Time to stop talking about call centres

Is it finally time to stop talking about ‘call centres’? Even the broader term ‘contact centre’ fails to acknowledge the strategic role that customer service teams now occupy. But how should we start referring to call centres instead? Perhaps the customer experience centre?

Perhaps it is just going to be too difficult to enforce a change on the industry, but I foresee that the focus on customer experience we already see today will gradually change the terms we use.

Forward-thinking organisations today have realised that their marketing, sales, and customer service functions do need to work more closely together. The connection to the customer is being redefined. Companies need an holistic view of each customer, they need to know the entire history of their interaction with each customer across all channels, and they need to know which channels each customer prefers using. All this requires analysis and insight.

In many organisations this has been complicated because the area that took the lead on social media interactions has so far been marketing. Now these functions and customer interactions are blurring together. Customers are now seeking engagement before, during, and after a purchase. They are asking for a much richer engagement with organisations – not just advertising as the only pre-sale way that they might have interacted with the brand.

The customer experience is not just developing because of the introduction of social media. The entire process of buying has changed. The way customers seek out prices and information on products in addition to the way that they make a purchase ha all changed.

This combination of multiple communication channels, mobile Internet, price comparison, and instant search has entirely reshaped the way customers behave. All this has happened in the past decade.

Yet the people who manage all of this experience for millions of customers each day are still referred to as the call centre. Let’s see how far we can push the industry commentators towards using customer experience centre instead?

Caribbean call-centre

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Use customer knowledge with care – not abandon!

What happens when brands know too much about you? Customers are happy to share their preferences on Facebook and through the use of loyalty cards, but sometimes it pays to be less clever than is actually possible when it comes to each separate incidence of customer engagement.

If customers are used to using six, seven, or even more channels to contact brands then tying all those interactions together in a logical way that helps to manage customers more effectively does create a lot of data that can be extremely useful. This process of connecting channels is often referred to as ‘omnichannel’ service and if it improves service interactions then surely this could only be a good thing?

The issue is that sometimes companies can forget that there is a fine line between helpfully tying together the various strands of interactions across various channels and just appearing to know too much. A piece of personal data shared in a transaction online, in a web-chat or on a voice call cannot necessarily be assumed to be information that can be referenced arbitrarily at some point in the future.

There are many stories about retailers sending pregnancy related discounts to young women before their family know about the pregnancy. The New York Times published a detailed example of how this works back in 2012, but it’s a recurring theme – just how much information should be used, even if it is available?

Even fairly innocuous examples can be creepy to some consumers. Nobody minds visiting a restaurant and being asked by a waiter you know if you want ‘the usual’. But if a waiter you had never met addressed you by name and asked if you wanted your favourite dish, because your entire purchasing history is available to the restaurant staff, then that could be helpful or scary – depending on your point of view.

Information on customers can be very useful and can unobtrusively improve service. An airline automatically selecting an aisle seat for a customer with this preference is a good example. However, the use of preferences as a result of data mining and propensity profiling is fraught with difficulty in the absence of a filter that judges the ‘appropriateness’ or ‘acceptability’ of the application of that preference in a particular customer scenario –  and should be planned very carefully. Moreover, ensuring customer care advisors are well trained and properly managed is fundamental in a non-face to face environment where only voice tone or use of syntax can help judge what is pertinent vs. impertinent use of data.

Waiter - B1


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Making services innovation a reality today

Outsource Magazine and the consulting firm Alsbridge were recently looking for some examples of innovation so I thought I’d respond here on the blog with a few ideas.

Innovation is a word that is used so often in product brochures it has become a cliché. The way I see it, invention is the creation of something entirely new, but innovation is taking various ingredients and mixing them in a new way.

Apple is a great case study as they keep on innovating. The smart phone existed before Apple created the iPhone, the MP3 music player existed before they created the iPod. If you can take what already exists, but make it a step change better than that’s a good way to define innovation.

But in services this is often a difficult subject to approach. Many suppliers lock down their service levels to the point that what is agreed and paid for is all that can ever be delivered – this doesn’t leave any room at all for people to innovate yet how many conferences have you attended where executives talk about innovative outsourcing?

I like to think that Teleperformance is a little different. I don’t need to shout about innovation myself when Gartner has published data saying that in our sector we are not only the best at delivery – all that day-to-day safe pair of hands work – but also the most innovative firm in the business.

There are several reasons for this. We have to innovate in customer service. It is a daily reality that the customers of our clients will be exploring a new channel or app or way of reaching out to brands. We need to stay one step ahead of what is taking place so we can help our clients deliver a great experience.

