Held up on hold

MyCustomer.com
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I presume no-one’s going to be surprised at the revelations from Mintel this week that we don’t like using call centres. According to research carried out by the company, 90 per cent of us find our call centre experiences annoying and frustrating. It seems that being forced to listen to Gareth Gates murder Suspicious Minds while waiting to argue with an operator who’s probably not going to help you anyway is not everyone’s idea of fun.

Tell me about it! I’ve just had to change all my address and contact details with banks, utilities and so forth. It’s been a startling experience, exposing how appalling and inept some companies are at doing something as simple as changing your post code on their records.

Some firms do it very well of course. The Mintel survey picked out financial services companies as being among the better call centre operators and on the whole I’d have to agree. First Direct have long prided themselves on their customer service levels, while MBNA were sweet as a nut about taking down the new details. Full marks also to Virgin Mobile for making it a painless experience.

But then there’s Barclays which has so far had four completed bank forms, two letters and 5 phone calls and still hasn’t managed to change my address details on their records four weeks after I initially contacted them. Or London Electricity whose operators are apparently incapable of explaining their own documentation once you’ve penetrated the muzak – Kylie this time I think - to find someone to answer the phone,

It does beggar belief that in our increasingly call centre-centric culture, so many companies are seemingly incapable of managing their operations in a customer friendly way. If you choose to make your call centre the front line in your contact with your customers and then make that front line impossible or aggravating to negotiate, then why are you surprised when your customer churn rates soar?

My Barclays experience has been positive – for First Direct who are about to get all my business from now on. No doubt this will send the Barclays customer services people into a frenzy of sending me letters urging me to change my mind. Still , that won’t matter – after all, they’ll be sending them to the wrong address!

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By djb554
28th Oct 2002 19:19

This item shows one thing only - that people love to complain about things, given the chance.

Just let us remember what the alternatives to using a call centre would be? Self service on the web? Or doing everything in person? Just how frustrating and time consuming are these options going to be, let alone realistic?

I currently live in the US, and I'm in the process of moving back to the UK. I have therefore been calling multiple call centres on both sides of the Atlantic. Let me tell you, doing this would be 100 times harder if there were no call centres. The biggest problem I have is that my bank over here (Fleet) has largely backed away from using 'full service' call centres, so I'm forced to use the web or go to the bank branch whenever I need to do anything.

I'm not saying there are no bad call centres, ones with stupid rules about average call length (like ATT Broadband used to have) or ones with disastrously long on-hold waits (the former Cable & Wireless cable operation springs to mind), or indeed calls that leave me gasping in frustration.

But by and large once you get another human on the end of a phone line, you stand a good chance of getting done what you need done, provided your expectations are reasonable. And let me concur that you sometimes get excellent services too - I cannot praise MBNA America enough, for example.

Certainly thre are times you have to wait on hold longer than you like, yes you sometimes have to work your way though annoying menus, and certainly you have to give the same information several times as you work through the call. But it usually works!

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25th Oct 2002 19:42

I completely agree with you, Stuart. The normal user experience of call centre leaves much to be desired!!

What’s interesting, though, is that currently over 2% of the adult working population in this country work in call centres or contact centres, a figure confidently expected to rise to over 3% by 2005.

How can it be that so many people who are customers of other decent services in their own right can be complicit in delivering such a universally poor service over the phone or Internet?

The answer, of course, it that it's not the fault of the staff in the call centres but the organisations for whom they work.

The trouble is that these organisations have no idea how to organise things differently, because no-one has ever shown them how.

By and large, they're still mired in a mindset that seeks to drive down Average Call Duration, where the consequential costs remain hidden from view.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way.

In fact, I can think of a number of firms who let go of Average Call Duration as their primary driver of productivity only to discover that – surprise, surprise, shock horror, shock horror – their Average Call Duration actually FELL.

If anyone's interested, I'd be delighted to outline an approach to call centre improvement that delivers the Holy Grail of decent service AND lower costs.

Regards,

Alan

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avatar
By djb554
28th Oct 2002 19:19

This item shows one thing only - that people love to complain about things, given the chance.

Just let us remember what the alternatives to using a call centre would be? Self service on the web? Or doing everything in person? Just how frustrating and time consuming are these options going to be, let alone realistic?

