Posted On March 28th, 2013
The Guardian has this week produced another article which includes the following sentence:
'Call centres are the bane of many a customer's life, and increasingly so for brands too. The fact that customers now demand support across the channel of their choice (phone, Twitter, Facebook, e-forums etc) means that call centres are becoming increasingly painful and costly ventures for businesses. And to little wonder, given that many are often outsourced to far-flung corners of the world in a bid to reduce costs. Scant regard is given to the broader implications for the brand and, more importantly, to the customers they try to help'.
At first, I was shocked to see such an terribly biassed piece. On reading through the article, it became clear that it was little more than a promotional piece for a company which is trying to push service through social media platforms. The fact is that the article therefore is of little use to people within companies who are trying to decide on customer service strategies. Bashing call centres (especially those offshore) is nothing new from a media which is out of touch with the reality of the way in which customer service operates. Of course, social media is becomingly an increasingly important tool in the armoury of those responsible for customer service strategy but it is far less important than through the call centre channel. Many companies have adopted 'call reduction strategies' and in the main, this has been to the detriment of the customer experience. By all means, a company should offer customer service through as many channels as possible but for many people automation, web self-service and social media are a far more troublesome strategy than though a call centre agent. I certainly recommend that companies adopt modern strategies in dealing with customers but those companies who make it difficult to speak to a live call centre agent, do so at their peril. Many customers (including myself) often enjoy non-voice customer service and I now only contact a call centre when there is an issue which simply can't be dealt with as easily by non-voice methods. However, these occasions where I choose to call a call centre are the ones which make or break my experience with a company that I am already a customer of or are choosing whether to become one. If these are not handled correctly, they've lost me as a customer. Let's also not forget that I'm someone who should be perfect for non-voice customer service. Firstly, I've always worked in the 'contact centre environment' and for me, the customer experience is something that I like to challenge. I'm also one of the generations which heavily uses social media and is bordering an addiction to my smart-phone but there are many people for whom this is not the case. They want to speak to a real person in real time and get their problem solved with empathy. For many of the older generation, the move away from calling their local bank branch to calling a call centre was something they were not happy with but trying to force them to use other methods of communication is simply a step too far. Non-voice channels are also incredibly poor at selling additional services. If you take the tv shopping industry where call volumes peak and trough rapidly, it would seem inevitable that these companies would choose automation or non-voice channels but for them, the telephone is still king. Their up-sell conversion rates are infinitely higher than through automation.
In conclusion, by all means offer customer service through as many channels as you feel appropriate but never lose the option of the human touch in customer service. The media need to get far more realistic in their reporting of call centres and should not be passing off sales pitches as meaningful information. They should also show a little bit more respect to the many 100's of 1000's of people who work tirelessly to service the UK's customers.