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by Jed Hewson

It’s a fact: a call centre can either be your best tool for improving customer relationships, or the thorn in your side. After all, your contact centre is your “shop window” – it’s the first point of call when a customer experiences a problem, has a query or would like to purchase a new product or service. If the shop window creates a perception of inefficacy or ineptitude, the image of the entire operation suffers.

Possibly one of the most common mistakes marketing departments make, for example, is to launch a new advertising campaign promising the best customer service in the country – and then failing to inform the call centre that the campaign is going live. The call centre not only finds that they are overtaxed and understaffed with an influx of enquiries, but they may also be unable to answer customers’ queries. The result is that the company can’t live up to the campaign promise, even though it might have been easily avoided with a little preparation.

Others chose to invest in the latest and greatest technology, without thinking about how that would affect the customer experience. Voice recognition was one of the tools introduced that sounded incredibly cutting-edge, but anyone who has experienced the robotic monotone that tells them that they “did not understand request, please repeat” would testify to the merits of speaking to an actual human being.

When multimedia was introduced to call centers, it came with the promise of reaching customers quickly and effortlessly, in the manner in which they would prefer to be communicated with. In reality, some customers are leaving emails and SMSes in their inbox for days with call centers coming no closer to resolving their queries…nor do they have a plan B in place. Unisa serves as a good example. They decided to close down their voice channel to force students to interact with SMS, Web and e-mail – to their detriment. Thousands of dissatisfied students complained that they still needed to speak to a “human being”.

IVR (or Interactive Voice Response, the menu of options one hears when dialling through to a call center) was also intended to save callers and agents’ time, but as countless complaints and comedy sketches have shown, a poorly implemented menu does anything but. In fact, last year’s SpeechTek academy study showed that only 1% of customers feel that IVR’s benefit either the company or their clients and 34% of customers said that they believe these automated menu systems are only in place to save companies’ money.

However the problem doesn’t lie with the actual tool – it’s usually the implementation that’s at fault. Why, for example, does a company require a customer to key in their phone number, and then immediately request the phone number when he/she gets an agent on the line? That is a small annoyance that could easily be fixed. Similarly, when a company makes use of a nested IVR system where every option a customer selects results in a menu with even more options, anyone is bound to be left confused and frustrated. Do you know when you’ve reached the point where options stop becoming helpful and start becoming a hindrance?

Simple changes can turn an IVR from something that people would want to use, rather than “have to use”. And a few modifications to the set-up of the call centre process could make the overall experience more positive and efficient for all involved. But at the end of the day, no one intuitively knows what makes a call center good or bad. It takes time and experience, rather than simple technical knowledge.

A good technology provider can spot where clients’ are bound to run into problems, and can provide the consultation needed to fix them. Hosted providers have a vested interest in making their clients’ call centers succeed, rather than simply dropping the technology off at the call center, never to be seen again.

Make sure that your company’s shop window creates the right impression the first time. Partner with a provider that can reasonably foresee the problems you may run into – before you actually run into them. After all, your technology is only as good as your implementation.

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