Off Center
We keep hearing how “it’s all about the customer”. Companies constantly claim to be truly customer-focused or customer-centric or customer-iffic or customer-whatever. But many of these organizations fail to walk the talk. For instance, they focus more on measuring efficiency than they do on cultivating customer relationships. They alienate customers via poorly designed self-service systems rather than woo them with highly personalized care and support. And they rarely, if ever, say “I love you” at the end of a call, or ask to snuggle after making a sale.

It’s time for contact center leaders to check themselves before they wreck themselves (and the customer experience). If it is, indeed, “all about the customer”, then let’s really see it in action.

Here are some suggestions. (WARNING: Satire ahead.)        

Take cordiality to the extreme in call scripts. “Hello Mr. Jones, how may I help you today?” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Have your agent try something like, “Mr. Jones, is that really YOU? It’s so wonderful to hear your voice! I miss you. We ALL miss you. In fact, I was just talking about you with my cubicle neighbor this morning…” Such enthusiastic and warm call greetings will catch customers completely off guard and make them think they actually are as important as your IVR repeatedly expressed while they were waiting in queue. Make sure the agent adds, “This just feels right” at some point during the call, and closes with, “No, no – YOU hang up first!”

Set up a Facebook page for your contact center. In today’s world, merely telling somebody they are important to you isn’t enough; you have to back up such sentiments by “friending” them on Facebook. To ensure you are able to connect with each customer in this critical manner, have agents confirm not only each caller’s name and account number during calls, but also their personal Facebook URL. Once you are connected to a customer on Facebook, don’t forget to regularly post comments like “Just thinking of you” or “Call me” on their wall.

NOTE: If a caller says they are not on Facebook, instruct agents to hang up on them immediately – you don’t need any troublemaking non-conformists or weirdoes as customers.

Invest in “defection detection” software.  Capturing and analyzing every suspicious utterance and change of voice tone during phone calls isn’t just for the U.S. Government to do. The most customer-crazed contact centers are taking advantage of speech analytics and monitoring applications that detect whenever callers are disgruntled and at risk of defecting to the competition. Such innovative tools can be programmed to listen for when customers say the names of competitors or phrases such as “close my account”, “cancel my membership”, or “I’d sooner watch C-SPAN than do business with you ever again.” Top applications can even detect callers’ emotions and send an alert to a manager or supervisor whenever a customer sounds more confused, angry or homicidal than usual. Once alerted, the manager or supervisor can listen to a digital recording of the entire customer-agent interaction and, if necessary, call the would-be defector back to hypnotize her or him into forgetting how incompetent the center and/or agent is.

Customer-ize your KPIs. Many contact centers covet such performance metrics as Average Handle Time and Number of Calls Handled. The trouble is that these metrics do not truly relate to nor capture the quality of the customer experience. The most progressively customer-centric centers realize this and have revamped their key performance indicators (KPIs) accordingly. These centers now focus on such metrics as Caller “Woohoos!” per Hour (CWPH), Customer Marriage Proposals per Agent (CMPPA), and Average Sweet-Talk Time (ASTT).

For a slightly more serious look at customer-focused metrics, be sure to check out the following blog post – written by me before I stopped taking my medication.

Contact Quality. C-Sat. First-Call Resolution. Adherence to Schedule. These are just a handful of the metrics the best contact centers fully embrace.

Here’s another one: Corporate Social Responsibility.

In our industry, “CSR” usually refers to the people handling customer contacts, not the social good the organization does. Nevertheless, if you want to raise the level of engagement among the former, it’s very wise to raise the level of commitment to the latter. You see, CSRs LOVE CSR.

If you don’t believe me, ask them. Studies and companies’ engagement surveys consistently show that agents want to work for an organization that cares just as much about the community as it does about the customer. They want to see that “Service Level” refers to more than just how accessible the center is to callers. And they want to play an active role in reducing not only complaints and handle times but also homelessness and hunger.

That’s exactly what companies like travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance have found.

“We have a comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility program that provides opportunities for all [contact center] agents to become involved,” says Daniel Durazo, Director of Communications (USA) for Allianz. “Our CSR program is well liked by our agents, and the community recognizes us as a responsible corporate citizen.”

Among the CSR initiatives and activities that Allianz’s contact center agents, supervisors and managers participate in include assembling food kits to be sent to hungry families in developing nations, volunteering at Ronald McDonald house, painting houses for Elder Homes, and more. In addition, whenever an employee gives a donation to their favorite charity or non-profit organization, Allianz matches it.

Another customer care organization that views CSR as a key metric – and has seen the hugely positive impact on agents – is global contact center outsourcer TELUS International. (TELUS was recently recognized as the most philanthropic corporation in the world by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.) Since 2007, TELUS team members have volunteered thousands and thousands of hours of service to build sturdy and affordable homes in villages in The Philippines. In addition to helping with construction, team members regularly volunteer in the villages to help run livelihood programs, teach lifestyle skills and English, and host children’s recreational activities. TELUS team members’ volunteer efforts in Latin America are equally impressive, with the focus being namely on children and education (e.g., helping to construct schools).  

Certainly, the most important things to come out of such noble philanthropic efforts is the improved standard of living in the aforementioned impoverished communities, but in keeping with the topic of this article, I need to point out the positive impact of TELUS’ CSR efforts on CSRs. According to TELUS President Jeffrey Puritt, since the organization started fully embracing Corporate Social Responsibility, “attrition in all of our contact center programs has dropped, employee satisfaction indexes have increased, employee engagement scores have increased, and we are now considered a ‘Top Employer’ in both Latin America and the Philippines.”

Puritt acknowledges that TELUS’ CSR initiative isn’t solely responsible for all these improvements, but points out that it definitely has had a significant and direct impact.

“By opting to make CSR an important component of the contact center, we believe there are huge dividends for all involved,” says Puritt. “And although our daily focus needs to remain on the key metrics of our business, like C-SAT and FCR, there are many ways to inspire great performance. Corporate Social Responsibility efforts are truly a positive path to success.”