Companies have always been concerned about their image. However, thanks in large part to the Internet, your corporate image or reputation is more driven than ever by how consumers perceive your products, services, and activities and less on traditional outbound marketing efforts.
In this increasingly competitive and connected environment, it only makes sense to actively create and communicate a positive image to customers, shareholders, the media, and the general public. Neglecting or mismanaging your image will create a whole host of problems that can negatively affect your growth and success.
Ground zero for maintaining a positive company image is your call center. It’s not only a primary customer touch point, it’s often where first impressions are made. A costly image problem can be created quickly by rude or untrained service agents, outages, extended hold times and confusing IVR systems. On the flipside, your image can be propelled to new heights of success by having a call center that shines above those of your competitors.
The Power of the Internet
In increasing numbers, customers are recording negative call center experiences and sharing them widely via social media channels. This reality was taken to new heights last year when tech editor Ryan Block posted a painful eight minute conversation with a cable company “customer retention” specialist who desperately tried to stop Block from canceling his service. The recording went viral, and it resulted in a significant hit to the company’s image that forced a senior vice president to make a public apology.
Only a decade ago, the dynamic between a company and its customers was relatively fixed. One unhappy customer had the capabilities of telling a handful of friends about a bad experience. The impact on the company was minor. This has completely changed, and the customer’s voice has never been more powerful or pervasive.
News of a poor experience used to get no further than a call center manager. Now it’s shared across Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and more. In the case of the cable company, there are now more than 1,000 articles about Block’s incident, and it has led to many more customers recording their calls.
Backlash against Overseas Call Centers
In the last 20 years, economics and technology have driven countless call center jobs overseas. Many Fortune 500 corporations, as well as up-and-coming smaller companies, shifted this work to outsourcing firms in India, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
While call center operational costs dropped for many companies when they outsourced their call center jobs, there was a hidden cost that wasn’t calculated. Many companies quickly discovered that the quality of their customer interactions dropped considerably by shifting the work overseas. Customers were frustrated with language barriers, VoIP sound quality, and the inability to speak to someone at the local level.
At the peak of the outsourcing trend, nearly 30 percent of call center jobs for high tech companies were offshore. Within the banking industry, the numbers were similar. However, these numbers have declined considerably in the last couple of years as companies began experiencing a backlash from frustrated callers as well as those who felt that outsourcing was hurting the economy.
Image Is Everything
With companies’ reputations more vulnerable than ever, what can be done at the call center level?
While there is no one guarantee for ensuring your company won’t be the target of an image-damaging campaign led by a disgruntled customer, there are many service enhancing strategies you can implement to create a truly positive caller experience.
The three primary components of a call center that can affect your company image are your phone system, your staff, and your processes.
System outages, dropped calls, confusing prompts, irritating on-hold music, and more can all negatively affect the image of your entire company. If delivering world-class service is important to your company, it’s vital to regularly “shop” your own phone system to check for problems, correct gaps in service, and optimize everything for the benefit of the caller.
In the case of the cable company call that went viral, the call center representative didn’t respect the customer nor provide the service that was requested. This could be the mistake of a sole representative, or more likely, it was caused by a lack of training and an overly aggressive sales quota. Either way, it ended up with the call recording being broadcasted across the Internet. Those who listened to the recording formed a negative opinion about the entire company based on a single conversation between one representative and one caller.
Far too often, call center employees are poorly trained and underpaid, which ultimately leads to dissension and high turnover. This is a huge, costly mistake for a company. Your call center staff has the ability to make or break your company image with each and every call. They should be well trained, compensated, and appreciated.
Call center processes typically evolve over time. For many companies, there is rarely or ever a complete review of all processes to see how they relate to each other and how they are viewed by callers.
When processes are implemented piecemeal, there can be gaps in service quality and efficiency. For example, a small company may have a policy in place that a return authorization requires an approval from an upper level manager. As that company continues to grow, the service representative’s access to upper management may diminish. This leads to the representative either placing the customer on hold for an extended period of time or having to follow up with the customer. The longer the customer has to wait for resolution to their issue, the greater the chance that there will be damage done to the company’s reputation. Ongoing review of processes is necessary for call center operations and maintaining the image of the company as a whole.
With companies investing an ever increasing amount on their brand and image building, it only makes sense to optimize call center operations. What customers experience when they dial your call center may just be the most important component of your brand identity because it speaks volumes about who you really are what you value. By keeping customers your priority, you’ll go a long way toward protecting and strengthening your brand and your image.