CALL CENTER STRATEGIC THINKING MANDATES

Putting Value Ahead of Cost

CallCenters2.com

Successful call centers require strategic perspective, the right mix of motivated people, mature business processes and CRM software systems. It seems every consumer has a frustrating or ridiculous call center story they can tell. They often involve calling in to a company's call center to seek information or help, only to be 'served' by someone who may not speak English well, is rude, unempowered or just unwilling to help.

Dissatisfied call center experiences are the number one source for customer churn, according to a 2011 research report by CRMsearch.com. Yet despite the frequency of such occurrences many companies just turn a blind eye to their call center operations, seemingly unaware of the consequences.

If you are investing in a call center and it's not satisfying your customers, you're wasting your money and burning through valuable customer relationships. However, for companies that choose to confront business reality, improving contact center performance has the two prong benefit of reducing customer churn and creating customer goodwill - and may be the best financial investment you can possibly make for these two critical business objectives.

Contact centers are often the first place where your customers go to communicate with you. They can write in with e-mail or the U.S. Postal Service, sure, but when they reach out to call your contact center staff, they're looking for direct communication and immediate response or resolution.

Call centers are important for customer service because they let your customers talk directly with your business. This is the place where a customer problem or complaint can be defused and ultimately become a customer success story, all because you had someone there to listen, talk and help your customer at their time of need. That's huge. Essentially, it's human Customer Relationship Management (CRM). It's just as important as that big, enterprise software CRM system you also have in your business, but this one has the human ability to truly communicate with your customers.

So now what? Much of call center success starts with a positive attitude. To begin looking at call centers strategically, they can no longer just be seen as a necessary expense. They need to be seen as strategic, customer bonding tools that can help turn an angry customer into a satisfied and appreciative customer who will remember their excellent customer service experience, tell all their friends and grow their spend with your company.

A great call center will help you keep your customers, generate highly qualified referrals, increase customer share, increase market share and grow your business. A bad call center operation will feed the frustrations and high customer support representatives turnover rate that plague far too many contact centers.

The worst experience your customers can have is if they dial in to your call centers for help and come away angry and distraught due to the perceived poor response from your company. Those are the alienated customers you are turning away to competitors. And that's not why you built and staff your call centers in the first place. Bad call center experiences undo your customer relationships. It's that simple.

There are some interesting developments happening in the call center industry that could impact your call center operations and strategies. Instead of locating call centers offshore, some call center operators are placing outsourced call centers in rural America, where labor and facility costs can be materially lower compared to large urban areas. Don Tennant, a former editor-in-chief at Computerworld, recently interviewed Monty Hamilton, the CEO of Rural Sourcing Inc., on this increasing trend. "According to Hamilton, it's not just about waving the American flag, but about serving a sweet spot that falls squarely in the middle market," Tennant blogged.

This new rural call center location sourcing is being established to address one of most cited concerns by customers who complain about having poor, ineffective and frustrating communications with call center agents in other countries. Is it such a solution for your business? Ask your customers. Your customers should be your first line for call center strategy. Ask them how they feel about their call center experience with your company. Listen hard and ask good questions.

A decision to locate a call center offshore or in rural America shouldn't be only about expense. Call centers must be viewed as a business building asset and not just a cost center. Effective call centers are a place where your customers can be nurtured, assisted and turned into lifelong customers, all due to live conversations with well-trained, compassionate and respected call center agents. This value must be quantitatively understood and appreciated for call centers to receive the executive sponsorship, and respect, they deserve.

Only then can those old attitudes about call centers begin to change.