Friday, October 19, 2007

For a Friday - why are contact centres so disliked?

I suspect that by the time you've read the title, you have already begun your list! You may also have decided that it's so obvious it's not worth writing about.

I'm sure you already have:

  • Being stuck in a queuing system
  • Not being able to speak to a human
  • Not getting any help when you do get a human being
  • Cold calling
  • Dealing with people who don't speak your language

...but I'm not actually that interested in a list of gripes, however long and valid. These are symptoms rather than causes. What I'm interested in is why do companies spend money on contact centres, if all the contact centre generates is dissatisfaction?

Now the cynics will cheerfully say that I've not understood what's going on, and that companies are only interested in having the appearance of customer service, and are not interested in the reality unless it is cheap. I would argue that customer service is seen to be failing because it has not managed to keep up with changing customer expectations or what the rest of the business expects contact centres to do. There is some truth that customer service is seen as a cost centre and a necessary evil in some organisations but I would argue these organisations are passing up on a lot of opportunity.

The first thing is that today's contact centre is a world away from the relatively simple functions that the first call centres were set up to do. For example, in banking the first call centres provided balance enquiry answers or specialised in an individual product. Today the simple functions (like balance enquiries) have moved to the web or the telephone self-service environment and everything that is left for the contact centre is complex. Many organisations have not appreciated that if their contact centre traffic is going to become increasingly complex, then agents need the systems that can handle them. Too often I see a very basic CRM system and some link to a legacy back office system as the agents' main tools. Knowledge databases, the ability to ask an expert, workflow and all sorts of other things that could help the agent are often not present.

Secondly, and a pet gripe of mine, is that a lot of telephone automation is done badly. Being presented with nine options to choose from at the first menu, and then many more as you work down a menu-tree hierarchy may help with call routing but it is an expensive way of irritating your customer. This is especially true if none of this information is then passed to the agent so that when you finally speak to a human, you have to start everything again. With the current voice portal technology being mature and stable, most organisations should at least look at moving away from the ugly aspects of the traditional IVR (Interactive Voice Response unit). Rather than working in the menu-tree world of IVR, a voice portal works like a portal (or web browser if we're not being too fussy) in terms of how it presents information. A voice portal uses Java and vXML, web technologies, to present information rather than the proprietary environments of IVRs. What this means is that even if you don't want to provide speech, a voice portal can still provide a far higher standard of customer service than the traditional IVR and generally do so at a lower cost.

Incidentally, if you are interested in speech automation for voice portals then I'd encourage you to look at the Dimension Data/ Cisco survey on CRMExchange. There are some very interesting points that highlight how users can be much more enthusiastic about speech self-service than most IT organisations appreciate. It also highlights how users' priorities and expectations can differ from those of the implementing organisation and how you can tackle some of these to have a higher level of customer acceptance. The more customer acceptance means not only a lower cost to serve but also the more usable information you can capture.

For many organisations the contact centre represents an opportunity to learn more about customers and better understand how they interact with the company. Relatively simple things, like marketing campaign response tracking can pay significant dividends as can analytics on the data the contact centre generates. Again, as an example, working out which is your most troublesome product for which demographic is information that can help improve both marketing spend and product design. These are areas of significant spend and the better the customer experience the more information you are likely to be able to gather.

In short, contact centres often aren't delivering a good user experience because their technology has prevented them adapting as fast as their customer's requirements have changed. In turn the business has often not understood the value of the call centre and so has not invested.

In short if you're on the receiving end of really bad service, remember "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately accounted for by stupidity", consult Dilbert, the ultimate authority on disfunctional organisations and take your business to an organisation that understands the value of customer service.

1 comment:

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I absolutely agree with your point about expensive ways to irritate your customer. If a company can afford a computer system that directs my call to a given person based on my responses to a series of questions, why can it not program that system to save my responses so that the individual sees the information that I have already given them on a screen?

One of the reasons I use the two banks that I do is that it is very easy to get an actual human being on the phone. Once I do get a person, they can usually answer my question or give me the help I need rather than continually re-stating, "That's our policy."

Can't someone create a company Intranet that they could search for information beyond the most basic. Come on, it's not that hard.

One more thing. Don't create a system where it is impossible to get a human being. I closed an account at a bank once because it was just too much trouble. I had a question about adding another signature. I could not get a person without entering my account number to go to the next menu, but my account number had absolutely nothing to do with my question. In the end, I had to find the number for the bank corporate office, call them and get the number for someone at the local bank.

I hate call centers.