Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
I am sitting at my desk, staring at my six-month-new Dell laptop. The blue screen of death, also known as a fatal system error, returns my stare. I watch my laptop circle the sinkhole of darkness and know it is not ending well.
Nothing I do will restart my computer. It’s under warranty, so I log into my Dell account and file a service ticket. I am heading to a call center, probably somewhere in India or the Philippines, feeling helpless and hopeless.
My negative attitude about customer service is well founded. Though I do not use call centers often, I rarely have a good experience and on this day, it is intensified with anticipated out-of-pocket costs to restore or replace it.
My journey begins when I dial the 800 number. The call, answered by Jay (real name, short for Jayesh) in Mumbai, welcomes me to the contact center and the changing face of customer service.
The Contact Center
The difference between a call center and a contact center is significant. Call centers focus on incoming and outgoing voice calls while contact centers manage voice calls and data applications like e-mail, Web-based chats, instant messaging and visual communication.
Contact centers use a blended agent, someone who understands and manages multiple forms of customer communication. Jay is a blended agent and he introduces himself in clear English, inviting me to let him know if I don’t understand or need him to speak more slowly. By law, he must tell me where he is located and transfer me to a US call center if requested.
We begin with a summary of what happened followed by a few simple steps to reboot the laptop. They don’t work and when the knot in my stomach gets bigger, Jay reassures me these are preliminary diagnostics.
He methodically tells me what to do and in about 10 minutes, my laptop returns to life. I am not out of the woods, just powered up.
The Man on the Phone
At this point, Jay asks to take control of my screen, and a window in the corner tells me I can ‘click him out’ at any time. He spends thirty minutes updating software and suggests removing a program he feels is the root of the fatal error.
I did not download it; I purchased it with the computer. Jay tells me it is unnecessary and does not play well with my operating system. The remaining updates will take over an hour, so we agree he will call back in two hours to confirm that everything worked. This he does, and the laptop is running perfectly.
Jay is awesome. Like many of his contact center colleagues he has an advanced degree in computer science and for him, this is a dream job. Before he hangs up, he provides his name and operator number if I want to follow up with another call or reference him in any way.
The New Technical Assistance Agent
Nothing replaces knowledgeable, engaged, human service providers. My Dell experience was amazing, so different from the expectations I set.
Why? Because the role of a call center agent is shifting. Complex calls require agents with a comprehensive understanding of English and cultural awareness. Contact centers hire representatives who are educated, knowledgeable about business and trained in customer service.
By the time I call a live agent, I have exhausted all other resources available to me. Online searches, chat bots, and instant messaging are helpful but calling customer support sets expectations for a higher level of service and intelligence. No scripts, tired phrases and poor English—I want a resolution.
Disney has perfected this using a method called H.E.A.R.D. Agents attend in-depth training to master this simple technique for resolving customer complaints.
- Hear: don’t let the customer’s anger influence your behavior
- Empathize: acknowledge their feelings, take their problem seriously
- Apologize: tell them you understand why they are upset
- Resolve: focus on the problem so you can fix it
- Diagnose: fix what is broken
They take customer service to a new level of good.
The Email Nightmare
Email customer services are also outsourced, answered by individuals in developing nations like Malaysia and El Salvador who speak and write English poorly. When done badly, it is impersonal and ineffective. It de-humanizes the experience in the form of passive-aggressive and non-specific communication written to reset expectations in their favor.
Every company encounters an angry customer. That anger intensifies when emails contain phrases like, “we regret any inconvenience” or “our records indicate,” and the no-reply email address. Using a scripted template, you are set up to give up. An unhappy customer has no value.
The Cost of Customer Service
Successful businesses understand that a customer who complains is an invitation to improve. Excellent customer service is not a cost, but a sales opportunity. By enhancing the experience with quality representatives, the gain is a returning customer who remembers the service you provided along with the price they paid.
U.S. companies lose more than $62 billion annually due to poor customer service. Improving it, even moderately, generates an average revenue increase of $823 million over three years for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues.
Social Media Reviews and Customer Service
Social media plays a huge part in customer service. Potential buyers often decide against a purchase (think Amazon and Yelp reviews) and actual customers switch companies after a single instance of poor service, and then write about it.
Airlines (Southwest is the exception)) telephone and Internet service providers and Car Max take the top spots for bad customer service. Leading the list of good guys are Publix Supermarkets, Trader Joe’s, Apple Computer and Amazon.
When it comes to customer service, companies are learning it is not only important to say the right thing; they must also do the right thing.