With Ventana Research reporting that 94 percent of customer interactions are taking place in the call center, it has unarguably become the face of your company. How call center agents approach issues, conduct conversations and meet customers’ needs will have a major impact on your company’s brand, reputation, and, ultimately, business performance. If this consideration is applied to a particular product line, the call center can often make or break its successful integration into a customer’s product portfolio or the loyalty that results from satisfaction for its continued use.
Call center agents are privy to customers’ thoughts, reactions, and perspectives about the products, processes, and promise delivery of the brand experience they purchased—as well as to their willingness to buy additional products. But many of these insights are buried, lost and never used when companies choose to focus on internal key performance indicators (KPIs) based on efficiency, rather than on insights that can produce performance improvements and effectiveness across lines of business.
Focus on Mechanics is for Companies, not Customers
Call centers have traditionally been built around company goals for efficiency—often creating a dichotomy with additional objectives for improving customer loyalty and high satisfaction scores. When an agent is evaluated based on speed, efficiency may be realized but effectiveness can suffer—along with that cherished customer loyalty and satisfaction. Anyone who has ever been on the phone with an agent who tries to end the call as quickly as possible once they think the problem has been resolved, or transfer you to another agent when it’s not, can relate to that feeling of being brushed off.
Product launches are expensive. Millions can be spent on development, promotion, marketing, and training call center agents, to name a few. Call centers are where much of the customer reaction to new product lines will be directed. Consider a confusing marketing message, hard to understand terms of service, or confusion about the potential overlap in services with another product in the customer’s portfolio, for example.
Companies that focus their call center agents on average handle time coupled with cross-sell and up-sell metrics can be positioning them to fail on one measure or the other if circumstances such as those listed above are in play. Efficiency is a goal that will not likely diminish in importance, but focusing on internally-driven metrics at the expense of customer-focused solutions driven by data and insights can limit the success of your next product launch.
Pave the Way for Improved Program Delivery
Capturing the feedback, sentiment and perspective of customers as specifically related to product impressions, ease of use, value received, and complaints can help product managers refine offerings and modify messaging to increase sales and satisfaction.
Surface impressions taken as one-off instances of feedback are easy to dismiss or overlook if the agent is focused on expediency during the call. Without probing for and analyzing the root cause of a perspective or issue, it’s difficult to improve products, adjust how services are delivered, and make changes to back office processes in order to resolve issues before they arise. It’s not as much about reducing call center volume as it is in making sure that customers receive the value promised to them upon purchase. The result is the same, but the pivotal difference is customer focus.
Customers have become hyper-connected, using many different channels to interact with companies, peers, and colleagues. Based on what your agents hear on calls, can the same be found in other channels, such as review sites and social networks? Do customers express the same sentiment during an online chat with an agent as they will on a call?
Training your agents to ask probing questions can help product managers discover the “why” for customer perspective that gets at the root cause, rather than relying on the manifestation of the issue. For example, if complaints are rising about customer service, discovering that the instructions for credit card reward redemptions are too difficult instead of assuming the agent lacked process knowledge will result in a different course of correction. By using insights to improve reception to programs and ease of use, customer profitability will increase, along with referrals and share of wallet.
Don’t Treat Call Centers as an Island
As the face of your company, call center operations must be customer focused. Internal KPIs are necessary, but the opportunity to blend them appropriately with business objectives opens up routes to revenue, retention and increased loyalty.
It is important to remember that customer satisfaction surveys measure an attitude that exists at a moment in time, while loyalty is evidence of consistent behavior in favor of your brand over the customer lifecycle. Product managers who recognize, value, and apply the insights available from the call center will find increasing success with product launches that result in higher customer profitability.