As businesses are working harder to attract and retain customers, many are moving away from overseas-based call centers to focus more heavily on local customer service.
And instead of just taking calls, agents are being measured on and rewarded for results.
“The past few years, more call centers have become metric-driven to provide measurables on how they’re actually doing,” says Johnathon Downing, customer care supervisor at InsightBusiness.
“Call centers are also working harder to make sure that they have the right people on the team in the right positions, and that they’re getting regular feedback and rewards,” adds Bridget A. Carlisle, customer care manager at InsightBusiness.
Smart Business spoke with Carlisle and Downing about how setting up an internal call center can better serve your customers.
How are call centers changing?
They’re becoming more metric-driven, from the bottom up. It used to be that most metrics were driven at the front end, with agents trying to meet those metrics with no clear idea of how they were doing. To ensure metrics are being driven from the bottom up, include the front line in what is going on at the company and create a more open environment so they understand what they’re trying to achieve.
Advancements in technology have also led to better reporting of metrics, including what drives call volume into a center and how much time is spent talking to customers, versus solving customer problems. All of these things can be looked at together in order to efficiently manage a call center.
In addition, there is more emphasis being placed on going back to locally based call centers versus outsourcing call centers. Some of that is a backlash to customers calling what they perceive to be a local company and getting an agent in another country. That has the potential to create some resentment or frustration.
How can having an internal call center benefit your customers?
For one thing, you can do away with the lengthy prompts that try to solve customer problems before they actually get through to talk with an agent. Customers can reach someone directly who can assist them in solving their problem and reduce the frustration that builds when they can’t reach an actual agent.
You can also use it as a selling point because customers know that, whether it’s a billing problem, a service problem or a technical problem, they have one number they can call and agents are cross-trained to deal with whatever that problem might be.
How do you empower employees to succeed?
Build a climate in which employees are empowered to make decisions that are good for the business and good for the customer. You have to have things like caps in place for credits, but you also have to encourage them to make decisions.
And if it turns out to be the wrong decision, you have a discussion about alternative decisions they can make in the future. Encourage them to think outside the box and solve the customer’s problem, and treat every mistake as a learning opportunity.
Once you have the metrics in place, how do you recognize success?
First, make sure that a supervisor is conducting regular one-on-one meetings and giving feedback to the agents. Have a scorecard in place and give agents the metrics in a simple format so that they understand and are graded on the responsibilities of their job.
Both individual and team recognition are important, and you can do this without costing the company money. For example, a word of praise can go a long way. Every time you receive an internal or external compliment on one of your employees, write it up and post it on a board with the associate’s picture. You can also put that recognition into a frame that employees can hang in their cubicles, and it can also go on an internal Web site.
In addition, when you see employees going above and beyond, send an e-mail thanking them and copy it to the vice president of the division so they know their extra effort is being recognized.
What else do you need to consider when measuring and rewarding effort?
Make sure that you’re not just looking at inbound call volume. You also need to consider other work that agents might be required to do, such as customer follow-up or interactions with other departments.
Agents are responsible for making sure customers’ problems are resolved and that customers are satisfied with the resolution they’ve received. They shouldn’t be allowed to just throw the problems over to another department and assume it’s been handled.
But you have to find a way to measure this work so that you can assign the appropriate personnel and make sure that you have the right number of people to handle all the work, both inbound and outbound. Sometimes that piece of a call center is overlooked.
What advice would you give a business leader who says it’s too expensive to have a call center in-house?
You need to look at the short-term gains of outsourcing it versus the long-term gains of doing it in-house. Yes, on the bottom line, it would appear to be more expensive, but when you’re managing things in a customer-centric way, the long-term gains outweigh the short-term gains of outsourcing.
Bridget A. Carlisle is a customer care manager at InsightBusiness. Reach her at Carlisle.B@insightcom.com or (502) 410-7373. Johnathon Downing is a customer care supervisor at InsightBusiness. Reach him at Downing.J@insightcom.com or (502) 410-7328.