Over the last few years I’ve conducted a number of contextual research studies in call centres. It is an interesting environment in which to conduct contextual research. Generally I’ve double-jacked in to calls, observing how the customer service consultants address the queries, and then asked a few questions of the customer service consultants.
Common call centre problems
Although there have been specific issues in each call centre I’ve conducted research studies, there have been a number of common issues. Namely:
- The customer service application is not used during training. Instead training teaches the consultants to take and rely on hand-written notes. They become familiar and trusting of these as a quick resource for addressing queries. This is an issue for a number obvious reasons; paper doesn’t get updated, their notes may not even be accurately recorded, etc.
- Consultants have no mechanism for suggesting improvements and updates to the system. If customer service consultants know one piece of information to be inaccurate, it undermines their trust in all other information on the system.
- Staff are commonly incentivised to complete calls in the shortest amount of time. Besides a whole heap of other issues that this form of incentivisation may lead to, it also encourages consultants to go with the quickest way of finding an answer to a customer query. Encouraging speed rather than use of the information system increases the risk that customer service consultants will provide inaccurate answers.
- For the reasons listed above, printed reference materials abound within call centre environments. I even once found a printed reference guide titled “Things you won’t find on the intranet”! Rather than ban printed materials and send these underground (as many call centre management do), I wonder if there is a way for management to ensure that printed materials are up-to-date and accurate.
- Management are oblivious to any of the above and find it a real kick in the stomach when I deliver my research findings.
5 ways to improve customer service
From these common findings I’ve extracted 5 ways in which most (if not all) call centres could be improved:
- Use the customer service information system during training.
- Encourage suggestions for improvements to the information system, and resolve the suggestions quickly and publicly.
- Incentivise new staff by use of the information system, not time to complete calls.
- Use colour co-ordinated official print-outs that are changed as regularly as your environment requires, this enables management to at a glance check to see what versions of print materials staff are using.
- Management should walk the floor regularly, but not in an intimidating way, and double-jack in to calls for a period of time is a great mechanism for seeing what really goes on.