Why Call Centers Put the Bottom Line On Hold


Why Call Centers Put the Bottom Line On Hold

Despite its role as a pivotal customer touch point, experiences with corporate call centers have a bad rap, even among the most valuable customers. While callers generally get what they need, the process frequently leaves them frustrated, sometimes to the point of damaging customer relationships and subtracting from a company’s bottom line.

But what if call centers could not only throw off their stigma, but become company profit engines that build rapports and bring in much-needed revenues? It’s possible –  if companies are willing to make the following changes:

·                     Develop a deeper understanding of customers and their different needs based on their most critical demands. Let’s take, for example, an investment firm that was rated by a mystery shopping agency as one of the very worst call center experiences in its industry. This was after this firm had spent millions to improve its call centers and to train its representatives.

But the firm was surprised to find out it had no real understanding of the different types of customers being served and what they actually wanted. Companies should ask themselves, “What job or set of jobs are they hiring the business to do for them?” The concept may seem obvious, but businesses must collect data that allows them to understand what customers purchase and what criteria different segments use for purchasing. Too few companies actually do this effectively. 

·         Identify the most attractive customer groups and design call center experiences tailored to them. The aforementioned firm’s “new and improved” call centers treated every customer (or in this case, investor) in the exact same way, making the assumption that all investors should be engaged in its investment portfolio up to a certain level and then trust the firm’s financial advisors with the rest of the details. While well intended, this approach only appealed to one small segment of investors, while others felt calls were either too much work or not detailed enough.

It’s important for companies to understand and create a unique experience for their various customers. Known, high-value customers, for example, may want a premium experience that’s aligned with their specific expectations. Prospective customers typically need to be quickly assessed to identify the segment they are in, so the company can identify their needs and deliver a customized experience. And customers that are not a value-add for the company might receive the standard call center experience or may be encouraged to go to alternative self-service options online.

·         Train the call center to deliver on the new, segmented experience. To better match callers’ needs, our sample investment firm implemented a new, segmented approach, whereby three distinctly different experiences were designed and tested for three very different groups. To do this, the call center defined the customer segments through customer data supplemented with a few focused questions (with prospective customers requiring more questions). Typically, answers from these questions can be arranged in a one-page decision tree diagram for the call center agent to work from or programmed into the script on his or her computer screen. 

Then, the trained call center reps took the approach for a test drive. A pilot test allowed reps to practice delivering customized experiences before the program was rolled out more broadly. For a pilot program, companies may offer existing high-value customers VIP treatment to ensure satisfaction; high-value prospects might be transferred to highly skilled reps to garner valuable leads; and lower value customers are typically served effectively without the extras.

When the investment firm recognized the fundamental differences of its customers, it paid off immediately in the pilot program by improving the customer experience and the bottom line. Wi” rates went up significantly among prospective customers; and existing customers found the experience so helpful that the firm started to gain more of their investment dollars and accounts. The pilot program was quickly rolled out across the investment firm. Ultimately, when the mystery shopping agency ranked the new call center experience again, this firm moved from the bottom of the heap to the second best in its industry.    

Whether using a simplified approach or a more sophisticated one, companies can make a call center work smarter for their customers and their bottom linesby using these principles effectively. Hopefully, for their sake (and ours), they will make the right call by transforming painful call center experiences into positive ones.

Ellen Turner and Jason Green are principals at The Cambridge Group (www.thecambridgegroup.com), a growth strategy consulting firm that is part of Nielsen.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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