Call All Managers: How to Create a Better Call Center

Almost everyone chose a simple phone number – whether to order a pair of socks or book a flight to New York – to finally navigate a seemingly endless labyrinth of possibilities. Mechanical Voice invites them on an ongoing basis, “now 1 (or 2 or 17 ) “.

Compounding? Yes. However, call centers with their corresponding voice response units (VRUs, also referred to as automated voice response systems) need not be so inefficient. When a company manages its call center well, the customer and the company can effectively triumph by effectively combining a triad of services, information technology, and internal processes.

This is especially true for the financial services industry, where call centers have gone beyond their most obvious role – as cost-effective channels to solve a variety of customer issues – and become a powerful means of service delivery. with the potential to generate a significant income.

HBS Professor Frances X. Frei and her colleagues Ann Evenson and Patrick T. Harker, both of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, investigated the use of call centers in this industry. In Their Effective Call Center Management: Evidence from the Financial Services Discussion Paper (pdf) goes beyond previous research to examine the overall context of providing call center services.

“Although many books have recently been written on different ways to drive consumer interactions,” Frei, Evenson and Harker write, “the issue of delivering effective service has been almost completely neglected the institutions can understand and implement superior customer service. ”

“Any service interaction is the foundation of a consumer’s perception of the overall quality of an organization,” they continue. “A company’s ability to manage and implement the service delivery process has a direct impact on the loyalty of existing customers and can have a significant impact on the acquisition of a new business, based on the quality of each customer’s interaction exceeds the expectations of the customer. ”

Frei, Evenson and Harker have created a research model for eleven large financial institutions that provides precise links between three key elements (or “drivers”) for delivering superior services. These are: 1) effective people; 2) effective internal processes; and 3) effective information technology (IT). The word “effective” is emphasized, it is said, to make it clear that individual elements of this combination may be better or worse from one institution to another, but their effective collaboration is the key to developing a system providing world-class services “.

The results of their research not only illustrate the relationships between the elements, but also show various factors within each element (eg how the IT practices are influenced) and the relationship between them. every element with the entire service delivery.

The main findings of the study are:

Successful service delivery is important to retain customers and increase sales. “Although most call center managers deeply agree with this statement,” writes Frei, Evenson and Harker, “sometimes it’s difficult to justify additional investment in a company that is generally considered a cost center.” ,
An organization that takes care of its customers also looks after its employees and vice versa. For example, the fact that a business encourages and expects its customer service representatives to handle the majority of the calls themselves, without transferring the requests later, is proof that it attracts the same level of attention. Employee empowerment ). “) as with its customers.
When leaving a job, an employee calls the work environment rather than compensation problems. However, this does not mean that good call centers have the luxury of offering lower wages while expecting employees to stay. Researchers found that call center revenue can be affected by a number of other factors. For example, sales are lower when employees are promoted to the ranks of the company. Similarly, employees who have not been responsible for a wide range of topics would be more likely to leave. According to the researchers, “this seems to indicate that people prefer to have more responsibility in their workplace and feel able to cope with a variety of problems.”
The turnover rate is lower if the workforce is larger. The rollover is also reduced when employees are not answering the phone at all times, but have time for other activities such as paperwork and training. Lower sales mean that the company’s ability to retain customers is even greater. And customer loyalty is essential for financial institutions. “Also note the authors”, with the ever-growing number of call centers, the cost of attracting, filtering and training staff is nowhere near negligible. ”
Institutions that spend energy on outgoing calls (eg, telemarketers) may be distracted to provide effective service to their existing customers. Researchers noted the “spiral effect” that occurs when companies pay more attention to outgoing calls than incoming calls. “When financial institutions try to sell more to existing or new customers, they lose sight of customer service, and if the service fails, customer retention becomes a problem with less customer retention.” “The sale to existing customers not only decreases It also attracts new customers, which means a significant increase in costs and as soon as these new customers arrive, they will only be sold through the reduced service. ”
In terms of information technology, companies need to be able to balance increased spending with increased value and efficiency for their customers. While institutions that spend more on information technology also had shorter lead times when customers were “on hold,” the study also found that a company may be more concerned about unnecessarily designing an intercom. more complicated than meeting the actual needs of customers. “The more complex the arithmetic is, the less the VRU can handle the calls, causing customers to drop out and deal directly with an agent,” write Frei, Evenson and Harker.
All decisions must reflect the conscience of the customer. Researchers have learned that financial-only decisions tend to have a negative impact on customer service. For example, if a company outsources some or all of its call center activities, service levels will be cut off. Frei, Evenson and Harker estimate that this outsourcing-related decline in service levels may be due to two factors: If the business is outsourced to save money, it probably will not be geared to customers’ needs. Or, if it is outsourced, mainly because it is unable to handle the call volume internally, it will not be tailored to the needs of the customers, but will respond to the organization’s organizational challenges.
Frei, Evenson and Harker point out that institutions typically suffer from a lack of customer focus when the design of their front-line tool – the Voice Response Unit – is too demanding and discouraging for the average consumer.

“Institutions that did not consider the client’s point of view in the URV did not take this into account in the rest of the call center,” they note. And it’s not easy to focus on the customer: “Average labor costs are higher in more customer-centric facilities,” they say. “This means that the focus on the customer is not without additional costs.”

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