The following post is from guest contributor Peggy Carlaw, founder of Impact Learning Systems.Â You can follow Peggy on TwitterÂ @pcarlaw.
As the econÂomy begins to recover and orgaÂniÂzaÂtions begin reinÂvestÂing in key perÂsonÂnel and equipÂment, many areas of the orgaÂniÂzaÂtion conÂtinue to have to do more with less, includÂing the call cenÂter. Rather than thinkÂing of the call cenÂter as a cost cenÂter, howÂever, smart comÂpaÂnies are using their call cenÂters to strateÂgic advanÂtage. As the first line of conÂtact with customersâwhether it be in a sales or serÂvice roleâcall cenÂter employÂees repÂreÂsent your corÂpoÂrate brand. They are the ones who deliver on the promises you make to your cusÂtomers. DurÂing a slow-growing econÂomy, they can improve sales and build cusÂtomer loyaltyâand they can do so while reducÂing operÂatÂingÂ costs.
How Poor Customer Service Affects Your Corporate Brand
BusiÂness magÂaÂzines are filled with stoÂries of comÂpaÂnies that are known for excelÂlent serÂvice: AmaÂzon, the Ritz-Carlton, ZapÂpos, and Hewlett-Packard to name a few. UnforÂtuÂnately, most of our interÂacÂtions are with comÂpaÂnies whose serÂvice is less than stelÂlar. The extra time and energy is takes to extract serÂvice from a sub-standard serÂvice orgaÂniÂzaÂtion is wearÂing. ConÂseÂquently, we search out a comÂpetiÂtor, or we buy as litÂtle as posÂsiÂble from the offendÂing comÂpany. Either way, weâre sure to tell our friends about our misÂerÂable encounÂters, and the comÂpany brand is maligned.
A study last year of 195 proÂfesÂsionÂals and 165 colÂlege stuÂdents byÂ Ernest RonanÂ found that when cusÂtomers had bad expeÂriÂences with call cenÂter staff, they were less willÂing to buy from the comÂpany in the future. The strength of this reacÂtion increased from 72% in 2005 to 86.3% last year. SimÂiÂlarly, cusÂtomersâ negÂaÂtive perÂcepÂtion of a companyâs brand as a result of bad serÂvice increased from 83% to 98.9% in 2010, and their unwillÂingÂness to recÂomÂmend the comÂpany rose from 77% to 91.5% over the same period. These figÂures indiÂcate that buyÂers are growÂing sigÂnifÂiÂcantly less tolÂerÂant of poor serÂvice. When the econÂomy is not strong, comÂpaÂnies strugÂgle to comÂpete for fewer cusÂtomers. LosÂing cusÂtomers due to poor serÂvice is just not smart business!
The Payoffs for Providing Good Customer Service
On the other hand, posÂiÂtive call cenÂter expeÂriÂences will have a posÂiÂtive impact on cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion and lead to a numÂber of facÂtors that will benÂeÂfit a comÂpany vying for busiÂness in a slow-growth economy:
- Loyal cusÂtomers. CusÂtomers who are satÂisÂfied are nearly 33% more likely to purÂchase again. And since itâs less expenÂsive to keep a cusÂtomer than to acquire a new one, improvÂing cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion reduces costs.
- Improved sales. In addiÂtion to proÂvidÂing repeat sales, cusÂtomers who are satÂisÂfied are more likely to respond to an up sellÂing or cross-selling offer. Loyal cusÂtomers also tend to be less price-sensitive, thereby increasÂing your opporÂtuÂnity for a high-value sale.
- ReferÂrals.Â When the econÂomy is down, minÂiÂmizÂing risk becomes increasÂingly imporÂtant as cusÂtomers decide where to spend limÂited funds. Word-of-mouth adverÂtisÂing is the most trustedâand least expensiveâform of adverÂtisÂing. The more satÂisÂfied your cusÂtomers, the more theyâll tell others.
- Improved shareÂholder value. The HarÂvard BusiÂness Review traced a direct corÂreÂlaÂtion between cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion and shareÂholder value. They theÂoÂrized that a 1% improveÂment in cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion transÂlated into a 3% marÂket value increase for the averÂage comÂpany. This flies in the face of the traÂdiÂtional view of call cenÂters as cost cenÂters. They may cost money to mainÂtain, but they genÂerÂate a wealth of return if manÂaged correctly.
When cusÂtomers interÂact with your call cenÂter, they form perÂcepÂtions of your brand that are far more powÂerÂful than the mesÂsages you send through your varÂiÂous marÂketÂing chanÂnels. AccordÂing toÂ RightÂNow, 89% of cusÂtomers began doing busiÂness with a comÂpetiÂtor folÂlowÂing a poor cusÂtomer expeÂriÂence. This is a powÂerÂful incenÂtive to use the call cenÂter to supÂport your brand âone that will more than pay off when the econÂomy rebounds.