I currently live in the US, and I'm in the process of moving back to the UK. I have therefore been calling multiple call centres on both sides of the Atlantic. Let me tell you, doing this would be 100 times harder if there were no call centres. The biggest problem I have is that my bank over here (Fleet) has largely backed away from using 'full service' call centres, so I'm forced to use the web or go to the bank branch whenever I need to do anything.

I'm not saying there are no bad call centres, ones with stupid rules about average call length (like ATT Broadband used to have) or ones with disastrously long on-hold waits (the former Cable & Wireless cable operation springs to mind), or indeed calls that leave me gasping in frustration.

But by and large once you get another human on the end of a phone line, you stand a good chance of getting done what you need done, provided your expectations are reasonable. And let me concur that you sometimes get excellent services too - I cannot praise MBNA America enough, for example.

Certainly thre are times you have to wait on hold longer than you like, yes you sometimes have to work your way though annoying menus, and certainly you have to give the same information several times as you work through the call. But it usually works!

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26th Oct 2002 13:21

One of the many absurdities of including call centers as major elements in CRM is that so few, if any, actually ADD to the positive aspects of customer's experience with the firm, or deliver benefits not previously available through preceding methods for delivering customer service. Automated phone menus, endless periods on hold, all the while being annoyed by repetition of how important the call is to the firm that won't answer it, perhaps advertising or equally unwanted and useless information filling the void -- does anyone think this adds to customer satisfaction and promotes relationships?

I recently had an experience trying to get a quote for automobile insurance. After calling its phone number, waiting interminably and fruitlessly for a human being to answer, all the while being told that I could get help online, I concluded that this was a ploy to get customers to serve themselves online, so as to save the firm even more money at customer expense. So I went online, and found that the website system for obtaining quotes was only a little more annoying than waiting on the phone for hours. There were frequent pop-up windows that further pursued some piece of information provided in answering a given query, but these were always a few questions behind, and in a window that I had to maximize in order to read. Plus, whenever such a window popped up, it erased all the answers I had already given to the questions that followed it in the website sequence. Finally, the site stuck me in an endless repetition of kicking me back to a question then a pop-up window, then the same question again, and the same pop-up again, so I quit.

Do you suppose these firms mystery shop their own call centers, or just monitor how may calls their staff are handling per second, and how many complete the calls within five seconds? Do they ask their callers how their experiences went, if they have any suggestions for making the experience better, or merely monitor with glee the declining costs of customer disservice? And this is Customer Relationship Management!

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26th Oct 2002 16:49

Isn't the bottom line that CRM is about ensuring that people (employees) know how to deal with people (customers)? Acting professionally doesn't need to mean that employees become parrots or act out their frustrations.
As you all describe in CRM jargon, employees need support as well as training. Human support that is. I used to work in a small (by today's standards) call centre. We were in teams of 4, 2 opposite 2 and could hear each other's conversations. There was always one free to listen for a minute or two, after a call if one of us had had a bad time or were not sure of our information. We were even prepared to take each other's calls if the pressure was on for one or another. The result was that life was quite bearable and we knew we were doing a good job.

The other thing that I hear in my present job is a need for change in 'culture'.
The job I am doing now allows me to see the numerous complaints about the way customers are treated and it goes from being ignored to being told (sic)"once we've got your money we don't give a f***". What's going on?

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25th Oct 2002 19:42

I completely agree with you, Stuart. The normal user experience of call centre leaves much to be desired!!

What’s interesting, though, is that currently over 2% of the adult working population in this country work in call centres or contact centres, a figure confidently expected to rise to over 3% by 2005.

How can it be that so many people who are customers of other decent services in their own right can be complicit in delivering such a universally poor service over the phone or Internet?

The answer, of course, it that it's not the fault of the staff in the call centres but the organisations for whom they work.

The trouble is that these organisations have no idea how to organise things differently, because no-one has ever shown them how.

By and large, they're still mired in a mindset that seeks to drive down Average Call Duration, where the consequential costs remain hidden from view.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way.

In fact, I can think of a number of firms who let go of Average Call Duration as their primary driver of productivity only to discover that – surprise, surprise, shock horror, shock horror – their Average Call Duration actually FELL.

If anyone's interested, I'd be delighted to outline an approach to call centre improvement that delivers the Holy Grail of decent service AND lower costs.

Regards,

Alan

Thanks (0)