From Cost Center to Customer Connection

Many organizations mistakenly equate Call Centers with cost centers.

The goal is to automate as much as possible and wean customers from the 800 number to online channels for information gathering and transactions, thereby reducing the need for human contact and subsequently, high labor costs.

According to Microsoft’s “2017 State of Global Customer Service Report,” the phone is still the customer service channel respondents use most -- more often than email, in-person, live chat, mobile app, self-service, search engine, social media, online community, text message, or chatbot.

Moreover, when asked what the most frustrating aspect of a customer service experience is, over a third of US respondents chose “Automated Telephone System (IVR) / inability to reach a live person for customer support.”

This irritated them more than:

  • Not being able to resolve an issue or find information online: 18%

  • Having to repeat or provide information multiple times: 22%

  • A representative not having the knowledge or ability to resolve an issue: 26%

What this means is that call centers are not going away anytime soon and IVRs can be huge turn-offs.

So What?

Which begs the question:

Is more human contact such a bad thing?

For a digital company like Zappos, with no brick and mortar retail stores, the call center represents one of the few human connections the brand has with their target audience. For Zappos, spending time with customers on a call is viewed as an opportunity to drive brand loyalty. In fact, Zappos celebrates their longest call of over 24 hours as an unlikely business milestone.

Companies that strive to use automated call centers as much as possible may be saving on direct, quantifiable labor costs, but there could be other hidden opportunity costs at stake.

Rather than laser focusing on quantitative data like number and length of calls and time to resolution (also good info to have), why not humanize the experience?

The Human Experience

When you think of the call center as the front line of your business — the people closest to your customers —you begin to see it differently.

It’s actually a built-in customer experience lab — where your teams can empathize with customer pain points, collect insights, test concepts and solutions — to have real conversations that build relationships.

In other words, it’s a great place to inject quick, inexpensive discovery into your process, and use design thinking to test ideas with reference customers in a moment when they are most receptive. All the while, investing in customer relationships for the long term.

How to start tomorrow:

  1. Similar to IKEA, who encourages leadership to spend one day a week in the checkout line talking with customers, suggest that team members spend time in the call center on a regular (ideally, weekly) basis.

  2. As you sit with the call center reps, do more than just listen in. Ask open-ended questions. Try to understand how your company fits into their lives. Test your assumptions.

  3. Scale it. Design a delivery system for collecting and carrying insights back to the appropriate teams.

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