Are call centres part of your branding strategy?

23rd Jun 2013
Often call centres fall into the ‘logistics and operations’ area of the business rather than being seen as something that needs to be developed with the same level of branding know-how. 
Offering a positive brand experience is paramount for every retailer. After all, a customer’s experience will determine whether they will return, stay loyal to your brand and recommend your services and products to their friends and family.
Many retailers fall victim to the thought that the brand experience is limited to the physical store and its marketing collateral because they have strict brand guidelines to abide to. While it is true that elements like store layout and customer interaction with staff forms a large part of the experience, it is also imperative to ensure all customer touchpoints exhibit the same brand values so that transition from one to another is seamless.
These touchpoints include social media platforms, websites and call centres. However, the latter is often overlooked when retailers come to implement their brand strategy. Often call centres fall into the ‘logistics and operations’ area of the business rather than being seen as something that needs to be developed with the same level of branding know-how. 
There is no denying the importance of call centres. Not only do call centre staff deal with tricky situations like complaints, they are also responsible for crafting long-term relationships with customers. And more importantly call centre staff are brand custodians, particularly for retailers that have an online presence only.
It is therefore vital for retailers to include call centres in their branding strategy and ensure such staff are trained properly so that they become brand ambassadors delivering the level and style of service that emulates the retailer’s position and values. The process begins with recruitment; you need ensure that you are employing the best communicators.
Brands need to remember call centre staff are often the first point of human contact for many customers (outside the retail store) so employing strong and confident communicators is key. Every client invariably has a specific customer audience and it’s important to keep such requirements front of mind during the training process. For example, customers calling a charity to donate money would expect to be greeted by somebody that’s responds positively to a more conversation based call whilst dealing with the transaction, therefore staff must be trained to feel comfortable holding longer dialogues.
On the contrary, customers calling a luxury brand would certainly expect the high-level of customer service they receive in store. In this instance, a conversation based approach may not be appropriate; here the interaction is more usually based upon excellent product knowledge and a willingness to go the extra mile. It is therefore highly important for call centre staff (especially those dealing with queries from multiple retailers) to be offered client specific training.
If a retailer’s call centre is outsourced, it’s just as vital (if not more so) for client requirements to be acknowledged. This includes everything from tone of voice to the language used during the call to ensure the brand’s image is being kept consistent across every touchpoint. This means teams for each client need to be selected very carefully - you need to ensure you have picked staff that can represent your client appropriately.
For outsourced call centres, it is advisable to involve the client when it comes to training. After all, call centre staff effectively work for the brand(s) they represent, so who better to train call centre staff than the client who knows their brand inside out. They will be able to inform, educate and instil brand values to the same level as in-store staff.
Furthermore, training should not start and stop with an induction; it should be an ongoing process both internally and in partnership with your client. Staff should constantly be briefed on new products, announcements and company news, because they, like your website or in-store staff need to be armed with this knowledge. You wouldn’t ever forget to brief your sales-assistants on a new product – the same rule should apply for those working in the call centre, especially because they need to deal with the majority of queries, complaints and from time to time irate customers.
To really illustrate the importance of call centre staff, one only has to think of an issue like product recall. It is undoubtedly in a situation like this where call centre staff have to deal with a flood of enquires. It’s at this stage that customers need to feel as if they are speaking with the brand directly.
Even with the rise of social media and complaints being made via platforms like Twitter and Facebook, there is still a real appetite amongst customers to speak to somebody on the phone, especially when things go wrong.  Just think about all the places that a brand’s telephone number appears – on the website, on the store front, marketing materials and in some cases on the product itself. It is one of the first places a customer will turn to get more information, so it’s imperative the person on the other end of the line is instilled with your brand values. 
Guy Smith is joint managing director of Prolog.

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