Why call centres don’t work (part 2)

Here is the second instalment of my blog about why call centres are a really bad way of managing customer relationships. They are also really bad for brands.

Recent news from the energy sector has indicated that bad customer service can impact profits. There is potentially more mileage in this given that a company’s position in any market is relative to competitors.

So whereas there a number of new entrants in this market, imagine the longer term transition in a market like this if the new entrants continue to outperform the established giants and gain significant trust.

Here are a few key reasons why call centres are damaging brands:

It is impossible to win an argument with a customer.

I have had many experiences in which people representing a brand have been entirely focused on winning an argument that they have started, rather than dealing with the specific matter in hand.

How are you possibly going to benefit from this? Is there not a responsibility on employees to represent the company and put personal petty interests aside? Because arguing with a customer really is about a lack of emotional intelligence. It means the person is unable to separate their (usually irrational) personal feelings from the business relationship. Surely you must aspire to recruit and train and develop people in a manner that minimizes this risk.

If I am the customer then you have more to lose than me. I don’t rely on you for my reputation and I can choose another supplier. I will happily pay more next time so as not to deal with such moronic behaviour.

Fewer words = better service

Think about the best service you ever received from a call centre … I bet the person concerned didn’t reel off a load of superfluous waffle in order to make them feel really good about themselves. What they did was to listen and answer your question with enough information to sound interested but without the unnecessary waffle that comes from habit rather than a desire to help. That’s it. Treating people as individuals with individual needs rather than a homogenous group that needs to be patronized.

Obsession with process

It seems really difficult for many call centre staff to understand that the customer has absolutely no interest in their internal processes. And nor should they. The bottom line is that it makes no difference to your contractual obligations or the customer expectations. Your processes are there for a reason, so focus on this instead. In a well-managed company, this purpose will relate both to the company objectives, and by implication its customer needs. So stop using process as an excuse for delivering really bad service. Stop using it to avoid fixing customer problems. You should all have more ambition than this.

Worst case scenario

Here are a few of my favourite classic call centre experiences:

  • ‘Well, I work in marketing, not sales, so I don’t care if you cancel your contract’ (mobile phone company).
  • (Telecoms company during a discussion about their refusal to allow the porting of a phone number) ‘Well, you cancelled your contract, so you are not entitled to any special treatment’.

These are not from call centres, but classics nonetheless:

  • ‘We’ve done more than any other company would’ (as an excuse for not actually helping a customer to resolve a problem). If this is true then that is a good thing, not a bad thing. THAT IS THE POINT OF BUSINESS – be better than your competitors! How else are you going to make money? Is your objective to be the same as them?
  • ‘You only have one product from us, so you are not a profitable customer’. OK – then your business is broken! This is also moronic for one other reason – it depends how long I continue buying this product (which in this case was not a day longer after hearing this).

So, for those using call centres and thinking they are a great idea, how about carrying out some market research to test what your customers (and potential customers) really think.

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