It’s still true that even in this digital age the call centre is many customers’ only point of contact with a company. A lot has been said about the call centre industry, and in most cases it is portrayed in a negative light – driving negative customer experience, increasing customer frustration and dissatisfaction.

In my definition the Customer Experience of a call centre is what actually happens to the customer when they attempt to call – starting from the IVR (interactive voice response) service, are the options clear? Is there a long wait time? Do you get through to the right person first time? And can that person truly resolve the reason for contact, in a way that minimalizes the customer’s effort…

In the past many organisations have based contact centre ‘experience’ around efficiencies – answering as many customers as quickly as possible, keeping them on the line for the shortest amount of time and to some degree that was the right thing to do – contact centres are expensive commodities to run for an organisation so it seems to make sense that they stretch every penny doesn’t it? Well that might have been the case in the past (and in some organisations it still rings true) however more forward thinking organisations are starting to rethink this approach attempting something different…

We have all heard the complaint about advisors in the call centre all sounding like robots, reading from the same script etc. This is certainly true in a lot of cases, however these traits have been driven by an approach to quality management designed for engineering, or process adherence which drives a ‘tick box’ approach to quality which for an advisor to perform or score highly, they have to deliver an identical experience to each customer.

We have seen massive changes to IVR technology, innovation in the way we plan our resources to deliver lower wait times and to ensure the advisors with the right skills/knowledge are available when we need them, but contact centre quality management hasn’t really moved forward, until now!

In Professional Planning Forum member organisations, where customer experience scores are improving, retention rates growing and contact/complaint rates reducing, it is notable that they all stem from a review of how they approach Quality and Performance Management. Looking at what these companies and others have done there are some clear and significant trends:

  • Assessment: Radically changed their QA assessment framework (the scorecard) – not just in the call centre but in some cases across back office functions as well as for emails and other contact types
  • Freedom: Given advisors the freedom to do what was needed to meet the customer’s need; in some case stepping away from the standard process where this was not appropriate and taking steps to amend the processes for the future.
  • Development: Created a cultural change that is supported by developing a new coaching and development framework – for example how the evaluation process is used for performance management and enabling the advisors to make improvement suggestions and feel they make a difference
  • Learning: Linking quality into a wider continuous improvement framework, that helps apply insight about what drives customer satisfaction and loyalty throughout the organisation and starts to integrate quality and ‘voice of the customer’

We will be hearing from some of these organisations at our forthcoming conference “Customer Strategy and Planning” taking place on 28th and 29th April at the Hilton Metropole in Brighton. Over 650 delegates attend to take part in a rich agenda that can be tailored to suit delegate’s interests.

Also from my research some clear critical success factors become apparent, firstly for an organisation to deliver an improved customer experience, organisations need to distinguish compliance from customer satisfaction. Adherence to process and risk management are vital in most industry sectors but they don’t necessarily drive customer satisfaction so there has to be a balance that doesn’t impact the customer. Organisations have to put the customer first. It sounds simple but so few do it successfully, learning from your customer feedback mechanisms is essential to driving success. There also has to be a Strategic use of quality – aligning QA to strategic goals is extremely important, if you’re measuring something that doesn’t impact your strategic aims then it’s a pointless exercise.

I have worked with many organisations where their aim is to be the ‘best in industry’ but they have so many barriers in place for the people on the frontline it becomes an impossible job –regardless of channel and how you choose to contact them. Delivering a good customer experience is simple really – ensure you have the processes/systems in place to deliver the right resolutions for your customers with minimal effort, learn from why customers contact you and eradicate the unnecessary contacts before they happen, engage the frontline and give them the freedom to have real conversations and the ability to tailor what they have to do to ensure a better experience for the individual on the other end of the line.

Christopher RainsforthChris Rainsforth, Customer Experience and Quality Specialist Professional Planning ForumChris has worked in the contact centre industry for the last decade across both in-house and outsourced contact centres with experience in operations, training, quality and customer experience.

Prior to joining the forum he worked for one of the UK’s largest utilities companies where in his roles as the Quality Manager and Service Insight Manager he was responsible for building a multi-site, multi-channel quality assurance and customer experience function, which used modern QA theories and technology to redesign and refocus the companies quality agenda.
Within this role he created the award winning evaluation processes used to drive agent behaviour and improve performance. In addition he led the operation in the integration of both speech analytics and customer feedback technology. His strategy saw the company named the best UK utilities company at the 2011 Top 50 Contact Centre awards and also win an Innovation award in 2012.

Chris joined the Professional Planning Forum in 2012. The Planning Forum is an independent industry body established to promote best practice and effective planning in customer contact operations – working in all sectors to provide strategic advice and best practice support for managers and to offer specialist training and accreditation for planning, analysis and customer experience and quality.

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