Call Centres – to be seen and not heard?


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Call Centres are a key (human) touch point for engagement with customers. Are they being used as well as they should be, as an integral part of the Customer Experience?

It’s a dynamic sector which appears to be in growth. We’ve seen announcements last month alone from Vodafone, BT, EE and others confirming that they are increasing numbers at their call centres, demonstrating an emphasis on utilising call centres more as an important interface for customer service. By contrast, there are due to be some closures for Kwik-Fit and Swinton insurance, for example. But, net it’s on the up.

According to Five9, 70% of customers try customer service numbers first when they require help. So, it’s important to get the response right.

Call centres are often seen as a reactive arm of the organisation. They are key to ensuring customer service is delivered in a responsive way and are not necessarily positioned at the forefront of customer experience delivery. The perception is of a cost centre rather than a strategic resource. They can appear distant and out of the way dealing with all the unhappy customers, whilst decisions are being made and strategies set in isolation of what is going on in these customer service hubs.

The best Customer Experience organisations recognise the importance of the Call Centre as illustrated by the well-used Zappos’ quote.

“Too many companies think of their call centers as an expense to minimize. We believe that it’s a huge untapped opportunity for most companies, not only because it can result in word-of-mouth marketing, but because of its potential to increase the lifetime value of the customer.”

– Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

To be powerhouses in customer experience, organisations need to explore how well positioned they are to deliver on their key customer drivers – in other words how aligned the needs and dreams of their customers are with the culture and capability of their company, now and in the future. That means across all touch points and channels – and absolutely includes the call centre.

Here are some pointers to help make the Call Centre work harder across the whole business in a customer centric way:

1) Establish a clear link to the Customer Experience Strategy
The call centre should have a clear and defined role in delivering the customer experience and as such is employed as an integral customer touch point in a joined up and cohesive customer journey. All channels work together and are directly linked to a clearly articulated Customer Experience strategy and vison. The call centre is a key channel for customer engagement and it needs to be used more to listen, manage and understand the value of the customer.

2) Define the right metrics based on the right behaviours
Call centres have traditionally focused on operational excellence as typical metrics demonstrate. For example:

• First call resolution
• Service level and responses
• Self-service accessibility
• Abandoned call rates
• Call quality
• Wait times

The above KPI’s don’t directly link to overall Customer Experience metrics or the customer experience itself. Where this works best is when customer related kpi’s are employed in call centres which then drive the right behaviours of staff and the outcome is an enhanced or optimised customer experience. The call centre is best placed to give an up-to-date picture of the quality of the current delivered customer experience and so they are best used in this way.

Metrics should inspire call centre staff to think and act with the customer’s need and best interests at in mind. Staff should consider how well their interactions deliver the essence of, and contribute to, the ideal experience. This is a change to focusing on the detail of each dealing or interaction they have with a customer. In best in class cases, call centre measures and behaviours are unmistakeably connected to Customer Experience performance and customer focus.

3) Be sensitive to issues, share and action this valuable insight
The call centre is a barometer of customer experience performance. It can be a valuable early indicator of any customer related concerns. It can absolutely drive performance improvement (in the right hands). Call centre staff can be coached and guided into what they need to look out for, for example early warning signs of certain or recurring problems or pain points in their conversations with customers. Again, in some of the leading example, call centre staff even perform diagnostics where they try and identify underlying issues and resolve customer problems then and there, themselves.

This feedback from call centres can be shared with the right people within the business and should be welcomed by those recipients for the value that it brings. Those people then have another feed of semi-structured customer feedback and they are able to operationalise and act upon this insight and in some cases ‘close the loop’.

4) Resource with empowered human beings
We’ve all experienced the scenario when you have engaged with a call centre and the person at the end of the phone is natural and authentic – First Direct and Bupa come to mind from my own experiences. Those call centre operatives give the impression that they are genuinely pleased to be talking to you (and that they love what they are doing). They don’t appear to be following a script and nor do they act as if they are in a rush to ‘get through the call’. In these companies, they are emotionally engaging with the customer. They have personalised the experience and show the human side of the organisation – ever more critical to work in harmony with the increasingly digitised customer journey and world of Bots. Empathy doesn’t have to preclude issue resolution – they should go hand in hand.

Customer Experience transformation requires a joined-up understanding of the end to end customer journey and the role that the call centre plays in this customer journey. Add to that, the challenge of how to align the role of technology related touchpoints and establish how humans and technology co-exist seamlessly (another subject for another day)!

When all’s said and done, the contact centre needs to be supported and Integrated in to the overall Customer Experience team rather than a bolt-on customer service department. Long live the call centre.

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


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