Thursday, October 30, 2008

Abbey National - did an IVR survey lead to a customer getting locked out their account?

This blog sometimes flirts with the idea of news, rather than just comment, and I couldn't resist this story. I saw it today in the Scotsman (though it's also more detail here in the Daily Mail).

In brief a Mr. George Bates, a 23 year old Abbey National customer, phoned his bank to arrange an overdraft. He claims to have found that the operator was rude, unhelpful and with a heavy Asian accent that was difficult to understand, so at the end of the call he used the automated post-call survey to register his displeasure. A lot of banks use IVRs (Interactive Voice Response Systems) for this as it suits the "push 1 for...., push 2 for...." type of menu that an IVR provides. Anyway, Mr. Bates pushed ones and twos for low scores and finished his call.

When he called back the next day his problems began. He couldn't access the phone bank with his password, the ATM swallowed his card and when he got into his branch he found his identity had been changed from the 23 year old Bristol carpenter he is, to that of a 33 year old Ugandan divorcee. His direct debits had also been cancelled and he was incurring bank charges for missed payments. Abbey have now apologised and offered £200 compensation, but Mr. Bates is still unhappy.

There are some lessons from this story worth pondering.

The first is what price does a bank place on its reputation? I've blogged on this before (see: "Are call centres so bad they hinder business?" or "Barclays, silent calling & we've been here before... "), but contact centres can damage an organisation's reputation very quickly. It seems a mystery that such an important part of a customer's experience of an organisation should be managed as a cost centre and yet other functions that drive reputation and brand (e.g. marketing or PR) should be seen as investments or necessary expense.

The second is that while it's admirable that agents should be given continuous feedback on their performance, they really should not be able to take revenge on customers who score them poorly. There's a whole set of issues here, from the granularity of the feedback given to agents to the level of access to customer data that agents have. Supervision, audit trails and analytics might also be points to think of here in terms of how organisations control agent behaviour.

The third and final point is that the public do not much like offshore contact centres. This is an image that the offshore industry has acquired and has not managed to shake off. I'm sure that had a British call centre worker done this the story would have been much less newsworthy, but as it's an Indian call centre (and Abbey have five UK call centres and only two Indian ones) this fits a lot of popular myths about the offshoring industry.

There may be a view that "all publicity is good publicity" (and you certainly couldn't buy the press coverage this story is getting), but I suspect that Abbey will want to change the way it runs its contact centres as they will not want their reputation damaged in a credit crunch that has hurt the reputation of UK banking so much.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are call centres so bad they hinder business?

I was struck today by an advertisement for that I saw from the train. I know customers often don't like call centres (especially offshore ones), but this advertisement seemed to be targeted at those allergic to the whole idea of talking.

Now is part of Axa, so this is not an organization without call centre expertise. Nor is it strictly a web only player, as they have been very innovative about developing a mobile phone channel for insurance sales. Clearly there is a demographic out there who hate the idea of call centres so much that they'd rather use the web.
To a certain extent poor experiences from call centres are to blame, but that may not be the whole story. One big change in the retail insurance market is the rise of web aggregators, such as These players don't have contact centres either, but they do pull together large chunks of the insurance market in their comparison tables, and make it very hard for insurers to differentiate themselves by brand. I would suspect that although may be targeting a demographic less than keen on call centres, they are also trying to drive traffic direct to their website and not have a comparison site in the way.
Of course contact centres still have a major role to play, doing what they are good at. Web sites are ideal for simple or generic quotes. Complex matters, exceptions and assessments of options are still done better as a discussion with a person. For that the contact centre is ideal as it allows an insurance agent to cover business without geographic restriction. Using a human contact centre agent as a data entry mechanism into the quotes system (as some insurance contact centres have done) has never been a good use of resources. Skilled advice at the end of the telephone is extremely valuable and it is there that contact centres can help companies differentiate themselves and their brand in an increasingly competitive market.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Despite the credit crunch, still call centre growth at Barclays

An interesting story on Finextra that Barclays are to create over 200 new call centre jobs in Liverpool.

A lot of reasons why this is interesting. On is that with the credit crunch it's good to see that the world hasn't ended and that banks are still going about (some) of their usual business. The other aspect that I thought interesting is that these are primarily outbound agents.

The blog looked at the problems Barclays has been having with outbound in my last post (see "Barclays, silent calling & we've been here before... ") and I suspect that Barclays was determined to get this fixed. I know in my last post I was dubious about how important reputational risk was. I have revised that judgement, and I'd now say 'reputational risk is really important if you upset voters and there is a chance the government may become your largest shareholder'. I know Barclays has so far not needed any assistance from the UK government, but I can see that it would be tactful (as well as good business) not to fight with Ofcom or any other government body in the near future....