care and quality—are there supplements that make the delivery easier?)

Deliver. (Follow-up, did we meet or exceed your expectations? Is there anything else we can do for you?)


Keep in touch with the customers—inform them of progress of their case or order; contact them regularly about their purchase or other needs; reach out to them when there are mutual opportunities

Keep Sales and Operations Management informed of your efforts, especially on key account customers

What are some of the bigger Customer Relationship Management projects you have worked on at ABB?

In the recent two years we have tackled five major internal projects related to Customer Relationship Management (our provider is Vertical Solutions, Inc; the application is Powerhelp Customer Relationship Management). The ABB Process Automation Division has used this Customer Relationship Management for a decade, upgrading and customizing as we go. Our projects involve on-boarding other Divisions and Business Units seeking to improve their product and Service process and customer relations.

Greater Customer Relationship Management implementation for the Automation Products drives business globally. The primary factory is located in Finland [Level 4 experts], and the product reach is to all 100 countries that ABB has a presence. Seven regional hubs [also Service Centers] are established with Level2 (local country) and Level3 (global) subject matter experts; each country has a Level1 customer connection where all communication flows to/from customer.

The Customer Relationship Management allows quick and easy access to all customer contacts/cases around the globe for improved 24x7 service. Data mining of the Customer Relationship Management data base allows ABB product development improvement based upon documented problem descriptions, cause codes, and solutions, which feed the knowledgebase.

Greater Customer Relationship Management implementation for the Automation Products-Control Products (low voltage components, 120VAC-600VAC) business globally. Same as previous, but different timeline.

Greater Customer Relationship Management implementation for the Power Products-North America business, Sales and Marketing. Provided a single point of contact for all Power customers through a single contact center, which previously had more than 40 factory/service locations. Provides sales leads to the three primary power products groups.

Greater Customer Relationship Management implementation for the Manufacturing Automation Products-Robotics North America Service. Merged the entire Service operation into the Process Automation methods, tools and technology; 30 day fast-track project that yielded 10 percent increase in customer satisfaction within two weeks of integration.

Greater Customer Relationship Management implementation for the US Human Resources Shared Services-consolidation (more than 20 separate offices into a centralized service center with uniform process and procedure; expanded from 8hr/day support to 24x7.

Have you had any major challenges at ABB in knowledge-based Customer Relationship Management?

Our current situation involves a number of Customer Relationship Management systems in ABB, most of which have been utilized primarily as a support case tracking systems or complaint resolution. When it comes to knowledge-based Customer Relationship Management functionality, we deal with multiple "contract management tools," "reporting tools," "sales pursuit tools" and "product specific customer databases" stored in various locations... feeding our Knowledge Bank (the one resource in the entire company, working on capturing and re-using knowledge).

We recently tackled these steps to improve our Knowledge Bank with tighter integration with the Powerhelp Customer Relationship Management:

  • New Knowledge Bank/Knowledge Publishing/Administration interface with straight-forward authoring/review/approval workflow.
  • New knowledge bank structure with problem and symptom capturing, standardized on Product Library structure for better data/content classification, relation and more accurate data/solution retrieval.
  • Automate Knowledge Bank article generation from a PH case, encouraging call center representatives to share their first-hand knowledge/experience.
  • Improved Knowledge Bank search/look-up for call center representatives from the PH interface while working on the case.


  • Synchronization with an ever changing product data structure; especially related to mergers and acquisitions; and product lifecycle (legacy vs new);
  • Synchronization of Customer IDs (local and global) who are granted access by subscription to use the knowledge base and/or contribute to the knowledge bank... across different platforms;
  • Differentiation between content publishing and content utilization within the system, i.e generation, validation, migration.;
  • Paranoia... authors (subject matter experts) reluctant to share knowledge and create new knowledge bank articles;
  • New Technology and techniques: a) Case Based Reasoning [CBR] algorithm for dynamic updates to existing Knowledge Bank; b) article relevancy evaluation;

You are working on a project that will integrate Customer Relationship Management initiatives throughout the business. Tell me about this.

The customer relationship management integration underway at present is a secondary phase to the major enterprise resource planning integration, which consolidated more than 24 separate Enterprise Resource Planning in ABB to a single one: SAP. Previously the customer relationship management program was separate from any enterprise resource planning. Relevant service data was ported manually to the respective Enterprise Resource Planning as needed. The current customer relationship management initiative will integrate and automate linkages between customer relationship management and Enterprise Resource Planning for a) product data, b) customer identification (including callers, contracts, and equipment) and c) service notices (ie labor, expenses, and reports). In short, the benefits will be far more effective (less error) and efficient (faster turn around) processing of service to clients with immediate visibility to operations, finance, and top-level management.

Let’s switch gears and look at the call center environment. What is the one issue, from a customer management perspective, you think is stopping organizations from achieving excellence?

Uniformity. Being such a diverse company with a broad global reach, we struggle to provide the same high quality level of service in every discipline, every day, to every client, especially when there are ever changing expectations (customers and management) and cultural diversity. Applying best practices in all cases is not the solution, achieving excellence is about people. People who are savvy enough to recognize the opportunity, "bend" when the need arises, and deliver (with compassion) beyond what the customer has articulated.

Interview by Blake Landau