Contact centers are often the communications lifeblood of a business. It’s where clients get the opportunity to talk to a ‘real person’, whether it’s by phone, live chat or even something as simple as email, and it’s where your employees have the greatest chance to take ownership of the customer experience.
After all, even though everyone in the company is technically responsible for delivering a great customer experience, those people who come into direct contact with your current and potential clients are the ones who have the most real effect. So how do you make sure your contact centre is set up to deliver the ultimate customer experience?
1 – Make it easy for people to get in touch
I’m using the term “contact center”, rather than “call center” because inbound and outbound communication covers so much more than just phone calls nowadays. And it’s in your best interest to make sure people have options when it comes to talking to you.
Some people hate talking on the telephone, and will do everything to avoid it, but they still could have questions that aren’t covered by your FAQs, product descriptions and other company literature. By providing a range of options for getting in touch, like live chat online, contact enquiry forms on your website, direct correspondence via email or even a postal address for those souls who still like to send a letter, you’re offering a more wide-ranging customer experience.
2 – Manage your communication flow
There are two things about communicating with a contact center that can drive clients to frustration. The first is unacceptable wait times. Now, whether that means being on hold on the phone for more than a couple of minutes, waiting several hours or even days for a response to their email, or simply never receiving that call back they were promised when they logged a query on your website, excessive wait times are a serious no-no. Here’s how you can manage that:
- Make sure your contact center is equipped and properly staffed to handle the volume of incoming and outgoing communications effectively and efficiently.
- Set standardized response times – in other words, what is the maximum allowable time for keeping someone on hold, replying to their written query, and so on – and stick to those. If your contact center is failing to adhere to those times, it could mean they’re understaffed or the volumes of inbound communications are too high.
- Publish your response times, so that customers know what to expect. Tell them how long they can expect to wait in the phone queue, what the email or contact form response time is, how long they need to wait for a live chat agent to become available.
3 – Consistency is key
The second frustrating thing about dealing with contact centers is when you get two different answers to the same question. This not only reflects badly on your company, it also drives the customer experience into the negative side and you don’t want that, ever, if you can avoid it. There are two ways to make sure your contact center is delivering consistent, and accurate, information:
- Training – don’t just train people when they join the company, or when there’s a new product launch. Make sure your employees in the contact center are knowledgeable and up to date, and always delivering the right information with ongoing mentoring and training.
- Monitoring – monitor the responses that are being given by your contact center staff. You don’t need to check every single response, but make a point of doing randomized checks – listen to calls, check chat logs, read a selection of emails, double-check a variety of social media responses.
And don’t forget that it’s not merely your contact center that needs to be consistent. Sometimes, customers will have to deal with other departments directly, and if the information contradicts what the contact center is giving out, you’re in trouble – not just from a customer experience point of view, either. All your employees are company ambassadors, and all of them need to be on the same page as far as customer service, accuracy of information, and customer experience are concerned.
4 – Keep your information dynamic
Too many businesses feel that once they’ve done their website, it’s done and will be like that forever – or at least for a few years until it’s time to update it. I say, keep the information on your site dynamic and up to date.
How does this affect the contact center, though? Well, for example: if every third customer is calling in with a similar question, and that question isn’t currently addressed on your FAQs, it means your contact center is wasting one-third of its time answering a question that they shouldn’t be. By simply adding this question and its answer to your online FAQs, you should eliminate the majority of calls about that query, leaving your contact center free to deal with other, more unique questions.
Effectively, this means you should not just leave the contact center to deal with inquiries, you should get continuous feedback from the contact center to find out what people are asking, and find other ways to address those issue before people feel the need to call or write in.
5 – Keep your contact center human
All too often, we get lost in the minutiae of information, making sure the company line is maintained, information shared is accurate, and we forget that the person on the other end of the phone line, the live chat, or the email is, in fact, another human being. It behooves your contact center employees to inject just a little bit of personality and humanity into their interactions, to acknowledge that customers are people too, and should be valued as such.
As an example, I recently had to cancel an appointment because of illness. While the person on the other side was polite and professional, there was no personal comment about the illness – no wishing well, no “I’m sorry to hear that”. While they didn’t do anything wrong, as such, I felt like just another cog in a machine, unvalued, unimportant.
People’s emotions are one of the most important things about them, and contact centers need to embrace that. For instance, if you answer the phone by asking for a policy number, you immediately turn that human being into just another task to be completed. If instead, you answer by asking, “how are you today?”, you immediately create a personal bond and invite the customer to share their experience.
By managing your contact center effectively, you are giving your company a head-start on a great customer experience. Keep this communications hub working smoothly, and your CX reputation will precede you.
Please share with us any great (or awful) contact center experiences. We can all learn from them!
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX