Companies have always been concerned about brand perception and image. But modern brand perception is driven almost exclusively by the company’s customer experience. And no place is as great a player in customer experience as much as the call center is.
So, do you need a call center? Many brands are funneling their CX efforts toward self-service models to mitigate calls into the call center.
On the other hand, complex problems and delicate situations can go terribly awry without an empathetic and personal touch from a call center agent.
The call center is not only a primary customer touch point—contact center agents are often where first impressions are made. And it’s vital you make a good impression and keep it up with surprise and delight. That’s the entire thought process behind the Mindful platform: Providing exceptional experiences that build brand loyalty.
Before you decide to start or stop your voice experience, it’s important to dig into the pros and cons of call centers.
The internet makes every experience sharable.
In increasing numbers, customers are recording negative call center experiences and sharing them widely via social media channels. Consider when tech editor Ryan Block posted a painful eight-minute conversation with a cable company customer retention specialist who desperately tried to stop Block from canceling his service. The recording went viral, and it resulted in a major PR struggle that forced a senior vice president to make a public apology.
Only a decade ago, the dynamic between a company and its customers was relatively fixed. One unhappy customer had the capabilities of telling a handful of friends about a bad experience. The impact on the company was minor. This has completely changed, and the customer’s voice has never been more powerful or pervasive.
But is it all negative? Customers are also sharing positive experiences where call center agents go above and beyond. And, whether or not the experience is shared, great customer service reps can directly affect CSAT and NPS, which has a direct correlation to a brand’s bottom line.
Call center advantages
Let’s start with the pros column. This has everything to do with enhancing your customer experience.
This may seem misleading (because everyone dreads waiting on hold) but when it comes to solving a problem, oftentimes a brand’s expert can solve it much faster than digging around the internet.
To make call center agents as responsive as possible, the best brands use callbacks to give customers freedom while on hold. Others may have customer service reps use live chat or two-way texting to solve problems asynchronously, which might even accommodate a 24/7 customer support approach.
There’s not much need for explanation—call center operations are synonymous with customer service. Whether it’s to fix a problem, finish a sale, get information, or make a change, call center agents often find themselves with customer service titles.
What does customer service look like without a call center? Isolating solutions to solely email, text, or chat might not be the best experience in all cases.
Do call center agents cost money? Of course. But if you’re considering a choice between a voice or a digital experience, make sure you first consider the ROI of virtual queuing.
Having agents tied up in numerous emails or texts back and forth with a customer could actually be spending more money than allowing customers to queue virtually. Call center solutions like Mindful can even collect information when the call is scheduled so that the customer service rep can find the right answer quickly and maximize efficiency.
Simply having the option to talk to a human can offer solace and inspire a customer to purchase. The idea of a safety net if they ever have a problem might just be reason enough to trust your brand.
Reduced repeat callers
You might have thought repeat callers would be a major con to having a contact center, constantly jamming up phone lines and incurring queue costs. But with the right technology, you can reduce repeat callers, enhancing call center operations.
Bottom line: improved customer experience
The best experience is one where the customer is in control. Offering them smooth transitions from your website to text to voice through a solution like Mindful means the customer is met every step of the way, improving NPS and building loyalty with each interaction.
Call center disadvantages
Inherent with any business tactic, there are some limitations and disadvantages to providing a call center experience.
Backlash against overseas call centers.
In the last 20 years, economics and technology have driven countless call center jobs overseas. Many Fortune 500 corporations, as well as smaller, up-and-coming companies, shifted this work to outsourcing firms in India, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
While call center operational costs dropped for many companies when they outsourced their call center jobs, there was a hidden cost that wasn’t calculated. Many companies quickly discovered that the quality of their customer interactions dropped considerably by shifting the work overseas. Customers were frustrated with language barriers, VoIP sound quality, and the inability to speak to someone at the local level.
