I came home one night from work, and my 15-year-old daughter told me, “Mommy, a robot called you to confirm our reservations to go to Peru during Easter break.” I could not help laughing. I laughed so much she got upset. She said, “I am serious. It was not a person. It was really a robot.” And she started imitating the voice.
It was a contact center agent reading a script. And my daughter was right. He sounded like a robot.
What are we doing with contact centers? Are they still the magical places where you can find out what your customers are thinking and doing? They definitely are. But we are changing them so radically, we are forgetting why we created them.
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‘Many organizations still don’t understand how fast their customers are changing.’
You know the theory. Contact centers are those places where you can receive calls, emails, electronic contacts, faxes and short messages from customers. And places where you can generate calls to your customers. But what are you calling them for? For helping them, solving their problems, listening to them, getting to know them, updating their information, serving them, selling to them and cross-selling to them. In general, relating to customers.
Remember how contact centers evolved. Many years ago we performed all those functions randomly. We had a group of agents answering or making calls to customers. We called the places call centers. The agents talked and listened.
Then we addressed efficiency. We introduced technology, first to distribute calls and make calls automatically. Then to replace calls through Interactive Voice Response (IVRs) and Computer Telephony Integration (CTI). After a while, we decided to integrate channels, and we changed the name. We called them contact centers. We included those contacts that originated in the Internet (emails, etc.), mobiles and faxes.
And we wanted to be consistent. No matter who talked to customers, we wanted all conversations to be the same and to give the same information. That was the birth of scripting and guidelines. A little while later, came voice recognition technology and computers answering questions and responding to customer inquiries. We made large investments, but we cut operational costs.
Regulatory issues made life more difficult. Agents needed to be really careful about what they said. We started recording calls to have logs and proofs. Executives managing the centers wanted quality, so standards like ISO and COPC appeared. We created quality departments. Great universities started teaching courses about contact centers and their operations. And countries where labor costs were low took advantage of the atmosphere with a ready supply of employees. Thus, off-shoring was born.
Where does that bring us today? We have lots of technology, lots of standards, lots of methodologies, lots of performance indicators and, of course, today we have lots of robots.
However, we forgot the basics. We forgot that managing customers specially and differently is what makes the difference in a company. Interacting with customers in a simple way in a contact center can make the difference between your organization and the competition. It can definitely help a company retain and grow its customers. We hear it all the time. But now it’s time to remember those basics. “Marketing in the future will be self-selecting, said Jason Mittelstaedt, vice president of marketing for RightNow Technologies, speaking at Gartner’s 2006 CRM Summit in London. Mittelstaedt noted that Time magazine’s “person of the year” for 2006 was the typical consumer, and yet, many organizations still don’t understand how fast their customers are changing. According to Mittelstaedt, 65 percent of customers stop doing business with companies because of bad experiences with a product or service, and 27 percent never return. And yes, this includes contact centers.
Last week, when my daughter received the call from the “robot,” no one asked her why we were traveling. Nobody asked her if we were a family on vacation. No one asked her if we were vegetarian or liked aisle seats or windows. What a great opportunity that agent missed! Just asking a few questions, and listing with devoted attention, he would have had tons of information to give us the experience of a lifetime, so every time we thought of an airline, we wouldn’t think of any other but the one we would be using during the break.
What happened to you the last time you talked to your mobile agent? I’ll bet the person ask you what regions you called (even though every time you pick up your mobile and dial they company has a record of it). But I’ll bet no agent ever asks you why you use your phone. The company doesn’t not know that you have a son in another state or country—or that your business depends on an international partner.
What happened the last time you talked to your insurance agent? Or your credit card agent? I’ll bet at some point, someone tried to sell you lots of complementary products or upgrade you the next platinum card. But did any of those companies, through your contact center agents, listen to you? And probably half of the time, didn’t even talk to a real live agent but, rather, to a machine.
Technology in contact centers is great. It helps companies be more efficient, lower operational costs and have the right tools to record all customer contacts and information to be analyzed later. But technology by itself does not get the results. Contact centers were created so we could talk to and listen to customers. They were created so you could get to know your customers. And those basic principles must not be forgotten.
Two magic words are all it takes to turn the contact center into the magical place it’s meant to be: LISTEN and ASK. Robots do not listen and ask. But humans, even with lots of technology to make their life more efficient, do.