Home > Call Center, CRM, Social CRM > The Changing Culture of the Contact Center

The Changing Culture of the Contact Center

My apologies for the delay in this post, I meant to get it done sooner. As I said in my previous post after the RightNow user conference, I was able to spend some time with customers, end-users and practitioners in order to understand a bit more not only about the specifics of their success, but how and why. In speaking with different folks, I decided to take a different approach in the discussion, wanting to probe a bit on the changing culture of the call center during the past 15 years. This proved to be a very interesting tact, as the culture has changed. Specifically, 15 years ago, knowledge workers within the call center (or contact center if you prefer), had good verbal communication skills, but lacked computer savvy. Now, things are basically reversed. That might be an over-simplification, but it is basically true. While a fair number of things have in fact changed, some are not so different than when I first prototyped a customer self-help system in 1998 – If you can enable customers to help themselves, they will.

As Social engagement practices mature, which they absolutely need to do, because Social behavior is going to drive how customers communicate their needs to your organization. Customers are going to communicate with you via social media, so we all have to be ready. It is not ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’. In addition to the obvious benefits to your customers, the benefits to you and your organization by enabling, supporting and even promoting social media for customer service, will allow for insight to more easily find its way back into the core business to help improve core functions.  From a cultural perspective, one trend that is certainly ripe for change is how front line employees are compensated. Social Media channels not only allow you contact center agents to help your customers, but allow them to do it in a way that adds the human element back to the equation. These critical teams players, your contact center agents, within your organization need to be trained and treated with the respect they deserve. As your organization works to become “more social” please think about who will be on the front lines.

Conversations

Lisa Larson – Director of Customer Care at Drugstore.com

Both drugstore.com and beauty.com fall under Lisa’s watchful eye, a new generation of contact center, which include more channels than ever before. They include Websites, FAQs, Chat, Email and oh almost forgot, phone. Yes, Lisa and team are on Twitter was well; Directors Desk for Drugstore.com and Beauty Advisor for beauty.com The idea? To use the tools and technology available to her to improve the quality of customer service, making sure each customer interaction is meaningful to the most important person – the customer. Lisa and team are keeping pace with where their customers are and where they need help. Lisa and team are using Chat very successfully for high value products, increasing the conversation rates for these products by almost 40% when compared with not using Chat.

Lisa has a team of about 150 people across the board to make sure her customers are happy. They are there to solve problems, and make the experience as close as possible to the beauty consultant you might work with at the local store.  In order to provide that experience to the customer, the employee – knowledge worker needs to be given the tools and resources (and love) so that they can pass it on.  Lisa spends a lot of time making her team gets what they need. With regards to the culture question, it is important to Lisa to bring on team members who have actual people skills. Many people come into the call center these days with great technical skills, but talking on the phone and interacting at a personal level, with a business proper bent is something that is not as common as it was 15 years ago.

As Lisa pointed out to friend Brent Leary in a recent Interview:

“When you put a face out there, or you put people out there and they get to know who you are, they treat you differently.  Our goal is to serve them and to solve their problems, and do it well.”

Maryellen Abreu – Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot

From a certain vantage point, iRobot is pioneering a new market, which has unique challenges. iRobot needs to quickly find out what customers want, and adapt accordingly. From another vantage point, customers are customers, and iRobot needs to deliver great service and support, because this is just what smart companies do! A very successful part of the initiative is the Web self-service, which has been very successful from both sides – customers are able to help themselves more often than not and this keeps the operation expenses of the contact center in check.

“iRobot designs and build robots that make a difference”

Maryellen also shared the following tidbits, which I found very valuable:

“In regards to our call center culture, we ask our reps to Think like a customer. If the customer is not happy, let us know. Call Center feedback is absolutely critical to our success.”

It was important for me to dig into the culture and objectives by which Maryellen manages her center, and directs her team. In the information RightNow shared with me, iRobot was able to see a “30% reduction in call volume”. Now, call volume is an interesting statistic, because it only tells part of the story. When I worked with a few large insurance companies, we were able to see a similar drop in volume, but the calls that remained were all the tough kind (long, complex and did not follow a standard path). This was before the age of Social, so I wanted to see what had changed. I will add that for certain customers with specific problems, iRobot does not have any issues with bringing the users into their private communities and asking the customers to give detailed input into the products and experience.

“Our calls went down 30% in volume but the average call length did not change significantly. When we added Targus Info to populate/verify the customer’s address, we were able to shave approximately 1 minute off each incident that required a shipment. As I mentioned, we do not focus on reducing talk time, we focus on customer satisfaction. Typically long calls result in a low CSAT and we calibrate accordingly.”

Both Maryellen and Lisa are taking similar approaches:

  • For Customer Interaction – Where, When and How their customers want to communicate
  • For Measurement – Do what it takes to get the job done, talk if you need to talk AHT looked at, but does not drive the center
  • For Employees – Allow them to feel and act empowered, give them flexibility, not scripts; guidance, not rules

(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do!)

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  1. raybrown99
    October 31, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Mitch Thanks for the post. I think the “call centre” seems to be becoming one of the key players in changing relationship that businesses are developing with their customers. There is a definite move from “complaints department” to a conduit of “actionable insights.” The opportunity lies, as you say, in culture change. How do we move the call centre from “necessary evil cost centre” to fundamental tool in the customer communication process that delivers cross functional insight and improvement?

    • Mitch Lieberman
      November 1, 2010 at 9:03 pm

      Ray,

      Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it. The ‘complaints department’ is still open, but hopefully, customers are begininning to find more value in engaging and collaborating, versus complaining.

      Mitch

  2. raybrown99
    October 31, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    p.s. forgot to tick the notify me of follow-up comments box

  3. glennross
    November 1, 2010 at 10:03 am

    1. Hire people with “people” skills
    2. Think like a customer
    3. Be sure you’re using the right metrics that reflect that “customer-centricity.”
    4. Empower your employees

    Mitch and all readers, this is exactly the type of post that we need to see more of so that we can build a body of work demonstrating what works. That body of work will help us focus in on those points that are most relevant to each of us and will assist us in convincing the skeptics to come around to our way of thinking.

    More please.

  4. Mitch Lieberman
    November 1, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks Glenn – I heard your message last time, and I am working on some more. Your point is well taken and I agree. From theory, to practicality and beyond (said with my best Buzz Lightyear voice)!

    Mitch

  1. October 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm
  2. October 31, 2010 at 4:03 pm

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