Recession-weary businesses look to customer service for help
With the global recession still continuing to threaten the viability of many companies, customer service has come to the fore as a strategic business tool that can be used to help retain, win and win back customers, says Guy Tweedale, Senior VP of European Operations at Jacada. But how can we help our Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to achieve these goals?
Faced with any recession or downturn in the market, companies will review every aspect of their businesses in order to uncover new and innovative ways to save money, whilst also maintaining revenue at or near pre-recession levels. To achieve both, there is a third imperative that needs to be considered: the ability to retain existing customers.
For many companies this will require a change in customer-related strategy, from customer acquisition to customer retention. This entails a total sea change, since companies will need to invest in the quality of the customer experience (rather than simply in marketing communications), and to recognise their customer service function as a valuable asset that can make a significant contribution to the bottom line, rather than a drain on resources where cost reduction is key.
Without this fundamental change in philosophy, customers will not get the service that they expect – and increasingly demand – and therefore will go elsewhere.
The Ultimate Customer Service Tool
In modern business, customer service can mean many things, but in today’s 24/7 world, a call centre will feature significantly in a consumer’s experience with a service provider. Yet this particular area has often been neglected, as senior managers either don’t understand or don’t appreciate the impact of satisfied customers on the company’s success; or the impression that a call centre has on a customer’s perception of a company and its products or services. Any consumer can tell you that good customer service (not just their own previous experiences, but friends’ experiences and the feedback from the wider consumer community) is an important part of the decision-making process for their next purchase. And common sense tells us that reduced customer churn, leading to reduced acquisition and retention costs, will be beneficial to a company’s bottom line, not to mention the revenue generated from the customer.
The CFI Group’s 2008 Contact Centre Satisfaction Index shows customer satisfaction levels when dealing with a call centre can provide a good indicator of customer loyalty and the likelihood of word-of-mouth recommendations. According to the report, 94 per cent of customers who have a satisfying call centre experience will do business with the same company again, and that 91 per cent of them would recommend the company to others.
The “Face” of the Business
With this kind of impact, it’s clear that the employees working in call centres hold a substantial amount of influence – good and bad – over customer satisfaction. In fact, the people who answer the phones in the call centre are often the only people with whom a customer will actually speak.
Yet for years companies have been focused on removing costs in the call centre, rather than investing in them to ensure they are able to meet customers’ expectations. It’s therefore not surprising that consumers often dread even the thought of calling their service providers, and that the media has vilified the call centres they operate.
A new survey from Jacada (undertaken by YouGov) found that 48% of consumers have given up with unresolved problems when dealing with a call centre (34% had to telephone again to resolve their problems). No wonder just 20% reported feeling satisfied after their experience.
Companies need to view CSRs as much more than just problem solvers – they need to be seen as key brand ambassadors for the company, and as the “face” of the business. Executives who have never spent time in their call centres should plan to spend a day with one of their CSRs. Most likely, what they experience will surprise them – and teach them a lot they didn’t know about how their company handles customer service.
Tackling common customer service issues
According to a European-wide survey by Oracle in 2008, more than half of those questioned did not consider customer service operations to be effective. The respondents’ principal complaints included:
– long call queues (77%)
– having to repeat queries to different members of staff (75%)
– having to be passed between too many different departments (55%)
But how can these problems be addressed, so that customer service can be used as a strategic tool, to differentiate the company from the competition? In order to overcome the most common customer service obstacles and connect with customers effectively, CSRs actually need just a few simple things: they need the time to build a rapport with the customer; they need to be knowledgeable; and they need easy access to the right information at the right time within the call. Unfortunately, many of today’s CSRs have access to very few, if any, of these resources.
What role does technology play?
Even the most motivated and skilled CSRs won’t be able to provide good customer service without the right technology to support them. With the right tools in place, however, companies will be able to create an environment where CSRs can deal with queries effectively to ensure that customers are happy at the end of the call and willing to consider the company’s offerings next time. Or, even better, perhaps the customer was tempted to purchase an additional product or service during the call because he or she was in the mood to listen to a cross or up-sell offer, and the CSRs had the time and information necessary to make a relevant, attractive offer!
Unfortunately, technology can sometimes actually hamper the CSRs’ ability to offer such a high quality interaction with their customers, since CSRs are often faced with a chaotic maze of complex applications and tools installed on their desktop. In fact, anecdotal evidence points to many CSRs having up to 25 open applications on the desktop at any one time. This level of complexity can be both distracting and confusing for CSRs who are trying to provide efficient customer support, and will also have a negative impact on their ability to maximise any cross or up-sell opportunities that exist.
In order to provide the support that CSRs need, businesses need to go beyond simply collecting key customer data in a variety of different systems. They need to use technology to apply intelligence to the information that they hold on customers and their behaviours. By turning data into intelligence in this way, the call centre can become a strategic business tool that can be used not only to give CSRs the ability to anticipate and respond to customer requests more effectively, but also to secure higher levels of customer retention by building better (and more profitable) customer relationships.
Heeding the Call
In order to harness the power of the call centre in this way – and to begin to see it as a strategic tool, and not a necessary evil – it’s imperative that companies start focusing on their customer service operations right now. Faced with the current economic climate, it is now more important than ever for businesses to get customer service right if they are to keep their existing customers whilst also attracting new customers for the future.