Despite being a programmer as my primary occupation, my education and past work experience leaves me with quite an intimate knowledge of customer support and the sciences and social dynamics behind it. While I’m more accustomed to people asking me for tips regarding programming these days, I still find people sometimes coming up to me for customer support tips.
Well, I’m not a boastful kind of guy, but I did successfully manage to help a failing company rebound to a successful, upwardly mobile enterprise by doing major overhauls of their customer support architecture back in 2001. I keep up on customer service theories and models to this day, and now and then, I’ll still do a consultancy job in the field.
Today, I feel like giving the world four simple customer support tips I give people the most, when it’s not something as deep as consulting. I don’t charge for these little tidbits when asked in person, but they are pretty helpful information. So, I think I’ll share them with the world, so perhaps I get asked about these less. Ulterior motives and all that.
Reducing Hold Times
You know you need to reduce your hold times, everyone knows they need to reduce their hold times, regarding call centers. Everyone knows they need to do it, but few seem to know how. Well, let’s see …
The first thing to do is look at your phone tree. How deeply must a user navigate in order to reach the more commonly needed departments? If they must listen to many lengthy menu recordings and do a lot of navigation, then they’re going to have a long hold time by perception afterwards.
Second, having more contingencies to deal with common issues will reduce the amount of hold time when customers are in line. This will also contribute to greater first call resolution, something we’ll talk more about shortly.
Finally, hold times artificially extend if you have repetitive recordings and looping or unpleasant music during the wait. Add advertisements to this, and the hold times become insufferable. Stick to classical music that’s in a ten hour loop to ensure nobody hears repetition unless first call resolution fails in a way never before seen in history.
When I did consultant jobs and the occasional CS lecture, I got booed a couple times because I talked about outsourced call centers and how they’re a bit of a problem. Of course, given these are often run by non-English countries, I was branded insensitive by those who don’t think twice about anything they hear said.
Let me state that this has nothing to do with ethnicity or nationality, it has to do with communication and the vitality of its fidelity in customer service. Nothing more, nothing less.
But, it is indeed a problem. See, when these calls are outsourced overseas, to a non-English country, communication becomes a barrier. While many of these overseas agents learn the English language remarkably well, chances are they’ve not spoken it heavily for very long. As a result, they will have an accent. This is not something to be judged for, but it’s a barrier in customer service, because some people calling may never have encountered a given accent, and have a difficult time understanding it, even if the English is really well-spoken.
It’s not my place to suggest removal of outsourced call centers, but there should definitely be a drive for greater inflection fluency of English where this is done. This would require either much costlier training of the agents, or a drive to hire amazing English speakers in that nation. Either way, it will make call centers more expensive, but not prohibitively so. Outsourcing is evil not because it takes jobs out of a country, but because it exploits countries with weaker economies and is by this fact, cheaper.
Costlier call centers there with more skilled training means better wages for those working there, along with better communication with customers. Everyone wins except the cheapskates who have no problem underpaying tired, overworked agents.
Going Self Service
Now, I’m on the fence about self-service in many cases, because it can have its problems if relied on one hundred percent at this point. However, going self-service with some customer service stuff is actually going to help. Remember those redundant contingencies I mentioned earlier? Well, they can be handled online through dynamic FAQ, forums and other things as well as an onboard interface for customer account micro management.
This takes a lot of workload off your call center, when customers can do more stuff on their own. Just, only let this be so involved for now, because self-service has a lot of refining to do before it’s an all or nothing adoption, alright? It will be someday, but it isn’t today.
Greater First Call Resolution
Ok, I promised I’d get back to this, and I’ve found there’s one big step to getting greater first call resolution, aside from the other two call center-oriented things I’ve already brought up in some detail. Have a plan to appease the customer generically if a resolution does not present itself.
This basically means, if you cannot answer their question, undo an issue or immediately remedy a problem, have some list of compensatory things you can do, to leave them with something positive, when there’s no resolution to be had. The nature of this compensatory incentive is up to you and your company, but having something to give is very helpful and can be considered a first call resolution. It is in fact a first call resolution in an other wise no win case.
These are the four customer support tips I have to give out the most often when not actually taking a job. I hope these bottled messages, awash in the great sea of the internet, fall on not some but many eyes to whom they are helpful and insightful.
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