Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
July 31, 2006 12:03 AM
Categories: Management 
Surfing call center trends

I live a couple of blocks from the ocean. I watch surfers and the surf throughout the year. A strong surf means few surfers, and those who brave the waves are pummeled by the white water. During times of normal surf, I can pick out the novice surfers; they have a tough time figuring out which wave to catch. They often end up trying most any wave. Expert surfers are picky. They are able to discern the productive wave because they have enough experience to know when they are going to have a good ride.

This analogy holds true when we surf contact center trends. We all have various reactions to trends. Some of us dive right in, only to find the white water or rip currents too much to handle. Others of us spend time honing our “surfing” skills and only paddle with the wave when we know that the force of the trend is going to take us in a positive direction.

Outsourcing, for example, can be an intimidating trend. However, if you are expert in selecting, partnering with, and managing outsource providers, then you are ready for the challenge. And you can even help your employees handle the outsourcing trend by increasing their skill levels, and positioning your center to take on more roles that are not easily outsourced.

How do you feel about trends? Are you afraid to face them, or exhilarated when you hear about something new? How do you prepare yourself and determine which trends are right for you? Let us know your reaction to some of the trends that have caught your attention, and how you intend to handle them.

Entry logged at 12:03 AM
July 25, 2006 12:01 AM
Categories: Management 
Contact center trends

Would you agree that the contact center industry is constantly moving? Often, I notice, it moves in multiple directions at once. We are in an industry that cannot sit still; we follow trends.

I spend much of my time just trying to keep track of trends. We have “people” and technology trends, and also process, knowledge, customer, measurement, and sourcing trends. As if our contact center lives aren’t hectic enough! Deciding what trends to follow can drive us crazy.

I have defined a “trend” as “an investment strategy resulting in a long-term, significant change in enterprise and/or contact center performance.” Notice that the definition is neutral; the “change” described can be positive or negative. A trend can take us to new heights or correspondingly low depths. Most trends are positive, but even the ones that begin positively can go awry. In 1969, Sir Alec Cairncross wrote a short lyric that illustrates that a trend is what we make it:

A trend is a trend is a trend
But the question is, will it bend?
Will it alter its course
Through some unforeseen force
And come to a premature end?

Have you achieved positive results from following a trend? Have you seen others latch onto a call center trend that did not last? Tell us about it; and, if you would like, change the names of those involved to protect the unwary trendsetter.

Entry logged at 12:01 AM
July 17, 2006 12:04 AM
Categories: Outsourcing 
A dark and stormy night

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1830.

The story, Paul Clifford, is widely recognized to contain the worst opening sentence of any novel in the English language. And I have convinced myself that my experience on yet another “dark and stormy night” was the worst new-customer experience in the history of the customer contact industry.

The rain had been falling for days; the Northeast U.S. was flooded. Internet sites were down. Call centers were overrun with needy customers accustomed to self-serving on the now-crippled Web sites. I was one of these customers.

I have to admit, I’m phone adverse. I know it’s ironic that a contact center consultant is phone adverse, but I would rather self-serve on the Internet than call a company. So, when I needed to order a new piece of luggage for an upcoming trip, I went straight to the Internet. But the site I wanted was down, I had to call.

At first, I could hardly hear the agent because the weather was interfering with the line quality. Even when I was able to hear him, I could not understand what he was trying to say. His English was bad.

Fiercely determined to spend my money, I told him I wanted to buy a $400 “wheelie,” and I had a coupon to apply to the purchase. He took my name and item number, then he gave me an order confirmation number. I was a bit startled. He had not asked for payment or shipping information. I asked if he worked for the company, explaining my question by reminding him he hadn’t ask for seemingly required information. He confirmed that he was an employee rather than an outsourcer or temporary worker, but that he worked in El Salvador. “We don’t usually get these calls, but our U.S. call center needs help so they are sending some customers to us,” he said. Truly a dark and stormy night, for him and me. Frustrated with the poor connection, line quality, language, and sales process, I told him I would hang up so I could attempt to reach a U.S.-based call center and agent.

These days, we talk a lot about off-shoring, both outsourced and company owned. We write about the potential pitfalls (e.g., accents) and obvious benefits (e.g., costs). We discuss how to align the offshore strategy in order to benefit the company’s value proposition. My recent experience taught me we still have room to grow. Our customers expect us to perform rain or shine.

Have you off-shored any of your customer contact operation? If so, how do you ensure there are no “dark and stormy” nights in your agents’ or customers’ experience?

Entry logged at 12:04 AM
July 10, 2006 12:47 PM
Just one bad apple

Is there a bad apple in your contact center? I’m not talking about the agent who makes an honest mistake; I’m talking about the one who goes the extra mile to drive customers away from you. What harm could this one person be doing to your customer base? If a rotten apple is working in your center, could you find her?

I am not being extreme; I experienced that one bad apple today. As a loyal customer of a certain airline, I did not expect to encounter such problems. Because its Internet site was down, I called the airline to make a reservation. I asked the agent not to add the five-dollar reservation fee that accompanies phone orders to my total. “I tried to buy the ticket online,” I explained, but the Internet was down.”

The agent told me that I was mistaken—the Internet was not down. The call center notifies the agents when the site is down, and because she had received no such notification, the Internet was working. Because I still had the Web page up with the error codes staring me in the face, I told her I would give her the codes as evidence; but she insisted on tacking the $5 onto my bill. She said, "If you don't want to get charged the fee, then use the Internet. Thank you for calling (name of airline)." And then, SHE DISCONNECTED ME!!!!

This one ticket was for more than $700, and the agent risked it for $5. Even more astounding, she risked all future travel revenue from this loyal customer.

Hey, maybe this agent didn’t receive the proper training. And maybe she was having a really rough day. But all of us in the industry know that is no excuse for disconnecting a caller.

I reported the incident to the airline, but (according to research) I’m in the minority. Most of your customers do not report ill treatment; they simply walk away.

I didn’t have the agent’s name or location; she disconnected me before I could ask. How will the airline management team ever find her? How much more damage will she inflict on other customers before she is discovered?

I know that 99.99 percent of your agents are good eggs; they are talented, dedicated, and well-meaning. But what would happen if a rotten apple where hidden in your organization? Would he be able to operate undetected? What could you do to mitigate the damage he might be causing?

Entry logged at 12:47 PM
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