Your Strategy for Improving Customer Service – Quickly and Affordably
Rather than lookÂing at your call cenÂter as a cost-center to be invested in only after other areas of the orgaÂniÂzaÂtion have recovÂered, look at it strateÂgiÂcally as a profit centerâone that can improve cusÂtomer loyÂalty and reduce operÂaÂtional costs. With a litÂtle attenÂtion and a small investÂment, your cenÂter can achieve stelÂlar results for your comÂpany. Here are the steps toÂ take:
- Assess the curÂrent sitÂuÂaÂtion. What are your cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion scores, net proÂmoter scores, or cusÂtomer effort scores? What are your interÂnal qualÂity scores? How about operÂaÂtional metÂrics like averÂage speed of answer, talk time, call resÂoÂluÂtion rates, etc. Do your call cenÂter employÂees underÂstand the critÂiÂcal role they play in the sucÂcess of your busiÂness? Ask them what their job is and if they say, âIâm in the claims departÂment,â or âIâm a techÂniÂcal supÂport rep,â know that youâll need a culÂtural change to help them see themÂselves as servÂing others.
What you want to hear is âI help our cusÂtomers get a fair reimÂburseÂment on their insurÂance claims and help them feel secure knowÂing that weâll take care of them.â or âI make sure our cusÂtomers have the least down-time posÂsiÂble so their employÂees are proÂducÂtive and their busiÂnesses are profÂitable.â Youâll use this baseÂline assessÂment later as you meaÂsure your improvement.
- IdenÂtify process snags. Do your processes and proÂceÂdures make it easy for cusÂtomers to do busiÂness with you, or is their purÂpose to make it easy for you to do busiÂness with your cusÂtomers? CusÂtomers want to spend the least amount of time and energy posÂsiÂble in getÂting answers to their quesÂtions and soluÂtions to their probÂlems. ExamÂine your interÂnal work flows and adjust them to be more customer-friendly.
- IdenÂtify opporÂtuÂniÂties for improvÂing agent skills. Do your employÂees know your prodÂucts and proÂceÂdures? Do they know the companyâs valÂues around serÂvice? Are they able to lisÂten to cusÂtomers and clarÂify their needs? Do they focus on the posÂiÂtive: what they can do for cusÂtomers rather than what they canât? Do they show value in what they ask cusÂtomers to do? Do they set expecÂtaÂtions for what will hapÂpen after the call? If the answer to any of these is no, an investÂment inÂ trainÂingÂ is indicated.
- Engage front-line superÂviÂsors. Front-line superÂviÂsors are the ones whose job it is to see that new processes are folÂlowed and that skills learned in trainÂing are employed on the job. Be sure that they underÂstand the strateÂgic value of the call cenÂter to the overÂall sucÂcess of the busiÂness and the imporÂtance of their role in leadÂing their teams in a process of conÂtinÂuÂous improveÂment. If posÂsiÂble, tie part of their pay into the perÂforÂmance of theirÂ team.
- MeaÂsure again. Once youâve streamÂlined your processes, assured that your call cenÂter agents have both the attiÂtude and skills to proÂvide outÂstandÂing serÂvice, and have front-line superÂviÂsors engaged in conÂtinÂuÂous improveÂment, itâs time to meaÂsureÂ again.
Results You Can Expect
When processes are streamÂlined, call cenÂter employÂees are trained, and front-line superÂviÂsors empowÂered to supÂport conÂtinÂuÂous improveÂment, you can not only expect improved cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion scores, but reduced costs as well. For examÂple, JenÂnifer Edwards trainÂing and proÂgram manÂager at Motorolaâs HomeÂ &Â NetÂworks MobilÂity DiviÂsion reported a 10% increase in cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion and a 56% improveÂment in call resÂoÂluÂtion rates. Jean Pierre Berone, CusÂtomer SerÂvices DirecÂtor for Dell, reported that within two months after beginÂning the iniÂtiaÂtive in MontÂpeÂlier, they achieved a 10% rise in cusÂtomer satÂisÂfacÂtion rates and a 10% reducÂtion in the time taken to resolve techÂniÂcal issues. Many other companiesâlarge and smallâreport simÂiÂlarÂ resultsÂ after folÂlowÂing theseÂ steps.
In as litÂtle as a few monthsâ time, and with minÂiÂmal investÂment in process improveÂment and trainÂing, you can turn your call cenÂter into a strateÂgic tool to improve cusÂtomer loyÂalty and reduce costs. This will improve the botÂtom line, and youâll be well-positioned as a serÂvice leader as the econÂomy recovers.