This means being flexible. What happens if we agree on a customer service contract and after a few months find that a lot of customer information requests are coming in via new channels – such as WhatsApp? Any company engaged in customer service today needs to be more open to change than ever before.

In addition, we don’t just talk about this; we have a Customer Experience Lab in Portugal that does nothing except exploring the future of customer service. They are endlessly analysing customer behaviour online and the data we can extract from the public Internet today is astounding.

Brands can find who is talking about them, their products, whether it’s negative or positive, and where the customers are located. The interaction with customers today is far more complex than just a post-purchase support call or complaint.

Regardless of what Teleperformance alone is doing with our CX Lab, I believe that customer service in general is where we will see the most business innovation over the next decade.

The customer relationship that was focused on the customer service team is merging into sales, marketing, operations and research. Companies are moving to a strategy of constant engagement with customers rather than loyalty programmes. This changing interaction with customers is reshaping entire industries – look at how fast retail is changing today.

The endless repetition of innovation, and similar buzzwords, may be a cliché for some, but anyone working on the customer experience knows that we are changing real businesses on a daily basis. This is where innovation is really happening.



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Speed + content = happy and loyal customers

Two recent news stories perfectly capture the road ahead for telcos and broadband providers in 2015. First is the news that Vodafone 4G customers can access NOW TV live and direct from from their handset – allowing access to content including hundreds of new movies.

In other news, the industry analyst Ovum has warned that at least half of all global telco customers are at risk of churn in the next year.

So, it’s getting harder and harder to keep customers loyal and the telcos are exploring content as an answer. These developments capture the balance that the telcos need to strike.

A smart phone is useless if customers cannot use it to browse the Internet quickly and easily. Likewise, fantastic wifi at home is great, but even better if that fast connection can be used to access interesting content.

The various content deals taking place in the market at present point to an increased desire by the telcos to share network costs, but compete on the content they are offering to customers.

I have talked about this several times on the blog recently, but this Ovum data highlights the importance of getting the package right for customers. Every customer now expects more than just access to a network – that’s just the most basic expectation. Customers are now looking to see which telco will add the most value to their subscription with content they can consume using the network.

Nederland beweegt

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I’m getting Emotional! It must be Customer Satisfaction.

There’s a frilled lizard running down the street after the pizza delivery man, getting emotional because his order is cold. Little Frill can’t understand why all customer service can’t be like First Direct. It’s a simple ad that reminds every organisation that when a patron contacts them it’s usually because there is a real demand, a question, a need to change or a need to express dissatisfaction. These needs are universal, regardless of sector or the organisation so why is there such a difference in the levels of satisfaction customers experience and how are these levels linked to our emotions just like Frill’s?

Even before we delve deeper into the potential root causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction it is important to acknowledge that the latter has significantly higher potential consequences than the former as discussed in my previous blog, which is why the sentiment of the experience is paramount to this discussion.

The UK’s Customer Service Index clearly shows customers are most satisfied when speaking and interacting with Retail (food and non-food) organisations and least satisfied when conversing with Utility companies.  What we eat, what we wear, products that assist us in the home and in relation to our work are both fundamental and necessary aspects of how we live. The time we spend interacting with retail brands’ customer service is usually small for the most routine of these regular purchases when compared with the longevity or use made of the product. Gas, electricity and water (and the 4th utility – broadband) are however perceived as a necessity on a very different level. The correlation between the emotional charge connected with a customer interaction directly reflects how these different ‘necessities’ are perceived, and with utilities in particular this appears to drive a heightened expectation and response when communicating with customer care departments.

Some will say that the Utilities sector is naturally at a disadvantage due to the fact we purchase electricity and gas as a basic essential for life and we are a captive audience for the Utility companies, but parallels can be drawn with Utilities as the food market too is dominated by a number of large suppliers and anyone who has done a Friday night ‘big shop’ is unlikely to disagree that the experience is any more ‘enjoyable’ than selecting who will provide the gas to cook with and the electricity and water necessary to heat and light the home.

No one is oblivious to the psychological and emotional reward that we gain from food or the rewards we get from acquiring the latest gadget and the must-have designer label but we also garner emotional and psychological satisfaction from warmth and light – so what is the difference?

I would argue that the ‘customer outcomes’ we seek when contacting our utility provider are clear to us but are frustrated by the utility sectors indifference to the customer journey, their cost-loyalty equation and the draconian sign-posting to inadequate self-serve channels.

