Why The Call Center Matters More than Ever

Investment in omni-channel customer service is a prominent corporate trend. Companies are looking to text, Web self-service, instant messaging and just about any other method they can find to deliver a better customer experience. But while all of those channels can be useful in retaining customers and building loyalty, too many brands are not paying enough attention to the most important customer channel they have: the telephone.

Despite companies’ attempts to nudge customers to contact them in other ways, most consumers still pick up the phone when they need service. Analyst firm Forrester confirms that the phone is still the most widely used customer-service channel, with 73 percent of consumers calling into a call center. And when customers are angry, they’re even more motivated to pick up the phone—in fact, says a report from Arizona State University, customers are 11 times more likely to complain by phone than they are via the Web.

So, the phone is still the most-used, and therefore most important, channel for customer service. And as any corporate executive knows—or should know—service matters. Accenture recently stated that $1.6 trillion (yes, with a “T”) is up for grabs from customers switching from one company to another. Customers crave an excellent service experience, and companies that provide it will snatch a share of that $1.6 trillion away from competitors.

The problem, then, with a lot of current investment in customer service is that it’s going to the wrong place. Omni-channel strategies can produce results to a point, but there is still no replacement for a call center that provides superior customer service. Agents with excellent communications skills, who can build genuine connections with customers, are more valuable than ever in what Accenture calls the “switching economy.” Unfortunately, as we’ll see in the next post in this series, very few, if any, call centers even serve customers adequately, much less with excellence. Why is that?

For starters, call-center agents become disengaged over time and often feel powerless to help customers. They fail to build the kind of strong rapport with customers that will ultimately provide a more rewarding experience for the customer and the agent alike. The tools agents have available to them help them capture data and remain compliant but do not actually help them improve their speaking behavior with customers. As a result, customers feel that they are speaking with someone who is apathetic to their needs. Agents often dread speaking with customers because they know that frustrated customers will treat them as obstacles rather than as enablers.

Furthermore, supervisors and call center executives face significant measurement challenges. They currently lack an objective, automated and comprehensive means by which to measure and teach the communication skills that are at the heart of a phone call. Demands for measurement have matured to adapt to the modern real-time customer call center, but executives still lack a timely and reliable method by which to measure the customer’s experience during an interaction.

Fortunately, innovative technology exists that processes and interprets behavioral signals. This technology, now available to call centers, has the power to improve rapport between customers and agents as well as to provide supervisors with a reliable, comprehensive and real-time view into customers’ experiences.

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