Mis-Managing Customer Expectations

Why is it that even when faced with the thought of having to phone a call centre, one is filled with dread and the anticipated level of frustration starts to surge upwards?

In the nineties and early noughties there was a huge decline in UK based call centres, as large organisations off shored their customer facing operations to India, amongst other places, “to reduce costs” we were informed. The positives in transferring this work, they said, was that it utilised a well-educated, low cost workforce whose strength, as it turned out, was also a key weakness in that they were very process oriented and unswervingly stuck to the script. Sadly caller frustration hit new heights as the queries posed often didn’t fit neatly into the packages the agents had been taught to respond to. Customer satisfaction dropped, business was lost, and hence some of the largest exponents of off shoring have quietly repatriated the bulk of their call centres back to the UK.

Unfortunately, in the intervening period, nothing has been learned and little has changed. A recent survey by Which found, of the people surveyed, less than 60% of broadband customer calls were answered within 5 minutes and a third of callers to BT rated the service they received as poor or very poor.

Nothing is more frustrating and wearing than being told for the umpteenth time that we are valued customers and thanking us for our patience, or regardless of what time our call is made, being met with a message that due to an unexpected demand, delays are being experienced. How can it be unexpected when it is the norm?

What is particularly annoying is that in all likelihood our call has been answered automatically before placing us in a queue and that we are now paying a premium rate for the privilege of waiting to speak to a real, live person. When we do get through we are often told that they can’t answer the query – “It’s a different area”, we are told – and then we are placed in another queue, and so the frustration goes on and on.

Why should we expect to receive a more responsive service when we call sales lines than when we call the same companies’ after sales or customer service operations? Even the damned use of multi-level menu systems appears to be on the increase again, where ambiguous questions lead us to take the wrong option and we end up where we didn’t want to be, and then we’re placed in another queue and a longer wait.

Despite Six Sigma or Lean initiatives, up to 50% of calls to customer service operations appear to be self-inflicted, e.g. an expectation has been set, “someone will call you back” and then no-one does and hence a chase call is generated.

Often what can be measured is the focus, rather than what should be measured. How quickly we are answered might be important but not at the expense of having the reason for the call dealt with in an effective manner and any issues resolved during the initial call.

For the best customer experience the reason for the call needs to be resolved as close to the entry point into the service organisation as possible. This means moving more knowledge and skills to first line support and when calls need to be transferred to other areas for resolution, they should be transferred live and not placed in a secondary queue. Customer service reps need to have the ability to escalate issues immediately and management needs to stop hiding and shying away from dealing with escalated issues live and to the satisfaction of the caller. They should all stop making promises that neither they nor their colleagues have any intentions of keeping!

The message is clear to all call centres, please stop chasing average response times and start resolving your customers’ issues to their satisfaction.