With a growing number of challenger brands in the Utilities sector the big providers must recognise this and strive to provide an emotionally rewarding experience or risk losing customers or retaining customers who are dissatisfied. There is a real cost to the providers in terms of their profits but also to the reputation of their brand and the industry in which they operate.

The Utilities sector can’t revolutionise frustrating aspects of the industry overnight, but change will be seen in due course, such as being required to improve their ability to switch providers.  There are challenges within the sector, like every vertical, for customers and suppliers alike which will always remain; creating a one size fits all tariff which is good for every customer for example. But the customer experience they provide and the journey they take them on is something they can alter and it is something they can revolutionise which is why it has to be a priority if they want to provide emotionally rewarding experiences and leave customers feeling satisfied.

So what should they do to improve customer satisfaction?

In a word the answer is ‘easy’ – be easy to speak with, make yourself easily available, make the choice of channel easy, make bills easy to understand, and make changes, updates and purchasing easy.  The Retail sector is way ahead on this front – Generally speaking they have lived in a more competitive world where customers can switch providers with much more ease and as a result they have prioritised being easy to deal with. It is easy to buy something online or order on the phone, it is easy to return an order or ask for a different size and you will find the vast majority of retailers embracing social media, chat, and YouTube.

Without sounding trite, this is how the Utilities sector can look to change to improve customer satisfaction and provide emotionally rewarding experiences, otherwise it risks remaining  an ‘easy’ target for disloyal and emotionally unattached customers and being keel-hauled as the benchmark for poor customer experience against all other sectors And ‘yes’ Frill, she did eat the pepperoni!


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How do you cope with new #custserv channels?

One of the biggest changes to the customer experience in the past half-decade has been the explosion of channels that customers can use to communicate with brands and the freedom of choice. By freedom, I mean that customers will often make a comment or complaint about a product on a public channel – such as Facebook – and expect the company to respond even if there was no message sent directly to the brand.

This is very different to the flow of information that used to exist with customer services in the past. A ‘customer care’ phone number or email address existed so that comments could be directed to the organisation. On receipt, the customer service team could then respond appropriately.

So the entire process flow has changed. Now when a customer has a question, they don’t call a specific phone number, they just Tweet or post the query on Facebook. But even though there has been some stability around Facebook and Twitter as the most popular social networks, new channels are emerging all the time.

This creates two major issues that have to be addressed. How does your organisation deal with new channels? If you don’t adopt new channels quickly then a swell of questions and complaints may be growing and unanswered. Perhaps even giving the impression that your brand doesn’t care about these customers because they are not communicating in the “right” way.

But even if you are flexible and ready to adopt new channels as they grow in popularity, how do you start measuring them? Checks, balances, and performance indicators are always required. You need to know if the team is doing a great job and different channels have different measures.

One thing is certain, this dual question of how to quickly adopt new channels and how to flexibly measure them is a question that will be asked more frequently in the year ahead.

Great Flexibility !

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Making sure your digital customer stays a customer forever

Social networks have changed the customer service industry beyond recognition. The creation of a multichannel environment where the customer chooses the channel, can jump across channels, and most of the interactions are public is a very different type of customer experience to what many in the customer service business have been accustomed to in the past.

But despite all the breathless statistics about the adoption rate for social customer service the fact remains that voice is still where most customer service is done and voice is what most customers prefer. Even when you take into account demographic preferences – younger consumers tend to favour social channels – there is still a lot of life in the voice call yet. Sometimes it is the quickest and most efficient way to deal with a problem.

However, this is not so simple. Customers who choose one channel to send a message usually like to receive a reply using the same channel. For example, if a customer tweets a question, the natural response is to tweet an answer, not to call on the phone and say ‘we are responding to your tweet’ on the phone. But in many cases voice is the final sign-off for many customer enquiries.

A customer may use an email or tweet or Facebook post to raise an issue. It may be responded to and a conversation might even develop, but if any private or sensitive information needs to be exchanged to resolve the question then this will probably be done on a call.

This channel switching is far more common than most customer service commentators appear to recognise and I believe that it is an important trend. An important measure of how good your customer experience is will not be just how good you are at managing individual channels – how quickly you respond to a tweet or answer a call – but how good your team is at managing these interchanges between channels.

This ability to handle the channel switch is going to be a business requirement that everyone is measuring  before long. For now though it is worth reminding people that voice is still a very important channel even for those customers who choose to get in touch on social networks.

my new job at the call center


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