What Else Can You Do for Me? Nothing!


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Do you see your customer contact center as a strategic advantage or as a necessary evil?

When I was working for a utility, we hired a vice president of marketing from one of the competing telecoms. He wanted to attempt to incorporate sales messages into the customer calls to the utility. I argued against this, feeling that customers were typically calling about problems and would not appreciate the sales pitch in that circumstance. He had viewed the customer calls as a necessary evil and thought that adding a sales message could make them advantageous.

Wrong message was being delivered at the wrong time. The customers hated it!

So if you shouldn’t throw in sales pitches, how can you make the customer call center an advantage for your organization? Before I went to work for that utility, I had interviewed at USAA—the insurance company for military personnel and their dependents. When I visited USAA in Texas, I noticed that the call center employees appeared to be happy and comfortable in their environment. I listened in on a few calls. What impressed me was the information available to the service representatives and the authority they had to use it.

Whenever a USAA customer called, the customer service representative would identify the person by account number or name. The representative would immediately have access to all correspondence and notes from telephone calls throughout the customer’s history with USAA— all of it! Depending upon the nature of the call, the customer service representative could read all of the pertinent information. Surprisingly, the customer service representative had the authority to use the information to reduce a payment, grant a benefit or execute a refund! The customer had to deal with only one person on each call!

She asked him to hold while she tried to call the customer service line of the boat pad manufacturer in Washington state.

Of course, if you ask customers, they would tell you that one of their key needs in a call center is that the first person they are connected with can solve their problem. The USAA call center management had obviously listened to customers and made sure customer service representatives had access to the necessary information and the ability and authority to use it. The impact of this style of call center management was palpable. The positive impact on customer loyalty for USAA is well documented.

Unhappy sailing

I witnessed the benefits of that type of management style when I was invited to speak at the international benchmarking conference in Toronto. A friend from Rochester, New York, who was joining me traveled to the conference by sailboat. To prepare for the trip, he had purchased new boat cushions that were supposedly designed for his boat.

When I met my friend at the dock, he was disappointed. The boat cushions did not fit. We decided to call his credit card company—CitiBank—even though it was a Sunday. The woman who answered was very proficient and efficient. She asked the right questions. After my friend described the problem, she asked him to hold while she tried to call the customer service line of the boat pad manufacturer in Washington state. She eventually reached the quality manager of the company and got him on the line with my friend. The manufacturer agreed to send replacement cushions directly to the dock in Toronto the next day. My friend asked what he should do with the old cushions and was told to give them or throw them away.

In the end, the customer service representative came back on the line and asked, “What else can I do for you, sir?” My friend was astounded.

The CitiBank customer service representative had access to the appropriate information and the authority to use it, even to the point of calling a customer service manager at home on a Sunday afternoon. My friend spoke with only one person.

Customers in both cases became very loyal because of how they were treated, as well as the efficiency and proficiency of the customer service representatives. The management of the customer service centers in both cases recognized that customers typically call about problems—and want their calls handled by the first person they speak to. Customers do not want to have to identify themselves and their issue several times. Each time a customer has to repeat his or story increases the person’s pain, anxiety and frustration—which transfers to bad feelings about your organization.

You can build loyalty by making a phone call to your customer service center a delight for your customers. Acknowledge their problems. Empower your reps to take care of them without transferring the call. And don’t think the only way to gain any profit out of the center is by selling to already unhappy people.

Chris Stiehl
Chris has helped companies save money and sell more by understanding their customers better. He once saved a company $3 million per year for a one-time research expense of $2K. What does your competition know about your customer that you don't know?


  1. Chris, When companies’s systems, such as their call center policies and prodedures, waste their customers’ time, the perception of the company is, “waste my time and most likely you’re wasting my money.”

    What is so fascinating as to why this happening. I believe it is due to the fact that the very same people who make the decisions that put a negative face on their firms are the very same people who do not like to have other companies do that to them. Either they don’t see the connection or they have assistants or secretaries who do the waiting for them.

    Could part of the problem be the result of the vendors of such programs, or those that hire and train or do not train the call center staff, or that the control of expenses causes all or part of the problem. While it is good that expenses be controlled, one has to remember that almost all controllable expenses, when controlled, are things that may have a negative effect on sales.

    Thanks for article.

    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador Of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected]
    Awarded the 1992 Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Member, PNW Sales & Marketing Group
    Member, Institute of Management Consultants
    Member, International Speakers Network

    You are invited to learn about our programs and services and read the
    articles on business topics that affect selling at http://www.sellingselling .com

  2. Great post, Chris.

    Nothing kills a customer’s perception and loyalty faster than a botched service hand-off.

    How confident can a client feel in an organization’s ability to serve their needs, when the vendor can’t even manage to get their people the information needed to make that service possible?

    It’s impossible to satisfy all clients all the time, but the real point as you’ve stated is to make decisions that push the customer needs to the front, not cost and profit.

  3. Thank you for the comments!

    What has impressed me is the amount of control that some managers feel they must have over what is said by their customer service staff – to the point of scripting everything they say! This drives me nuts and it does NOT motivate employees to do their jobs well. Some have told me that they feel that they could easily be replaced by an outbound tape recording. Managers need to train and trust their staff to do what is best for the company, which is to serve the customers’ needs.

    Chris Stiehl, co-author of Pain Killer Marketing (WBusiness Books, April, 2008)


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