Scary Times Call for Better Customer Service: Improve Your Contact Center and Realize Sustainable Profits


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These are the scariest times many of us can recall. Yet, the treatment I’ve experienced recently when calling customer service call centers for resolution of ordinary product or service issues has been shockingly poor. Even in these difficult times, many companies do not understand the power of excellent customer service to retain and grow customers.
Results from our recent Huffington Post research regarding people’s experiences when calling Customer Service Call Centers indicates serious problems.

I would be done with most of these companies, if I had any choice in the matter.

Only 32 percent of people we surveyed reported that their customer service call center experience was positive. For the balance: Forty-seven percent had a negative experience, and 21 percent were neutral.

This comment from one of the people who took the survey reflects the widespread frustration: “I daydream about suing them. From the product to the reps, they just don’t care about their customers.”

Especially troubling is the finding that customers are treated poorly because companies think of them as “hostages, unable to go elsewhere.”

Consider these write-in comments:

  • “If I wasn’t on a fixed income, I would pay the fees and break my package contract with Comcast … horrible.”
  • “I still give them my business but only out of necessity. I’m stuck with their service.”
  • “AT&T is the only game in town; I just have to deal with them.”
  • “If I had a choice other than Comcast, I would take it.”
  • “I would be done with most of these companies, if I had any choice in the matter.”

Here’s how they affect three critical business metrics:

  • Decreased likelihood that the person would buy from the company: 64 percent
  • A negative perception of the company: 85 percent
  • Decreased likelihood to recommend the company to others: 77 percent

More than 64 percent of those we surveyed would report a decreased likelihood to purchase from the company if they were not “hostages” with few or no alternatives.

The survey demonstrated astounding benefits to providing a positive customer service call center experience: an increased likelihood to buy from that company: 94 percent; a positive perception of that company: 94 percent; an increased likelihood to recommend that company to others: 86 percent.

Given the significant impact of a positive experience, it is incomprehensible that companies are not investing in appropriate training and resources for their customer service call centers.

All of our experience in improving the performance of customer service call centers indicates significant improvements to revenue. (Review our case studies for more background.)

Given that it’s seven to 10 times more expensive to acquire new customers than continue selling to existing customers, companies should view customer service centers as profit centers. As long as they continue to view them as cost centers, they will look for ways to cut costs.

In a blinding glimpse of the obvious (BGO), companies should realize that this is the most expensive and self-defeating way to “save money.”

Seven Proven Insights and Actions to Improve Your Customer Service Call Center Experience

Based on our research findings, then, I offer these seven insights and action items that will help improve your customer service call center experience:

  1. Do not view customer service call centers as cost centers. These are revenue centers. In their rush to cut costs, companies must consider the financial ramifications of losing customers because of poor post-sale experiences.
  2. Customers’ post-sales experiences have significant impact on repeat purchase likelihood and willingness to recommend the company.
  3. The damage from poor customer service call center experiences is significant. Companies need to consider how many millions of dollars this is costing them.
  4. Do not cut back on training, quality control procedures and investment in customer service call centers.
  5. Remember that it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to sell an existing customer.
  6. Keep in mind that, per the research data, positive customer service call center experiences solidify the relationship between the customer and the company.
  7. Companies should focus on the quality of customers’ experiences with their customer service call centers, regardless of where they are located. Sure, we heard complaints about the experience with outsourced centers, but we heard plenty of horror stories about in-house, U.S. call centers, too. The important takeaway is that customers expect quality, post-sale care regardless of where the center is located.
Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


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