Recently I had yet another experience with a call centre which had my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels. In South Africa, there is no longer an option for a customer to talk to a bank, other than through a call centre. Well, maybe if you have a private banker, who is actually accessible to you or in the worst-case scenario, you can always make your way to a branch. Generally, if you have a problem, as a customer, the only option is to deal with their call centre.
Three things that drive consumers frustration:
1. Wasting consumers’ time
IVR (Interactive voice response) systems require callers to provide information that is inconsequential by the time a conversation starts. Punching in identification details such as ID or account numbers, only to having to repeat this once you connect with the agent is inherently disrespectful and superfluous.
One has to wonder about organisations’ attention or understanding to the customers’ journey, when interacting with the brand through the call centre. It seems that the only reasons you need to punch in numbers, are to test your patients and keep you busy! Instead of empowering the agent with your customer information to assist you efficiently with your query, it has quite the opposite effect.
2. Indifference or ignorance?
Thinking about my recent bank experience, the word that springs to mind is “unwilling” or “indifferent”. Firstly I was confronted with the “I can’t help you” or “I’m not authorized to do that” attitude. I was then duly provided with completely incorrect instructions to resolve my query. This resulted in spending considerable time to sort out the problem at branch level followed by numerous emails and calls (and potential additional cost). I had to wonder in the end if this was purely due to attitude (indifference) or inadequate training (ignorance)!
Although a call centre agent is by far the least preferred career option for me, I have great empathy customer facing staff. The blame for the lack of a win-win approach to query management, should fall squarely on the management of organisations, who do not invest, support and empower staff who represent their brand.
Some of the reasons for indifference include: insufficient appreciation or understanding of the brand values, insufficient product knowledge, unfamiliarity of processes, no empowerment and no support. Most of all, the constant negative narrative when dealing with customers, creates fear and avoidance. Another factor impacting on indifference, is the performance management measures, such as call turn around times.
3. Lack of EQ (interpersonal skills)
Another bank story triggered an emotion that made me wonder about the selection criteria of customer facing staff to represent their brand. Having received a call from the bank (I was the employer to a recently deceased staff member), the agent did not at any given moment, during the conversation acknowledge that a person (their customer) has actually passed away! Surely one can appreciate the human element within a conversation? Harping on process requirements, dismissing the context of the discussion, left me astounded at the lack of empathy.
In summary, when recruiting call centre staff, the following should form part of the selection process:
- Attitude to serve
- Ability to listen and relate to conversational content
- Ability to personally dissociate from negative content. In other words, is the person able to not take content
- personally and remain focused on achieving satisfactory outcomes
- Problem solving skills
Retaining talent in the work force, especially customer facing staff, requires careful consideration of the recruitment and selection criteria. Following on to attracting talent is investing in onboarding and appropriate and constant training. Aligning staff with the brand’s values and empowering staff to perform their tasks within this framework, will yield great results in customers’ experience
A final note – organisations should actually ask themselves: What do we want consumers to feel like when they connect with our call centre? Is this experience the same as when the customer bought the product?
The Consumer Psychology Lab designs, enables and tracks customer experience.