Contact Centres – have they become a customer service irritation?

3dmancallcentrePublished in the March 2015 edition of Customer Experience Magazine – written by Jacci Wright of New Chapter Learning.

Here’s my personal take on a topic that is close to my heart – and it comes from the heart.


I was lucky enough to be one of the first 30 telephone operators to go live in the first contact centre for a major UK bank back in the mid 90’s. And oh boy, have things changed since then!


A noble aim, to provide a 24/7 service for customers to do basic transactions over the phone, freeing them from the worry of getting to the branch during working hours. Customers could transfer money at 3 am or pay a bill during Emmerdale. And the bank has the pressure on queues in the network alleviated. Win win.


From a customer’s point of view, contact centres offer convenience. We get to transact and talk to the business offering the service at a time and location that is best for us. I love the whole concept of a contact centre purely for that reason. Most people lead very busy lives and squeezing us much as possible out of the time available is what we as consumers are looking to do, with every increasing efficiency. So contact centres should be an ideal solution don’t you think?


Well, the idea is great. And when they were first available they fulfilled the brief quite nicely. Customers got to speak to real people who could do the things they said they could do. I remember having excellent training for a total of 6 weeks before I got to take a call and the tasks I had were simple and easily done. The contact centre got busier as customers discovered how convenient we were and more services were made available, a trend that I am sure is the case for every one that has ever been opened.


Before you know it, there are more calls than people to take the calls, pressure is put on the operators to keep the calls short and staff turnover rockets. Training is cut short to get people on the phones quicker. The customer experience has been forgotten because the imperative is to get the calls answered within the target time. The contact centre has become a millstone around the neck of the provider and the service is getting poorer by the day.


So what has been the solution? Make it automated! Customers can self-serve and choose what they want to do! Let them press the buttons and navigate the lists, surely that will satisfy them – well at least they won’t have to wait! Or, lets provide a sifting system where they press the buttons and choose the service they want to make sure we have the right number of staff available to take their call with the right skills to answer it.


How short sighted this approach is. I have said that I love the concept of contact centres and this is still true. Convenience is the key for me and with online and stores or branches to visit I can choose how I wish to do business. But sometimes the phone is the only option, especially if I want to complain or change the basis of the service I have with that business. Even more so when it’s the only option available.


I am happy to pick up the phone and call – but then I sink in my chair. What sort of experience am I going to have? Will I have to choose from 5 options on 3 levels and then wait while my call is important to them? Or, will none if the options fit my particular enquiry? Will the call be at a premium rate and cost me several pounds or maybe the operator will be poorly trained and not know anything outside of their own quickly trained tiny bit of the process? If I went into the store instead of calling them they wouldn’t make me walk through several doors before getting to the counter so why am I made to do it on the phone?


As a customer I am doing all of the legwork and, scarred by previous encounters I am ready for anything but a pleasant experience. Surely this can’t be right! It appears that many contact centres have become so far removed from the original concept that the businesses providing them have lost sight of their purpose. They have become a customer service irritation machine that can have a negative impact on how that business is perceived by its customers.


I am happy to say that some businesses are getting to grips with what a contact centre should be as a service to their customers. Short lists, and for the most brave, completely absent ‘choose your service’ lists to negotiate. The call goes straight through to a person who is able to help with almost everything. Well trained and knowledgeable with the autonomy to deal with your enquiry there and then.


Remember, I have chosen to call because I want to speak to someone. Someone who will listen and act, who will understand and pay attention to me, who will treat me as the valuable asset to their business that I am.


If a business is going to offer a contact centre service for their customers they need to know what their customers will use it for and commit to providing it. Make it easy to use and give it as much importance as every other channel. Start with the customer experience and not just what the service can offer to take the pressure off elsewhere in the business. Make it a real winner for the business and give your customers a reason to love you.


Article published in the March edition of Customer Service Magazine


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