Do You Have a Call Center or a Relationship Center?

By Dave Murray

In recent years call centers have been called the “white-collar sweatshop” of our time. The first time I heard this reference, it hit home for me. Given all the time I had spent as a customer service representative (CSR), supervisor, manager, or director, this statement made perfect sense to me. Most call centers I am familiar with are in a less than desirable location within the office and are places where work is sent that others cannot complete, things the CSRs can do while they are “on the phones.”

Think about the typical call center environment for a moment. They are often made up of mundane cubicles, allowing for little to no creativity. Call times and wait times are the metrics that matter most, which automatically causes each call to be about the transaction rather than the interaction. And many CSRs see limited growth opportunities, even in companies experiencing tremendous growth.

The Opportunity: Turning a Call Center into a Relationship Center. To think that this environment can somehow help an organization cultivate deeper relationships with customers seems like a dream. But is it? Many tweaks can be made to help transform a call center into a relationship center. The first one – and the most simple – is to change the department name to relationship center. If we want our employees to be relationship builders, we should first start by referring their department as such.

In this world of micromanagement of agent time, tasks, and call volumes, we must always ask ourselves: How can we expect our employees to treat our best customers the way we would like them to if we don’t treat our employees as well, if not better? We cannot. We need our relationship builders to be ambassadors of our companies and our products. Often the call center is the only human interaction our customers have with us. Also, very often the customer is taking the time to call us because they have encountered some type of problem. Wouldn’t we love to have our relationship builders known as problem solvers rather than policy enforcers? The result would be more instances of heroic resolutions as opposed to customers asking for a supervisor to move their complaint up the ladder.

So what is the right level of management? How do we give our employees the autonomy to solve problems without giving away too much? We need to take the time to prepare our employees to be able to fix what can go wrong, perform their job at the optimal level, and wow customers when the opportunity arises. The key word here is prepared. We cannot simply expect our employees to recognize these things, nor can we tell them once during an orientation and expect it to stick. And we cannot expect them to maintain proper habits without reenforcement.

The Solution: Create a System of World-Class Service. The answer is to create a system that all employees can use to consistently recognize and address defects, emphasize our standards, and capitalize on opportunities to go above and beyond. The better prepared our agents are to handle situations that arise every day, the more time we have to manage behind the scenes. This allows us to monitor agent activity to ensure that all team members are pulling their weight, without micromanaging them. It ensures that our staffing levels are correct and our best ambassadors are not overstressed and overburdened because we do not have enough people hired and trained, which is a huge problem in the call center world.

This all sounds great, but how do we accomplish this? I recommend two steps to begin the process. But both will take an investment of time and human resources.

Step #1 is getting your team together to create your customer experience cycle (CEC). Creating your CEC involves mapping your customer’s touch points with your team. Once you have identified what these touch points are, you can then dissect each one, looking for what can and does go wrong (service defects), what we need to do on each and every call (operational and experiential standards), and ways to surprise and delight our customers (above-and-beyond opportunities).

Going through this workshop with your frontline team truly can be an eye-opening experience, for both you and them. A renewed sense of purpose begins to grow as excitement builds. Your team becomes reenergized to do their job – and do it well.

While this is a great start to the process, it is just that: a start. You cannot expect the momentum you have just created to maintained itself without consistent reenforcement. This is where the second step comes in.

Step #2 is addressing daily huddles. Now before you start saying, “That will never work here because…” (and I know you will, because I have heard all of the excuses, and I’ve made some of them myself), think about the gold standard of service: the Ritz Carlton. They hold a huddle, or in their world, a “stand-up,” every day. So does Chick-fil-A. These companies have gotten past the fact that not everyone will be present each day. They know they have multiple shift-starting times throughout the day. What they have done is used this platform to consistently focus on their service values, discuss things that went wrong and how to fix them, and celebrate success stories – every day.

The Results: What to Expect. This process promotes autonomy and a strong sense of ownership within your team while also being a great team-building exercise. Creating your CEC and reinforcing it on a daily basis will give your team a renewed sense of purpose and turn them into true relationship builders. Thanks to the huddles, this will not wear off over time, but rather transform your culture into one where above and beyond is the norm.

Dave Murray is the senior customer experience consultant for The DiJulius Group.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

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