Cogito Blog

Colleen Poe

This is the first of a series of posts on customer experience in the call center.

Companies are getting creative in how they provide customer service. Texting, online self-service, instant messaging, and other omni-channel efforts are being developed to effectively connect with customers. These channels certainly add value, but at a price: companies are seeking a breadth of services at the expense of their customer service phone calls.

Although technology has developed and companies are focusing on a robust online service, customers are still seeking customer service via the telephone. Analyst firm Forrester confirms that the phone is still the most widely-used customer-service channel. In fact, 73 percent of consumers are opting to call customer service over other channels. Unfortunately for call center agents, angry customers are especially likely to pick up the phone. According to a report from Arizona State University, customers are 11 times more likely to complain by phone than they are via online services.

As corporate executives are all aware, customer service strategy is a key element to a successful business. The quality of an interaction with a customer can affect how likely they are to make important decisions, such as renewing a service or recommending a product to a friend. Accenture recently stated that up to $1.6 trillion is up for grabs from customers switching from one company to another. Customers want an excellent service experience, and companies that provide it will reap huge benefits.

Unfortunately, many businesses are investing in customer service in the wrong places. Omni-channel strategies can play an effective role, but there is no replacement for the connection created during one-on-one phone calls. Customer experience in the call center can be maximized by fostering an environment of emotionally intelligent call center agents. Agents with excellent communications skills, who can build genuine connections with customers, are more valuable than ever in what Accenture calls the “switching economy.” However, as we’ll discuss in the next part of this series, very few call centers serve customers adequately, much less with excellence. Why is that?

Call center agents can become disengaged over time and feel ill-equipped for helping customers. They are unable to build the kind of strong rapport that will ultimately provide a differentiated experience for customers. This is largely due to training and tools that are not optimized for agent success. Most call center software helps agents capture enough data to meet compliance but not enough to help agents improve their performance over time. Customers are perceptive; they notice when they’re speaking to an agent that doesn’t understand their needs. Similarly, agents may dread speaking with frustrated customers because they will be treated as obstacles rather than enablers.

Such tools are not only a source of concern for agents, but for supervisors and call center executives as well. They face significant measurement challenges and lack an objective, automated, and comprehensive way to measure and teach communication skills. As call centers yearn for better tools, many options still do not provide a timely and reliable method by which to measure the customer’s experience during phone calls.

Fortunately, there have been technological developments that allow for processing and interpreting behavioral signals. This technology analyzes the subtle behaviors of customers and agents to glean a comprehensive understanding of the conversational dynamics. Such data can be used across the call center: agents can take note of behavioral trends to improve rapport with customers, and supervisors can have a reliable, comprehensive and real-time view into customers’ experiences.