When you receive a phone call from an old friend – someone whose friendship you value – how do you talk to that friend? What’s the tone of the conversation? Do you open a procedures manual and read from a script, or do you open your personality, and speak from the heart?
Yesterday, I called the telephone company that I’ve been doing business with for years.
A phone call from a customer is a big opportunity for any company to increase its emotional stock in the mind of that customer; it’s a chance to create a small, albeit incrementally powerful memory; it’s a chance to stoke the customer’s emotions to leave them thinking, “I’m invested with the right company – they’re good people – I like them, and they like me.”
But real? Absolutely.
“Thank you for calling Company XYX. This is Mary – may I have your account number please?”
I gave Mary my account number.
Then she asked me to verify my billing address. I gave that to her too.
Then she asked how she could help me.
I described an issue with my monthly bill.
“Before I transfer you, Mr. Watson, is there anything else I can do to provide excellent service for you today?”
“No, thank you.”
When the “finance” person answered, she greeted me by name.
Then she asked me for my account number. I gave it to her, too.
Then she asked me to verify my billing address. I did.
Then I explained my situation and request. Again.
Then she explained what caused the situation, and what she would do to correct it. Then she said, “You will notice the change to your account within 24 to 48 hours. “
I said, “OK, thanks.”
She asked, “Is there anything else I can do to provide you with excellent service today?”
I said, “No thanks.”
That was the end of the interaction between my phone company and me. I felt processed, and nothing more. There was nothing to cause me to feel that I know these people, or they know me. No relationship, no loyalty, just another trivial transaction in the wind.
So, what can a call center do to take advantage of these live, human-to-human touch-points as a way to build loyalty?
First, change your perspective. Instead of viewing inbound calls as transactions to be processed, view them as what they are – conversations with human customers. Yes, it’s important for the representative to be efficient in order to handle to volume of calls, but call center reps don’t have to be robots. Handle customer calls as you would any purposeful, free-flowing conversation with a friend.
Second, ditch the scripts. While scripts might enforce consistency, they don’t enforce customer loyalty. When Jim Bush took over as VP of Worldwide Customer Service at American Express, one of the first things that he did was to get rid of the scripts used in the call center. Tell the representatives what to accomplish with the calls, but don’t tell them what words to use in the process. When they’re not chained to a script, a representatives personality is free to engage with the customer on a more conversational, human level. Customers feel this stuff, and they are drawn to it.
Third, hire for personality; not for call center experience. You can easily train a person to give them the call center skills that are necessary, but you cannot change an employee’s personality. And over the long haul, personality always trumps teachable skills. Especially when connecting with customers.
An experience with a call center can be like an experience going out for dinner:
A cashier in a fast-food restaurant quick, efficient and quickly forgotten by the customer. They have very little impact on our loyalty.
A good waiter is someone who we remember; they converse with us; and they provide us with a memorable dining experience that we'll talk about online and offline. We remember them, and can't wait to go back again.
Does your call center process transactions, or create loyal customers?