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Working as a call centre agent has become a career – not just a job to make ends meet.
If your technology improves customer service, the results will pay off in customer satisfaction – and that’s the only thing that really counts.
Over the last 20 years we’ve learned a lot about building and running call centres. There were many lessons learned in setting up the telephony systems and the terminals the agents would use.
Even more lessons were learned about managing outsourced call centres. Then came voice over IP and amazing new possibilities in integrating the voice and the customer care elements – and distributed, on-demand call centre outsourcing became not only practical but imminently desirable for businesses needing flexible in-bound and out-bound resources.
While there are still fly-by-night call centre operators, the reputable operations have cracked most of the technical and management issues of running and managing a large group of agents to a tight client brief.
We’re now at a new inflection point – thanks to the beauty of working with outsourced facility providers, almost any size operation can be using the latest telephony and call-management technology. So what makes the dif- ference between a mediocre call centre, a good one and a great one?
It’s the people.
We’ve all heard the cliché “people are our greatest asset”.
It’s true here. About 70 percent of call centre costs are your people – the agents and their managers. If they’re unmotivated, unmanaged, unfriendly and unhelpful, the call centre suffers. Bad agents equal unsatisfied customers.
Over the past few years customer satisfaction scores have become the sole important metric of call centre operations – not the number of calls handled per agent per hour, or time to completion, or first-call resolution – it’s customer satisfaction.
Consumers have become demanding – if the call centre can’t handle their problem, or if the call quality is bad, or if the call keeps dropping, they will complain – sometimes loudly on Facebook and Twitter, and definitely with their chequebooks when it comes to buying that brand again.
The big change we’re seeing in call centres – and outsourced call centre operators – is improving the ability to manage their call centre staff. Importantly, operators must be able to empower their call centre staff to do their jobs better.
For far too long companies have treated call centre agents as essentially disposable drones that can be replaced at will.
But the industry has grown, and the quality staff that you want to retain have become more demanding.
These are the kind of agents that are capable, professional, reliable, sensible, hard-working and committed. They want to work in a facility where their workday is pleasant and they aren’t forced to use terrible technology that makes them (and the customers they’re trying to serve) miserable – such as scratchy voice quality, dropped calls, no integration of customer management and telephony systems.
These agents – the ones that actually help customers to solve problems – are not stupid. They know how angry an already irritable customer gets when they have to repeat their account number for the fourth time.
They know that having the previous call history available will allow them to be more effective. They’re going to work for a call centre operator that can allow them to do their jobs. They want to know that they have the right tools.
They also want to know that management has a good enough handle on who is actually performing, and who is skiving off the efforts of the rest of the team.
The power of call centre technology must now shift to helping the people who work in them work smarter, better and faster.
Today, any call centre provider that does not provide integrated customer relationship management functionality with telephony, recording and monitoring is not doing you any favours.
Well-managed agents with good technology tools, comprehensive training and hands-on experience, and the right attitude, will find a way to help customers, because that is what gives them job satisfaction.
Get rid of the bad apples, and trust your good people. Give your call centre agents the technology they need to get the job done.
Have the tools to monitor performance so that you can recognise those that do well. Then watch customer satisfaction scores soar.
l Jed Hewson is director of 1Stream. For more information visit www.1stream.co.za