To improve call center performance can be a tricky proposition for call center leaders and managers. There is so much to think about – systems, processes, technology, customer service agents, supervisors, KPIs, loyalty metrics, service channels – the list goes on and on. The pressure to succeed can be intense, sometimes overwhelming, and the challenges just seem to keep coming. If you had an opportunity to hit the pause button for enough time to thoughtfully consider and come up with a list of ways to truly advance your call center performance over the long term, what would your list look like? Here’s ours: 1. Create the Right Perception Think of your call center operation as a customer loyalty and revenue-generating center, as opposed to a contact center or a call center, and lead and manage your center with that mindset. Like it or not, titles and labels matter. They tell us and the world who we are and what is expected of us. Call centers are generally characterized and perceived as cost centers, and that has always bothered me. Customer service agents inside call centers create loyal customers one customer interaction at a time. The manner in which customer service agents serve customers can and does affect the company’s profitability. Customer service agents create customer loyalty to and promotion of companies, their products and brands. Their actions and behaviors directly impact public perception of the companies they represent. All of this activity positively affects sales and profits. Look no further than Zappos for an example of how creating an excellent customer experience translates directly to the bottom line. Consider renaming your call center a loyalty center and retitling your customer service agents Loyalty Specialists. Then train, coach, measure and support them so they can live up to their new title and the important role they play in driving the revenue side of the company’s income statement. 2. Use Outcome-Based Measurements Typical call center metrics are antiquated and inadequate for call center operations focused on generating customer loyalty. My colleague, Jack Dempsey, blogged about this recently in some detail, both here Is your Call Center Quality Sheet Capping Your Net Promoter Score? and here Help Your Customer Service Agents Boost Net Promoter Score. Measurements should be outcome-focused, not input-based. Compare the following two sets of questions for measuring a customer service agent’s performance, and consider which set better incentivizes and positions customer service agents and those coaching them to create a high-quality customer interaction:
- Did the agent thank the customer for calling?
- Did the agent say the customer’s name at least three times?
- Did the agent appropriately brand the call?
- Did the agent listen for a clear, complete understanding of the reason for the customer’s call?
- Did the agent identify the customer’s emotional need related to the practical reason for the customer’s call and demonstrate that understanding to the customer?
- Did the agent effectively minimize the customer’s effort relating to the practical solution or recommendation?
The first set of questions (input-based) contains examples of yesterday’s call center performance measurements. By contrast, the second set of questions (outcome-focused) facilitates meaningful customer experience and call center performance improvement as well as sustainable customer loyalty. 3. Rethink Your Hiring Philosophy. The old adage hire the attitude and train the skills should guide your thinking and the hiring process as you make staffing decisions for your call center. Before you usher a new recruit out of the interview room and into his or her first training class, step back and ask yourself the following question: Am I confident this person is likely to be a good steward of my company’s brand? If the voice inside your head answers you with anything other than Absolutely, move on to the next candidate. To help you answer this critical question, ask candidates some open-ended questions like the ones below, and pay as much attention to how they answer the questions as you do the content of the answers:
- What would it take for you to genuinely believe in a company, its products or services?
- What does it look like to you when a customer truly becomes loyal to a company?
- What would you need to see or experience to become a promoter of our product or service?
Also, be careful not to automatically presume that you are better off hiring someone with previous call center or customer service experience. You may have to untrain traditional, ineffective call center skills before you can retrain the kinds of customer-centric customer service skills and behaviors that create genuine customer loyalty and excellent customer experiences – that can be challenging, time-consuming and not always successful. Strive to fill your call center with the kind of talent whose personal attitudes and behaviors align with the brand of the company they will be representing and the perceptions you are working to create for your call center (see #1 above!).