front line

Call Centers are the Front Line of Customer Service

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Some call centers struggle to have a stellar reputation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Call center representatives are a vital part of the front line, there to help customers when they have questions or problems, and as such, they have the power to strengthen (or weaken) the customer relationship.

So, how can you ensure that customers who call your company are given the help that they need and that they exit the call feeling positive about the interaction and the company? There are several things to keep in mind.

First, some scary truths. An industry survey of support center professionals reported nearly a third – 32% – indicated that customers had to talk to more than one agent in the course of their call. What’s more, 21% of support centers make customers repeat their story when they are transferred to another rep. In today’s customer service-focused world, that number should be zero, or close to it. There are plenty of technologies out there that make it easy to track all of the interactions a customer has with a company in one customer record that is easy for a support rep to access, read and understand.

There are several lessons we can take from these findings. First, transferring the call should be a last resort. I’m willing to accept that some customers may need to be “escalated” to a higher-level support rep who has a deeper understanding of the issue, but all call center agents need to be fully trained – prepared and able to help and guide the caller to a resolution. Transferring to a “higher-up” should be a rare occurrence.

And when a call is transferred, the customer’s information needs to be readily available for the second agent to view. Who isn’t familiar with the aggravation of having to repeat the same story multiple times, to multiple people, losing hope at every step that anyone will be able to help? As mentioned above, the answer is technology. It’s simple. No matter how good your people are at handling your customers’ questions and complaints, if you’re not giving them the tools to deliver a stellar experience, the customer will not always have the best experience.

Customer support agents must have information about the customer – they must be able to see the entire picture, including the customer’s profile, history of purchases, problems and more. A good system should be able to bring all of it together – having access to this information is essential, as it is the basis for delivering a good customer experience.

And, to take a step back for a minute, are you offering your customer options when it comes to how they can connect with you? Customers want to be able to connect with you in the way that’s most convenient for them. Some want to use the phone, but others might want to engage in chat, text, email, or even a self-service option. Just remember, any system you use to manage your customer support must consolidate all of the customer’s information, regardless of the channel the customer uses. It must appear seamless.

Another finding from the industry survey shows that only 5% of the people interviewed consider monitoring social media channels as a primary method for customer feedback. Seriously? This is one of the easiest ways to get real feedback and respond to customers. You have the opportunity to turn rants into positive PR outcomes by publically resolving a customer’s complaint. And, don’t forget to thank happy customers who leave positive comments, too.

I believe in a culture in which every employee is focused on customer service. But, it’s undeniable that those on the front line – including call center representatives – carry a great deal of the responsibility. So, make their jobs as easy as possible. Remember these points:

  • Use technology – There are so many options today to make it easier for customers to communicate with you, and for you to quickly, efficiently resolve their issues.
  • Thoroughly train employees – Call center reps who answer customer calls should have the knowledge they need to answer customers’ questions. Transferring the call to another agent should be a last resort.
  • Make it seamless – If a call must be transferred, don’t make the caller have to repeat his/her story. The information should be readily available for the second agent to see. Again, technology make this possible.
  • Make good use of social media – Monitor social channels and know what customers are saying about you – good or bad. Some customer problems can be solved in a public forum for all to see.

Customer service is a great differentiator. With every customer, every interaction – from the sale to the service afterward and everything in between – you have an opportunity. You have the chance to make the customer know that he or she made the right decision in choosing to do business with you.