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Call center caution: It can rocket loyalty or kill it

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Call center caution: It can rocket loyalty or kill it
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By now we’ve all heard about the guy who was put on hold 15 hours by Qantas Airlines while waiting to confirm his flight reservation. I’m not sure if that says more about the airline or the individual, but either way, we’ve all felt at times like we’ve waited 15 hours during a customer service phone call. The endless IVR loop, only to then be placed on endless hold. The disconnected transfer to another department that forces us to start the call all over again. The check of our records by a CS rep who puts us on hold and never returns.

The call center can either be the gem in a loyal customer relationship or the Achilles heel that kills it. It is the most personal of touch points and the one that creates the most vivid impression of a brand’s responsiveness. Unfortunately, too many brands still do not manage this contact well, leading to heightened frustration by a customer exasperated by the experience.

  • “Why do I need to repeat my credit card information? I already gave it to the automated voice.”
  • “I’ve called three times about this problem, and each time you ask me questions as though it’s the first time calling.”
  • “You lost my information?”

There are some common sense tenets to great customer service that a number of brands have mastered. These companies, such as American Express, employ all the right methods to create a great experience. That includes advantageously using “big data”, the newest buzz phrase in the evolution of data and its usage. Basically, big data is the combination of all customer data, including all known demographic, transactional, and behavioral information, plus all contact information from all channels (i.e. social, email, previous calls), to provide the most informed, customized and satisfying customer relationship.

Combining the knowledge from big data with other seemingly easy (but mysteriously lacking at times) service rules means that:

  • If I need to be placed on hold “for the next available representative,” tell me how long my wait will be and keep me updated every few minutes.
  • Keep my journey through the IVR brief but worthwhile.  When I give my card number or nature of my call, relay that information to the rep so I don’t have to repeat it.
  • Arm the rep with all of my data and history of any previous interactions I’ve had with the brand (e.g. purchases, complaints, phone calls). Make me feel like the rep knows me.
  • Ensure the call is always a positive one, directly aimed at gaining my satisfaction or resolving my problem.
  • Don’t unnecessarily try to sell me additional products. It’s not why I called, and I’m not interested at this time, on this call.
  • If you need to follow-up with me, please do so. And ask the best way to reach me. While I may want to receive a text message, someone else may want an email or phone call.

Surprisingly, one of my most satisfying call experiences occurred when I needed to contact the New York State Department of Labor.  Government bureaucracies are usually among the worst offenders when it comes to customer service.  But on this particular call, an IVR explained that there was a 20-minute wait. If I preferred, I could leave a callback number and when I have moved up to first in the queue, I would be called back and connected to a rep who could help me.  I was then told I would be called in 18-20 minutes.

Sure enough, after 18 minutes, my phone rang with an automated recording saying I was the next to be assisted and that I should stay on the line. After a few seconds, a live rep came on, knew my name and the nature of my inquiry and proceeded to give me outstanding service and resolution.

It makes you scratch your head when a government bureaucracy can get it right, but some big companies can’t.  Hopefully, we won’t have to be on hold much longer.

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