At the peak of the outsourcing trend, nearly 30 percent of call center jobs for high tech companies were offshore. Within the banking industry, the numbers were similar. However, these numbers have declined considerably in recent years as companies began experiencing a backlash from frustrated callers as well as those who felt that outsourcing was hurting the economy.
Some of our clients, however, know how to leverage this tactic strategically. One department of labor, for example, keeps workforce overhead low by outsourcing only simple issues, freeing staff members to tackle complex problems. Mindful’s digital experience collects information about the caller before the call is requested or scheduled, allowing the brand to route the caller intelligently and bypass frustrating transfers.
Limited product knowledge.
Based on tactics around agent specialization, your contact center might run into challenges with agents lacking product knowledge. Some companies approach this with tiered service levels, and others with robust backend resources to equip every agent.
But if your agent specialization is minimal, and few resources are invested in training or routing to ensure callers reach the best person for the task right away, this can be a major gap in the experience.
Your brand image could change.
With companies’ reputations more vulnerable than ever, what can be done at the call center level?
While there’s no one guarantee for ensuring your company won’t be the target of an image-damaging campaign led by a disgruntled customer, there are many service enhancing strategies you can implement to create a truly positive caller experience.
The three primary components of a call center that can affect your company image are your phone system, your staff, and your processes. We’ll touch on each below.
Many phone systems run on outdated technology.
System outages, dropped calls, confusing prompts, irritating hold music, and more can all negatively affect the image of your entire company. If delivering world-class service is important to your company, it’s vital to regularly “shop” your own phone system to check for problems, correct gaps in service, and optimize everything for the benefit of the caller.
Quick tip: Mindful clients are supported by our teams to operate at the voice experience at its best, with veteran consultants providing tried-and-true tactics, and access to powerful resources like this one on callback presentation best practices in the IVR.
Another way to approach this negative aspect is to use modern technology! With workforce expectations centered on work from home policies and companies requiring more and more flexibility, the time is now to update providers. Many of the biggest brands are finding success moving to cloud contact center solutions like Amazon Connect, Twilio, Five9, and cloud versions of Cisco, Avaya, or Genesys.
Staffing workforce: either a pro or a con.
In the case of the cable company call that went viral (mentioned above), the call center representative didn’t respect the customer, nor provide the service that was requested. This could be the mistake of a sole representative, but, more likely, it was caused by a lack of training and an overly aggressive sales quota. Either way, it ended up with the call recording being broadcasted across the internet. Those who listened to the recording formed a negative opinion about the entire company based on a single conversation between one representative and one caller.
Far too often, call center employees are poorly trained and underpaid, which ultimately leads to dissension and high turnover. This is a huge, costly mistake for a company. Your call center staff has the ability to make or break your company image with each and every call. They should be well trained, compensated, and appreciated.
Processes can get in the way.
Call center processes typically evolve over time. For many companies, there’s rarely (or ever) a complete review of all processes to see how they relate to each other and how they are viewed by callers.
When processes are implemented over a span of time, there can be gaps in service quality and efficiency. For example, a small company may have a policy in place that a return authorization requires an approval from an upper level manager. As that company continues to grow, the service representative’s access to upper management may diminish. This leads to the representative either placing the customer on hold for an extended period of time, or having to follow up with the customer.
The longer the customer has to wait for resolution to their issue, the greater the chance that there will be damage done to the company’s reputation. Ongoing review of processes is necessary for call center operations and maintaining the image of the company as a whole.
With companies investing an ever increasing amount on their brand and image building, it only makes sense to optimize call center operations. What customers experience when they dial your call center may just be the most important component of your brand identity because it speaks volumes about who you really are and what you value.
By keeping customers your priority, you’ll go a long way toward protecting and strengthening your brand and your image.
Still not sure how to tackle the voice experience for your brand? Being in the business for over 25 years, our teams have seen it all. Get in touch and let’s discover the right solution for your brand—and customers!
This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated since.