How can I help you?

The last twenty years have seen a revolution happen in our everyday lives – customer service has moved from what was either a long drawn out letter writing process or the prospect of facing a long queue in an office or utility just to get our questions answered or our bills paid. First of all customer service was offered on the telephone and then along came call centres offering immediate, twenty four hour, seven days a week service.
    
My, how our expectations changed. Today it is reasonably estimated that there are now nearly one million people employed in the UK industry and that over 80 per cent of incoming calls are answered within twenty seconds.

One-stop-shop contact
In recent years, a huge effort has been made by the public sector in particular and (if not yet reality everywhere) then the desire to have a multimedia ‘one-stop shop’ surely exists within every government department and local authority. A great deal of progress has certainly been made by the emergency services and it seems clear that enormous energy has been brought into this sector. You need only research the number of public sector winners of customer service industry awards in the last 12 months to be assured that many are competing with the best of the commercial operations.
    
So what does all this mean for customer management? Well, for one thing it means customers are becoming increasingly demanding and much more likely to take their business elsewhere or to complain if they don’t think that you are performing. It also means ‘competition’ is no longer simply your direct competitors; it is anyone creating good customer experiences.

Organisations can turn their customers’ call centre experiences into moments that build customer advocacy or they can deliver something that drives their customers away. The key is to define just how customer-centric you want to be and align all the components of service delivery around that point, including the goals of the business, stakeholder expectation, the expectations set by PR and marketing and the measures used to manage the operation.

The sets of attributes that create a good customer experience and therefore loyalty are no longer simply people, process and technology. These now need to be sandwiched by leadership (what the organisation says it will do) and what it actually measures. This will ensure that the customer strategy is defined and applied across the business and will drive the behaviours needed to successfully execute the customer strategy.

A motivated workforce
At the heart of this is a requirement for the organisation to build a workforce that is highly engaged and working positively in ways that are aligned with the goals and mission of the business.
    
Leaders and managers cannot introduce initiatives successfully without the collaboration of their workforce and the more enthusiastic and committed this collaboration, the more successful the organisation will be.
    
No matter how advanced and impressive customer service technology may become, when it comes down to it, an exceptional customer service experience still relies on the individual who answers the phone personifying the organisation, giving it its voice and moving the process along behind the scenes – whether that’s through a friendly and helpful attitude and a fast response on social media or live chat, or an above and beyond effort toward solving the enquiry via phone, email or help desk.

Selecting an agent
The Call Centre Management Association thinks it’s about first impressions. “One of the most critical things when hiring a customer service representative is to pay close attention to what your first impression is in the first 15 to 30 seconds you meet the person and/or talk to them on the telephone; that is about how long it will take a customer to form their first impression.
     
Sir Richard Branson echoed this point in a recent Entrepreneur magazine article. “To achieve consistently terrific customer service,” he said, “you must hire wonderful people who believe in your company’s goals, habitually do better than the norm, and who will love their jobs.
    
“Make sure that their ideas and opinions are heard and respected; then give them the freedom to help and solve problems for your customers. Rather than providing rules or scripts, you should ask them to treat the customer as they themselves would like to be treated – which is surely the highest standard.”

Technology is key
Most government agency employees want to work in a role where they feel they’re productive and making a difference each day, but it’s difficult to remain productive and positively engaged when working with processes that you view as inefficient and legacy technologies that border on obsolete.
    
Until recently, the public sector and especially government agencies because of their sheer size and budget constraints have been more apt to continue to work with inefficient and dated processes and tools at the growing expense of employee productivity and engagement.
    
The recent introduction of more cost‑effective cloud-based solutions however has helped government employees increase productivity and satisfaction. The adoption of self-service knowledge bases alone has assisted in multiple ways, the biggest being in a reduction of repetitive phone calls and emails, allowing service and support representatives to focus on quality rather than quantity of interactions which reduces stress and increases job satisfaction.
    
Are there any parts of our lives today that are untouched by the telephone and therefore call centres? It’s tough to think of any isn’t it?

Further information
www.ccma.org.uk

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