Five Things Customer Service Operations Need to Improve

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  December 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

As another year comes to a close and I think back to what was the year 2011, we’ve certainly seen some remarkable changes in the contact center and CRM industries, not the least of which is the elevation of social media to a legitimate part of the customer engagement exercise. The fact is that most companies are now at least considering what social media means to them and how they should handle it.

I see that as a positive.

It’s not that every social media mention needs to be individually addressed; more that there can be significant, important trends that can be easily identified with the right analytics. Of course, there are also opportunities for identifying the best individual social interactions to which to respond.

But, despite the attention social media has garnered, and despite the best successes of many businesses in leveraging both inbound and outbound social interactions in increasing customer satisfaction, many contact centers still fail in some basic elements of customer service. 

Here is my customer service wish list for 2012:

#5 Escalation coaching

First call resolution is really the goal of every agent – or first interaction resolution, to be more specific. The quicker issues are resolved the better, as it allows agents to move onto the next calls, reducing both AWT (News - Alert) and AHT, and increases satisfaction. In many cases, agents simply need to understand when to escalate situations to the next level of support – and it probably needs to be done more often than it is. This may require a few more level 2 support staff, but it will also allow level 1 agents to handle more calls, ultimately resulting in increased productivity and happier customers overall.

#4 Appropriate staffing

I get it, there will be periods where wait times will exceed 60 seconds – but the amount of time it can sometimes take to get a customer rep on the line (ahem, Verizon (News - Alert)… iPhone 4S launch comes to mind) is simply unbearable. If you know you’re going to exceed capacity of your staffing, develop a flexible operation, either through outsourcing or seasonal help using virtual contact center technology. It will allow the addition of a few to a dozen or more agents on a temporary basis to handle the influx of calls for a period. And it will keep all your customers calling about other, more routine issues, happier.

#3 Agent location

Most customers would prefer to speak to native-speaking reps. Callers from the U.S., for instance, would prefer to speak to someone in Madison, Wisc., or Detroit, rather than someone overseas. Just for fun, the next time an agent tells you he is from Detroit, ask if Aaron Rodgers is better than Matthew Stafford. The point is: Hiring agents in-country makes a difference in satisfaction.

#2 Proper IVR design

This is not a function of technology, but, seemingly, a lack of understanding of customers’ needs when they call a customer service center. Just make it work properly. Why can’t I get to an agent when I want to? Why does it never give me the options I am looking for? The first choice in every IVR system should be: Do you want to speak to an agent, or would you like to use our enhanced automated self-help system?

#1 Continuity within customer service organizations

Specifically, I’m talking about the number of times callers have to repeat their personal or account information during a single interaction. When you call a service provider (of any sort), the first thing you are typically asked to do is provide account information and verification of identity. Why, then, as soon as you get to a live agent, do you then have to repeat that information? And why, when you are transferred to a specialist or escalated to a higher-level representative, do you again have to repeat the same information? Over the years, I’ve asked quite a number of colleagues, friends, associates, and even clients to identify what frustrates them most about the customer service environment. The inability of organizations to deliver data and information to the necessary resources is noted most frequently, by far. Quite frankly, with the technology available today, I continue to be amazed at how many contact centers have failed to implement real-time data into their agent desktop systems.

Technology is great, and it enables amazing capabilities in business and their customer service operations – but only if they are properly implemented. Ultimately, technology is only as good as the people using it. In order to get the most out of their technology investments, companies also need to make the investments in their staff – educate them, give them the tools to succeed, motivate them, then reward them. (As you might expect, CIS will be looking at each of these areas, and more, in 2012).

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page. Follow Erik on Twitter (News - Alert) @elinask.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi