Death By Call Center

Tripp Babbitt

I am always fascinated by the actions of call center management efforts to attain cost reductions. Bank management efforts are no exception.

At a large customer service (call) center for a tier one (large) bank I spent time listening to some phone calls and understanding what customers hear when they reach the bank's call center through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system.

I started with the call center's Interactive Voice Response system and listened to all eight options and none of the options allowed the customer to talk to a call center representative. The exception was the customer who wanted to open a new account or loan.

The Issue with Interactive Voice Response at Call Centers

The amount of button pushing required to get to a person at the call center by listening to their "tree of options" was mind boggling. A person calling the call center in with a problem had to follow a path that had no end.

I was assured by the call center manager that this was saving them money . . . huh?

Next, I started to listen to value calls (open account and loans), but those call center lines were being clogged by the customers who had problems as the customer had figured out from the IVR that the only way to talk to a person at the call center was to hit the option for opening a loan or an account.

Call Centers and Providing Value for the Customer

Customers have a way of figuring things out to get what they need. The really interesting part is that the call center executives were tracking the new account and loan calls and wondered why they were getting so many calls to open accounts and loans but not very many accounts or loans were being made in proportion to the calls. The data from their call center reports didn't tell them what was really happening (calls to the call center were actually problems not sales).

The call center executives could only look in the mirror as the source of the problem. They put in the IVR system to "save the call center money." I suspect it cost the call center money not only for the IT but for the customers they lost.

The Interactive Voice Response systems used by call centers have created a whole sub-culture culminating in a Web site to tell you how to speak to a person at major service organizations or call centers. Check out the Web site

Customers can be very creative, but why make it so hard to get value?

First published on the New Systems Thinking Blog.