Last year was not a good one for Comcast. According to one study, 15% of Comcast’s Philadelphia customers heard a busy signal when calling in to their customer service number. One man who actually managed to get through was put on hold for three and a half hours when he tried to cancel his service. A different customer, also trying to cancel, was forced to argue with the call center representative, who outright refused his request and demanded for ten minutes that the customer give him a good reason for cancelling.
The Worst of the Worst
Comcast isn’t alone. An increasing number of companies, especially those with few market competitors, are receiving poor ratings from the American Customer Service Index (ACSI) for the service (or lack of service) their call centers provide. According to ACSI, internet service providers top the poor-service list among all industries, followed closely by subscription television, social media, and power companies.
The Stakes Are High
The good news for call centers is that the majority of consumers are satisfied with the service they provide. American Express found that 62% of consumers reported their call center experiences met their expectations, and 2% said they exceeded expectations. The bad news is that one out of three consumers said call centers did not meet their expectations, and 70% of senior call center executives in a study from Bain said their companies failed to provide adequate service.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for companies providing weak call center service. According to a poll from Harris Interactive, 86% of consumers will quit companies that provide bad call center experiences (Gartner puts that number at 73%).
Why All That Bad Service?
According to the Taylor Research Group, there are several reasons call centers provide poor customer service, including the following:
- Inadequate Staffing and Funding. This is especially true for SMBs with small call centers; costs and budgets tend to be rolled up into larger departments, like IT or Operations.
- Poor Prioritization. Many larger companies don’t understand that call centers are their primary customer communications channel; undervaluing the substantial contribution call centers make to image and brand, they don’t provide call centers with the support they need to be effective.
- Inertia. Companies that do provide adequate staffing and funding often feel they’ve done everything they need to do, an attitude they would never have with marketing or IT departments. As a result, they don’t adequately communicate with call center executives and staff, and thus miss the inevitable problems that crop up.
Misunderstood and Mismanaged
For many call centers, the problem is not with call center representatives, but with those who train them. Without an adequate understanding of call center best practices, they often develop protocols based on popular notions and misconceptions.
The Top 14 Misconceptions That Lead To Bad Service
Here are 14 common call center misconceptions that can lead to poor customer service.
1) The customer is always right. It’s reasonable for call center reps to strive for civility and reasonable behavior in every call, but that shouldn’t extend to the attitude that every customer demand is equally reasonable. Some simply aren’t. And if a call center rep loses internet access or their computer begins to flash blue screens, frustration can quickly descend into panic, which can easily lead to irrational behavior. The best customer service reps can do in this circumstance is try to calm the customer down, but they shouldn’t accede to every unreasonable request or demand.
2) It’s wrong to point out a caller’s mistake. You don’t want to initiate an argument with a complaining customer, but you also don’t want to reinforce false beliefs or inaccurate facts. It’s not unusual for a frustrated caller to exaggerate or misstate the circumstances that led to their call. In these situations, when you have facts that contradict a caller’s assertions, you can politely correct them, especially when that information is directly related to a solution.
3) Customers who don’t complain are happy. Some people are simply non-confrontational and submissive. The fact that they don’t complain could mean they feel intimidated, or have given up, or even that they’ve simply lost trust in your company and are considering moving on to another provider. Practice reading between the lines to ensure your customer is getting what they need, or just ask them if they're getting the right answers to their questions, and if they're happy with the service they've received.
4) Meeting customer expectations is sufficient. If you solve the customer’s immediate problem, the assumption is that they’re satisfied (for now), and you feel satisfied that you’ve done your job. But the problem they're having now could lead to more, similar problems down the road. Customer service reps should anticipate future problems and strive to exceed expectations.
5) You need to have all the answers, now. It’s not possible for even the best-trained reps to anticipate every problem callers might have, or to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the companies for which they work. It’s OK to say so when you don’t have an answer, as long as you also tell the caller that although you don’t have an answer now, you’ll find someone who does and get back to them with an answer or solution.
6) Escalated tensions mean you’re not doing your job. This is related to #1, above. Some callers will complain, protest, and even become verbally abusive, regardless of your best attempts to solve their problems. In situations where the interaction seems to be getting out of hand, remain polite and transfer the call to another representative or a supervisor.
7) When customers complain, give them something for free. If call center reps consistently solved customer problems by doling out discounts and free gifts, companies would go out of business. Focus less on these kinds of rewards and more on solving the caller’s problem. If there is a legitimate issue that has inconvenienced them, remember the power of a sincere apology. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Let’s ensure this doesn’t happen moving forward.”
8) What customers really want is savings, not service. Studies have shown that this is simply not true. Recent studies have found that quality service trumps price, delivering on average a 10-15% increase in revenues. Again, best practice is to solve the customer’s problem, not reduce prices.
9) Customers prefer automated solutions to live agents. They don’t. At least, not all of them. One of the biggest complaints customers report is the inability to connect with ‘a real person.’ According to a study from Gartner, a third of all call center interactions continue to require the support of a live agent. Be sure your IVR is set up to facilitate this quickly and easily.
10) Every customer wants a fast resolution. What customers want is to have their problem fixed. Although it’s true that they don’t appreciate gratuitous, distracting conversation (as in “What’s the weather like in your area?”), they’re willing to take the time necessary to get to the root of the problem. Just be sure you’re utilizing that time to actually help them.
11) Small companies can’t compete with big ones when it comes to service. Although it’s true that SMBs can’t commit the same resources to invest in emerging technologies, they have the advantage of less complex, bureaucratic organizational structures, making it easier for call center reps to find solutions to customer problems. This is one of the reasons small credit unions typically provide better customer service than large banks.
12) Customers are all the same. This is more an admission of frustration and defeat than a statement of fact. Every customer is different, with different problems and needs. The best call centers work to personalize every call and provide each caller with a tailored customer experience.
13) Nothing positive comes from negative customer interactions. Just as failure teaches us a lot about success, poor customer interactions are opportunities to improve performance. They help call center reps understand what they’re doing wrong and become more effective in the future.
14) Customers don’t really mind when you put them on hold. In fact, being put on hold is among the single most frustrating experiences a caller can have. According to one study, 90% of customers report that being placed on hold was their most frustrating call center experience. Rather than putting callers on hold, tell them you’ll call them back, and give them as firm a time as possible for the call-back.
Set Your Call Center Up For Success
Effective call centers are the heart of most organizations. In many cases, they are a customer’s only one-on-one communications channel when they need information, help, or advice. Call centers are the living embodiment of a company’s brand; the personification of the promises it makes to its customers. At their best, they help large and small companies grow their businesses and boost revenues. As such, they deserve the resources and training necessary to make them as effective and consequential as they can be.
If you're looking for ways to set your call center up for success, start by checking out Connect First's cloud based call center software. From predictive and power dialers to IVR builders, ACD, and more, we've got the call center solutions your business needs. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your contact center succeed.