The current pandemic has clearly highlighted those companies who care about their customers and who provide them with customer service excellence.
If you claim to be customer centric are you sure you’re truly walking the talk and not just talking about customer service excellence? Many companies are and the pandemic has brought them into the spotlight.
A few years ago I was prompted to question this of the local Swiss cable company Cablecom. It had been desperately trying to address a long-term deficit in customer service excellence versus its main competitor Swisscom.
Swisscom has made customer service their MSP (main selling point or value proposition) and they are renowned for putting their customers first. Cablecom, on the other hand, had, until then, been trying to win customers through aggressive price cutting. In today’s connected world, especially when internet connection is concerned, dissatisfied customers will be quickly heard – across the net.
Back to the incident that prompted this post. After a few days of being ignored by Cablecom – my perception at least because my emails and phone calls were not being answered – I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I resorted to Twitter.
It is more than five years ago that Twitter was first referred to as today’s call centre. Social media usually guarantees a quick response whereas contacting customer services through the usual channels often results in nothing.
What makes a great customer care centre?
Customers these days expect a response in minutes or hours rather than days. Recent research shows that 88% of customers expect a response from your business within 60 minutes, while 30% expect a response within 15 minutes or less! How good is your own customer service?
Most call centres today are a frustrating if sometimes necessary experience for customers to endure. In many cases, they are automated, with an often long and complex self-selection process of button pushing to arrive at the department one needs – if you are lucky that is!
Usually, the result of all that effort is just a recording that either announces that the department needed is not open at the moment, or that the collaborators are currently busy and to please stay on the line at best, or to call back later most often.
We are next subjected to music supposedly designed to calm our nerves, interspersed with messages suggesting alternatives to waiting on the line: going to the website to find a solution, to check their available FAQs, to complete a contact form, or to send an email. And then, of course, to add insult to injury, we hear the infamous message about our call being important to the company! Really? If so you’re not showing it, you’re not walking the talk.
Companies that have understood customers’ frustration with help-line queues have found alternative solutions, such as arranging a callback or providing sufficient staff to cover the busiest times, or at least to be available when the customer is most likely to need support.
Today there is no excuse for a consumer goods company to not be ready to help their users when they need it the most; for example:
- Early morning or late at night for personal care products
- Breakfast, lunch and evening meal times for food manufacturers
- Evenings and weekends for TV and technology products
Whilst in a few cases, there may be customers who use Twitter to jump the call centre queues, in most cases, it is a customer’s final cry for help after being frustrated by long waits on their careline calls, or self-service selections that led nowhere.
What makes a great customer service representative (CSR)?
Taking the customers perspective is the absolute right thing to do for a company. But perhaps we as customers, should also take the company’s perspective when reaching out to them? Or at least that of the poor customer service representative who is subjected to our frustration and anger at the end of our email or phone call?
Jimmy N. from UPC-Cablecom, was one of the very best examples of what a CSR should be, based upon my considerable years of working on both sides of contact centres. What did he do so well and what might we all learn from him, despite his relatively young age (mid-twenties)?
I have summarised below what I see as the most important skills of a customer services representative, which I call the 7Ps.
The new 7Ps of customer service excellence
- Private: He immediately took the conversation offline, asking for my email address and then calling me to speak in person. This is a win-win for both the company and the customer. It made me feel important as he called me straight back, but it also enabled the company to take my complaints offline and away from the eyes of other current or potential customers.
- Patient: He let me talk first, just listening until I had finished ranting, or stopped to ask a question. Sometimes a good listener is all it takes to defuse a potential issue from escalating. The customer wants to be understood and in this case, I felt real empathy from Jimmy as I shared my negative experiences.
- Polite: He never lost his cool, even when I did! I admit I would not make a good CSR. I am generally calm, but when I get angry I really explode, especially when I feel I am being treated unfairly or being taken advantage of. Having reps who can remain calm even when the customer is accusing the company or even their call centre person of exaggerated shortcomings, is essential to defuse the emotional tension of the connection.
- Perceptive: Jimmy empathised with me, knowing when to push forward with the next topic and when to go back to reiterate what had been agreed. He ensured that I understood the information he was sharing and that I was comfortable with his comments and explanations.
- Professional: He was an expert, knowing his topic and more importantly how to explain its complex details in simple terms. Have you ever called for help and found that you knew more about the topic than the company representative? I know I have on several occasions. As a result instead of feeling supported, I became more frustrated as I was forced to explain my problem in different terms of in more detail until it was understood.
- Pragmatic: Jimmy worked with me to find solutions that worked for us both. Unlike many call centres where the clear objective is to get you to accept the least costly solution, this time I really felt that Jimmy was working for me not against me. I felt confident that the solution we found together would be the best result for me.
- Perseverant: He continued to ask and answer questions until he was sure I was happy with everything. Many companies now add a question at the end of the discussion, asking if there is anything else that we need. However, in most cases, it sounds artificial, especially when we have thanked the CSR and said goodbye. I can understand why it is important to make sure the customer is fully satisfied before hanging up, but it would be better if the question is adapted to each individual situation.
Are these the seven best qualities for call centre advisors, or are there more “Ps” that you would add? If you have suggestions, then please add them in the comments below, especially you Jimmy if you read this!