Contact centres - an asset or a drain?

Paul Morris
Director
Brand Vista Ltd
Blogger
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People are one of the biggest costs in any company and often one of the first areas to come under scrutiny when a business is under pressure. Contact centres often attract more focus than most as they employee a high number of people in proportion to the rest of the business. How many times have you heard the phrase, “our contact centre is a high cost to the business how can we drive efficiencies, cut heads, outsource it, make our cost to serve cheaper?”

Whilst of course it makes good business sense to run your contact centre operations as efficiently as possible, many lose sight of the fact that their contact centre is a valuable asset rich in customer insight. Insight that will help to deliver improvements to your customer experience, develop your products, drive stronger customer loyalty, encourage them to buy more (probably through your contact centre) and recommend you to their friends.

Your contact centre team are probably one of the few teams who talk directly to multiple individual customers, across multiple channels (phone, live chat / instant messaging, social media, email, forums), day in day out. As a result they are the most important people in the business. Yes you heard right. Your contact centre team are more important than your CEO, than your Marketing Director, than your CFO, than your product innovation team. They are your business eyes and ears and have the ability to make or break a customer relationship in one conversation. Add social media into the equation and that one broken relationship will more than likely take out many more.

With this power in their hands it makes total sense that your contact centre team are looked after. They should be recruited to align with your brand values. Trained well. Excited by your products and strategy so they want to contribute. Empowered. Embraced and supported by everyone in the business. Their career paths are defined, they feel developed and are looking for the next opportunity to progress internally. Everyone listens to them. They feel valued, rewarded and recognised for what they do. They are the life blood of your future business success. Everyone gets that, right?

No? Need more convincing? This isn’t all hot air. The evidence speaks for itself.

“Train them well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” - Richard Branson.

It is no surprise that when you look under the surface at some of the top leaders in Customer Experience their strong and often unique internal cultures drive their results. If you need convincing simply Google some of these brands and see what they get up to. Zappos, Brew Dog, Chick fil a, Apple, John Lewis, Patagonia, LEGO and for something a little different check out the UK companies Travel Counsellors and Homeserve. Their great people drive their great customer experiences.

So what can your great people in your contact centre do to help?

A few examples.

They can provide rich actionable insight that improves your customer experience. Every customer contact helps you understand how well your business is delivering against your customers’ needs and motivations. It enables you to build a picture of what works well, what doesn’t and prioritise projects and initiatives to improve it. Required activities could be varied and vast from small tweaks to processes that can be achieved overnight, to new product or technology developments lasting 12 months or more. All activity will be guided by your brand and future state customer experience to ensure it contributes to delivering the right business outcomes. Random change that “feels” right can be as destructive as no change. So prioritise accordingly and with your vision in mind.

Action: Speak to your contact centre team and analyse their data capture. They often know what the key customer frustrations are and will have ideas to resolve them.

 

Their behaviour alone can improve customer advocacy and churn. I worked at Virgin Media for 18 years. I ran contact centres and headed up the Customer Experience Design function. Using Transactional NPS we identified that customers who voluntarily told us that their interaction with a member of our front line team resolved their problem in a polite, friendly and helpful manner, were likely to become stronger advocates than those who didn’t. It’s not rocket science but it is challenging to articulate what is expected. Behavioural improvement was connected to financial performance and through a number of activities, we contributed 30% to the rise in TNPS in the first year and significantly impacted churn rates.

Action: Understand what a great experience feels like through the eyes of your customers. Develop the blueprint that explains how it works and why it works, then embed it (train the team, link it to recruitment, reward and recognition, quality management, coaching and development, all internal communication) to deliver a consistent customer experience.

 

When live chat is optimised in a sales situation it can increase conversion by 29%. In 2017 Forrester identified that a well deployed live chat experience can increase conversion by 29%. What does well deployed mean? It means targeting the areas at highest risk of customers abandoning their online purchase. For example, a customer hesitating at check out, a 404 not found page, movement between similar products with nothing ending up in the basket. Any situation where a customer makes a decision to go elsewhere. Clearly this needs careful curation to ensure the live chat intervention isn’t annoying to customers. Through the analysis of behavioural data and customer insight key trends can be identified and action taken. Your contact centre team will be the people driving this intervention.

Action: Identify opportunities to deploy live chat interventions to encouraging your customers over the purchase line. Always baseline the performance, pilot options, learn and fail fast.

 

The live chat experience consistently delivers higher CSAT ratings that average. This has been a phenomenon I’ve been aware of since I sat in a Directors Group seminar in 2011 and discussed it with different companies. It dawned on me that they were all receiving much higher scores and better feedback for their live chat experiences than they were the traditional phone channel. When you take it apart to understand why, the crux of it is instantaneous gratification. In a world that is increasingly time poor and increasingly impatient, with access to everything immediately via smart devices, this makes complete sense. It is also the reason that the channel of choice for many customers these days is social media; it often drives an instant response as businesses are worried about it running out of control if they don’t act quickly.

Action: Understand your target customers’ in detail, then carefully deploy instant access channels at the right place of the customer journey to deliver the biggest impact.

 

Opportunities to upsell and cross sell. Contact centre agents can earn the right to upsell or cross sell products and services and therefore improve revenue per customer and ensure they are a more “sticky” customer as they have more of your products. Yes I mean earn the right. It’s all very well targeting your customer service or technical support agents to sell, but often this can breed the wrong behaviours and annoy customers as they chase the targets. It’s much better for them to develop the relationship during the conversation with the customer, use business data and insight to enhance their knowledge, sort out the reason the customer is calling as the priority and then naturally through the discussion identify the opportunity to upsell or cross sell. Sometimes the answer is don’t try. Other times there are huge opportunities.     

Action: Articulate what good looks like to your customer facing teams, then monitor and coach them so they upsell and cross sell appropriately.

 

You are sitting on a resource that has the potential to elevate your customer experience to great heights. Think about your contact centre teams as an asset. Work together and embrace them today to help drive your customer experience onwards and upwards. Use it don’t, lose it.

I'd love to hear your examples too, so please get stuck in and share. Thanks!

About Paul Morris

Paul Morris

An accomplished and innovative customer experience specialist and practitioner with a strong operational background having led large contact centres, teams of project managers and delivered high impact change within Virgin Media. Now as a Director of Brand Vista I design compelling omnichannel customer experiences that are aligned to our clients brands. UK Customer Experience Award Winner in 2013 for leading the design and delivery of a multiple touch point behavioural change programme effecting 50 million customer interactions per annum and judge from 2014 to date.

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