Why Call Centers Suck


Why Call Centers Suck

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  October 26, 2015

Let me be clear, not all call centers suck. But, the headline above is a sentiment that has plagued the industry for a long time, and current models aren’t helping.

To be sure, I have, over the years, had more than my share of positive customer service experiences. In fact, I’ve made a point of writing about them in some cases and, in others, I’ve pointed out superior experiences to management. They deserve recognition.

So do those that help proliferate the long-standing negative perception of call centers, and those are becoming more frequent than ever.

Over the past six months, I’ve received dozens of calls to my mobile number from telemarketing outsourcers peddling insurance, utilities/power, windows or siding, and various other services or products. Typically, I don’t answer them, but, for any number of reasons, I sometimes do. (Typically, it’s because the outsourcer has used a local DID, and I either think I recognize the number or am concerned it could be one of my children’s schools.)

At that point, I have to listen to an annoying recorded greeting about the product. If I hang up, I will likely continue to be called over, and over, and over. So, I listen, and finally hear, press 1 if you’re interested in speaking to a representative. Great, I think, I can finally get them to stop harassing me.

“Hi, this is Tammy, are you interesting in our extended auto insurance offers?”

“No, I am requesting that you...”

And that’s about as far as I get before I hear the unmistakable click of the call disconnecting, without actually being able to request being removed from their call list. I assure you, the calls will continue.

So, I call the number that appears on my caller ID and typically get one of two recorded messages. The first at least lets me think I’ve accomplished my objective: “Thank you for calling. If you are requesting to be removed from our calling list, please press 1 now.” The problem, of course, is when the next campaign comes up, if that client has also bought your number from one of the entities with which you conduct business (and which has quite likely lied to you when telling you it doesn’t provide your number to others), you are right back in the mix.

The second message is merely letting callers know the number has no ability to answer calls, that it is merely an outbound number… in not quite as many words.

The problem seems to be the measure of success. If outsourcers are measured by their conversion rates, there is little incentive to promote a positive view of their model, and the moment agents realize there is no opportunity for a conversion, they are coached to abandon the call. If customer service isn’t the objective, and if you prefer not to train the agents to actually speak to people, there are plenty of technologies that can be substituted for these undertrained and underpaid agents, eliminating the hope that victims… I mean customers… can actually interact intelligently with properly trained representatives.

To be certain, it’s a thankless job, and one can hardly fault the agents. They are merely providing the service they are told to deliver. The model is broken. Nevertheless, the end result is a poor reputation for the call center industry as a whole, despite the fact there are many outsourcing agencies that pride themselves on the quality of their representatives. (See CUSTOMER magazine’s annual MVP Awards, highlighted in each year’s March issue.)

I suspect it would make for an interesting data analytics project to be able to compare impressions of call centers by individuals peppered by robotic solicitation calls, compared to others who have interacted with higher quality customer service outsourcers. I don’t think the results would be surprising.

Of even greater interest would be a longer term analysis of the probability of future success after a failed engagement. In other words, how does being constantly pestered by poorly developed and managed solicitation campaigns correlate to future response? Does the chance for future success decrease? I can tell you, without doubt, for me at least, it does.

That’s not a smart long-term business model for call centers or their clients, all of whom have massive amounts of data available, along with the technology and human capital to develop more effective strategies that won’t chase away customers. It’s a necessary industry, but one that doesn’t require poor quality and consistently negative perception – and therein lies the opportunity. 

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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