Updated: Feb 11
Too often, businesses view their call centres as cost centres. They tend to see the employees taking the calls as low-skilled staff who aren't capable of making decisions for themselves, or informing larger business decisions.
How do I know this? Because I've witnessed it first hand. I spent ~2 years taking inbound calls, and another 3 years managing a contact centre team. It allowed me to appreciate the importance of customer feedback from a young age, but also generated deep frustration for the disconnect that contact centres often have with the decisions that are made within an organisation. I've also worked in organisations where feedback from the 30,000 calls received per month are not considered at all... unbelievable.
On the other hand, I've been involved with organisations who embrace the feedback from their front-line. They have built systems which ensure micro and macro issues are collected and delivered as insights that influence key decisions made within the organisation.
What's the difference?
Organisations who welcome (and embrace) feedback from their front-line staff make better business decisions. They better understand the short and long-term consequences of making such a decision, both financially and on the customer.
Below, I've listed the 5 key mistakes that businesses make in relation to how they utilise front-line customer feedback:
#1 - They view call centres as 'cost centres' instead of feedback hubs
Whilst I understand that it is important to have sustainable customer servicing costs, it is equally important to make sure you are servicing your customers in the best way that you can. After all, if you have no customers, you won't have a business. And it's much easier (and cheaper) to retain your existing customers than it is to get new customers;
It is 6x more expensive to win a new customer than to retain an existing one
You should treat a contact centre as the "pulse" of your organisation. Each and every day, there are valuable insights that you can derive from the conversations between your customers and the valuable staff that take these calls. It should be your job to identify a way that you can unlock these valuable insights in a way that is scalable and digestible for decision-makers in your business.
Where possible, recognise the great efforts of the staff members who are dealing with customers every day. They have a tough job, and generally have to deal with a lot of shit! Whether you like it or not, these front line staff have as much influence as key decision-makers on how your customers view your organisation. If you treat them well (and show that you're listening to their concerns), it is highly likely that they will reciprocate this by providing great service to your customers.
RADICAL QUESTION - How effective would your business be if you paid front-line staff the same amount as your business executives?
#2 - They don't measure the customer experience
Every business interacts with their customers in some way, shape or form. BUT, very few businesses actually measure how these interactions make the customer feel.
We're often very quick to implement KPIs which measure the performance of our own internal staff (average handling time, call waiting times, # of tasks completed) but very rarely measure how our customers feel about the interactions that we're having with them.
ABC Business has a KPI which requires the Average Handling Time (AHT) of each call to be 240 seconds (on average). The front-line staff are rewarded with additional pay if they meet this target. The staff subsequently start to become rude and abrupt on the phones as they want to end the calls as soon as possible to ensure they are rewarded for finishing calls under 4 minutes. Meeting this KPI allows the front-line staff to receive additional pay, but also leads to a number of customers leaving the business because of the poor service they received.
Measuring Customer Experience
XYZ Business has a KPI known as First Call Resolution (FCR). The front-line staff are rewarded with additional pay if 80% of customers agree that their call was resolved the first-time that they called up. The staff subsequently do everything that they can to resolve the customer's concerns in the first instance, preventing any chance of additional contact and also creating a positive impression on the customer. The front-line staff are rewarded with additional pay AND the customers talk candidly about their positive experience with friends and family.
The moral of the story?
You will benefit by assessing the performance of your contact centre according to how your customers feel. This applies for all channels of communication - phone calls, emails, webchat, social media, seminars etc. If you are able to understand what type of interactions your customers appreciate, this will inform your decisions on where to focus customer servicing efforts and costs moving forward.
#3 - They don't factor call metrics into business performance reporting
For some absurd reason, there is often a large disconnect between "businesses" and their "call centres". Again, it generally stems from the stigma that a call centre is an area of the business that adds no value for the organisation. This couldn't be further from the truth.
It is integral to factor in contact centre reporting into your business performance reporting.
Why? Because your contact centre is the PULSE of your business. Like it or not, all other business operations / strategic decisions in your business will have a positive or negative impact on the contact centre. Think about it ...
A customer delivery is delayed? A promo code isn't working? The product was damaged? Guess where the customer is going to go to find out what's happening.
Correct - they'll go to the PULSE of your business - your contact centre...
It is therefore EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to constantly keep an eye on how your customers react to business decisions. Establishing simple metrics like Sales:Customer Contact ratios will ensure you are understanding the impact certain decisions are having on your customers. Like anything in business, your focus should be on yielding economies of scale in your customer contact centre. But before you even think about that what efficiencies you can derive, ensure that you've set up relevant operational reporting to ensure you have visibility of how customers are reacting to certain incidents and occasions in your business.
#4 - They don't involve front-line staff in business decisions
We understand that Executives get paid big money to make big decisions. And that's fair enough. But there appears to be an intrinsic problem in a number of organisations where key decision-makers think that they understand the full picture and subsequently don't involve staff members who interact with their customers on a day to day basis.
Generally, initiatives are implemented as per below:
Business Executive(s) have an idea --> Business Case --> Execution
What if things were flipped on their head:
Front-line suggestions --> Executive(s) consider all scenarios --> Co-Collaboration with front line --> Execution
It seems absurd that the individuals who deal directly with our customers, who understand pain points and who use our current systems on a day to day basis aren't regularly called upon to provide input into business decisions and the subsequent execution of these decisions!
From our experience, effective continuous improvement programs continuously involve front-line staff in decisions. This requires a level of humility from business executives, regularly ensuring that the front-line have a "seat at the table".
The way we see it - great leaders don't make decisions by themselves. They bring the relevant resources in the room to ensure they can make an informed decision!
#5 - The contact centre remains an afterthought
The final point I'll make recaps all of the points above. There's two ways that the "contact centre" can be treated:
TRANSACTIONAL - It can be seen as a low-skilled, transaction centre. A burden on the business.
TRANSFORMATIONAL - Or it can be viewed as an Innovation Hub. A place where your business is constantly experimenting with the way that you interact with your customers. A place that customers come to have a great experience!
If my business had our own call centre, we would definitely treat it as Transformational. We would involve a representative from our contact centre in every business decision we make and we would centre operations around the interactions that we have with our customers. We definitely would not label it as a "call centre" as that connotes negativity. It would be known as our Innovation Hub where employees are empowered to make decisions and suggest changes that will benefit the customer experience.
As you can probably tell, I'm EXTREMELY passionate about the value that your business can derive by effectively utilising the data and insights stemming from customer contacts. You should treat these costs as an investment, rather than a burden. Equally, you should treat your front-line staff as valuable assets, instead of low-skilled operators.
If you would like to have a chat further about changing the way you operate your call centre, please get in touch.
The Bearded Man