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Traditional call centres: no longer a customer's lifeline

Earlier this week I came across the program for a Social CRM conference. “The Call Centre is no Longer the Lifeline to the Customer”, is the headlining keynote presentation. I was hooked immediately. The clouds in my head parted, the sun shone through like never before, and I heard tiny angels sing the hallelujah. This presentation finally signals a definite movement away from the traditional call centre.

Why does the traditional call centre need improving?

Many call centres got on the fast lane to efficiency. Fast isn't always good. Hurtling down the highway of speech recognition technology, automated messaging, elaborate call queuing and time-driven SLAs, many organizations failed to realize that quite a few of their customers had taken a left turn a mile back. Sure, everyone wants fast responses, but nowadays, most consumers expect to find the answer to generic questions online. So when they do call in the help of the customer support desk, they want to be heard. They want to feel that someone is genuinely taking an interest in their problem, and treating them as an individual customer. If the organization isn’t listening, customers take to social media and forums, where they'll find plenty of people with a sympathetic ear.

What factors are influencing this change?

Technology is changing the way we communicate. I spend more time typing emails, text messages and social media updates on my phone than I actually do calling. And I’m not alone. If we’re not typing on our smartphones, we’re multi-tasking online. Increasingly, more customers want the option to ‘chat’ online to a customer support representative , and Forrester has some interesting stats on this. This behavior shouldn’t be surprising, considering that we do most of our purchasing research online. From the initial Google search to questions on Quora and reviews that compare the various brand options, we weave our way around the world wide web until we finally come to the product page of our preferred provider. After all this online navigation, our natural inclination isn’t picking up the phone to reach out to the company. Plus, we’re social animals. Social media spread like wildfire because it satisfies the ‘belonging’ and ‘esteem’ elements of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Companies like Nike spend oodles of dollars on branding to create an image - a subset of society to which people want to belong. Not only do we want to connect to our peers on social media, but also associating ourselves with a specific brand.

So what's the solution?

By now it should be clear that the traditional call centre approach needs to be tweaked. What’s that you say? Your call centre still receives large volumes of incoming calls? That's not much of an argument if you only allow your customers to contact you by phone. It doesn’t necessarily equate to high customer satisfaction.

Consider: An elaborate knowledge base for customers to serve themselves Implementing online chat Social media accounts and the associated listening and response tools to effectively engage via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus etc. There are some great free and cost effective options out there.
A company forum that enables your customers to help each other with their questions (and reward your brand advocates for their participation)

Make customer support a responsibility of marketing, product management, and sales and create a response plan that includes all departments. Feature suggestions and product enhancements are often shared over social media, so if your product development team isn’t listening, you’re missing out on fantastic customer insight - a competitive advantage.

The Benefits

Taking steps towards an integrated response centre in combination with excellent customer service will eventually result in better company results. Customer satisfaction will improve, customer engagement will increase, you'll generate some valuable free positive publicity, and you'll promote company-wide information sharing if all departments in the organization are engaged, listening and responding. So what does the new lifeline to customers look like? It looks like a collaborative, social enterprise where real-time conversation occurs internally between employees and externally with customers across multiple channels – phone, email, online chat, customer forums, and social media. And when a customer turns to this organization for support, the clouds will part, the sun will shine through like never before, and tiny angels will sing the hallelujah.