Anyone who has ever wasted precious minutes trying to contact a call center knows how frustrating the experience can be. It is even worse when, once you get through, you're faced with an agent who either can't communicate effectively or is unable to help you for a number of other reasons.The situation is so maddening that Discover has created a series of adverts parodying call center agents. Although most agents are not as bad as the bearded man named Peggy, many customers still roll their eyes in exasperation when they have to call a contact center, considering it an unpleasant chore that has to be done.
When I recently conducted a straw poll about the biggest pet peeves of contacting call centers, the winner was clear: Customers can't stand speaking to agents with a mediocre command of the English language. Matt Driscoll, executive vice president at West Customer Management Group, agrees that this is a major concern and offers solutions on how to address the issue, as well as four other call center faux pas.
- Problem -- Language barriers: Customers' biggest pet peeve revolves around agents who either don't speak English properly or have a heavy accent, making communication difficult.
- Problem -- Being kept on hold: Customers want answers and they want them immediately. Being told that they "their call is valuable" while they wait in the call queue doesn't appease their annoyance at being kept on hold.
Solution: Companies must put proper IVR solutions in place to ensure that a customer's call gets to the right person the first time, and in a timely manner. Business might also consider services like virtual hold, which allows customers to hang up and receive a callback without losing their place in the queue.
- Problem -- Call transfer: Even being transferred once is unacceptable for some customers, who want the first agent who answers their call to be able to help them rather than being escalated to another rep or a manager. Moreover, customers want agents to answer their questions and address their problems immediately, instead of being placed on a lengthy hold or called back at a later time.
Solution: Companies must determine how to organize their agent base, deciding whether their agents are universal or specialized. Each choice has different strengths and weaknesses; universal agents may transfer fewer calls, for example, but training times are typically longer.
- Problem -- Repeating information: Asking customers to repeat information after being transferred to a new agent and asking them to repeat everything they've already keyed in using the IVR makes most customers' blood boil.
Solution: Companies need to invest in IVR solutions that transfer any data collected to the agent's desktop to avoid customers having to repeat themselves. If agents do have to transfer calls, they should have the ability to make a "warm" transfer, sending the relevant data to the receiving agent's desktop. Often this is an area of breakdown, Driscoll says.
- Problem -- Bad attitude: No frontline employee should be rude. Just because a conversation is taking place over the phone instead of face-to-face does not excuse a bad attitude from call center agents.
Solution: Finding agents with a positive, customer-centric attitude starts with the proper prescreening, during which companies should conduct behavioral assessments to ensure they're hiring agents who have the best-suited personalities for the types of calls they'll be handling. "Empowering agents to make decisions--to solve the customer's issues according to guidelines set up-front that are in line with company values--helps turn agents into brand advocates," Driscoll says.
Solution: Driscoll says companies need to look at their customer demographics to determine the comfort level of servicing calls offshore. "A 65 year old male calling regarding an insurance claim may not be as receptive as, say, a twenty-something female calling for technical assistance on a router," he says. Driscoll adds that companies that choose to go overseas could maintain a small domestic presence as a backstop and screen agents working in offshore centers for their fluency. This includes accent evaluation, which should remain an ongoing process.