754 — FIRST SEMESTER REVIEW: Customer Services: It’s a People Thing. The opinion of Chey Garland, CEO of Garlands Call Centres – UK

Jul 21, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

If you took a representative sample of the population and asked them to recount stories of good and bad customer service, the chances are you wouldn’t hear two stories alike. Some people will expect personalised customer service each time they contact a company, others will be quite happy to interact with an IVR system or an internet-based software agent. Some will have a bee in their bonnet about being left on hold, others about agents who ‘robotically’ follow a script without deviation. People are individuals with unique needs and expectations and the art of delivering excellent customer service is to understand and address those needs each and every time they contact your business.

Most customer service managers would agree with this statement. Their biggest problem is how to do so efficiently and at a price that’s acceptable to their organisations.

Technology is so often cited as the answer to this customer service management dilemma that in recent times the distinction between operations, processes and technology have become blurred. The ‘call centre’, for example, has become not only the name of the place where customer service operations are located but also the name for the call routing apparatus itself.

The term Customer Relationship Management (or CRM ) is another term that’s fallen into misuse. While it may sound like a key business process that lays down the fundamental rules for how organisations interact with their customers, many technology vendors have hijacked the term and applied it to everything from predictive dialling to database, call recording and universal queuing software.

The dissatisfaction amongst organisations that have bought into the dream that computer software alone is the answer to their customer service prayers is now legendary. In mid 2001, the Meta Group predicted that the CRM initiatives of most Global 2000 companies were at ‘serious risk of failure’ while Gartner reported that the failure rate for CRM projects would rise from the current 65 per cent to over 80 per cent by mid 2003.

What I believe many observers failed to appreciate at the time of these reports however, was that in many cases, there was very little wrong with the ‘CRM software’ being introduced. What was often wrong was the assumption that the software alone could bring about dramatic improvement without other fundamental changes taking place within those customer service operations.

Service is 80 per cent about People and Processes
If software alone cannot bring about dramatic improvements in major customer service operations, what can? Better trained and motivated people? Better business processes? The answer of course is a combination of all these factors – people, processes and technology.

With 70 per cent and plus of customer contacts still made over the phone, the phone side of operations is all important to the customer service operator. And while IVR is useful for filtering certain calls and for handling calls where caller requirements are of a mundane or repetitive nature (such as ‘what time is your store open?’ or ‘this is my meter reading’) the bulk of call handling will still be done by the customer service agent for many years to come.

I see the main role of key contact centre technologies such as universal queuing, IVR, email management, workforce management, predictive dialler and CRM database software as lending support to the HR practices and business processes that are driving developments in today’s multi channel contact centre operations.

Introducing efficient and cost effective email, SMS and web communications management alongside more traditional voice and fax services is important, but it shouldn’t distract customer service management from their key goal of delivering superlative person-to-person customer service.

Innovation in HR
One only has to look at the latest statistics for annual staff attrition and absenteeism within the UK call centre industry to identify the greatest problem we face as an industry. According to Income Data Services ‘Pay and Conditions in Call Centres 2001’, staff attrition in UK call centres currently stands at twenty two percent while agent absenteeism stands at around six percent according to the UK Call Centre Management Association (CCMA ).

Unfortunately most organisations focus on addressing the symptoms of absenteeism and stress – not their root causes. Dress down days, themed days and even ‘chill out’ rooms have increasingly been implemented by contact centres as ways of trying to improve the working environment and help to de-stress the centres. However, just as an Aspirin cures the symptoms of a headache, such an approach only has a short-term effect on reducing stress in the call centre.

A big part of that feeling of stress can be attributed to an individual’s recognition of their personal development – if they believe their role and environment is developing their skills, beliefs and values, then motivation is increased and stress reduces. It’s also important to recognise that everyone is an individual and that ‘personal development’ initiatives must be tailored to the individual.

Developing staff at a personal level is an essential part of any structured training programme. Which is why leading contact centres today are starting to spend time discussing individuals’ particular goals and aspirations and coaching staff to review their own skills and competencies with a view to jointly producing a ‘personalised’ development plan.

Too often the contact centre is viewed as the modern factory providing mass employment, seldom considered as a long-term career and, unlike the factories of the past, certainly not considered as places of employment for life. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Everyone should have the opportunity to build a career. And doing this doesn’t have to mean continuous promotion; after all, not every agent has to aspire to become a supervisor and then a contact centre manager.

The art is in creating an environment where agents have a clear direction and are provided with the support, training and coaching to develop them. Under such circumstances, negative stress can become a positive drive.

Home Life Carry Over
When we conducted research into the causes of contact centre stress, it revealed that many of the causes of stress are totally unconnected to the workplace or role. They are actually a carry over from home life. And this makes sense. After all, it’s surely naïve to think that a contact centre agent under stress at home can leave this stress at the door of the contact centre. Family illness, marital problems, children difficulties or financial worries, to name but a few, can all contribute greatly to stress.

While few contact centre HR departments are equipped to deal with every single home-related stress issue, it is possible to create an environment that encourages agents to seek help when it is needed. One way is to nominate individuals, outside of the management team, who can help agents with non-work related issues. Agents know they have someone to talk to, in confidence, who will direct them as appropriate to the best source of help.

Holistic Development
While verbal communication can help, often it isn’t sufficient. At times, managers must also do things that actually ‘touch’ their personnel, such as giving them ‘life-enhancing’ experiences that will develop them holistically. A technique Garlands has used to good effect is to send staff out into the community ‘to see the bigger picture’.

For example, we allocate time for agents to go into local schools where they improve their own listening and coaching competencies through their involvement as reading mentors to children. Other agents work with teachers and school ‘heads’ on other and various projects that can range from mocking up ‘real’ business projects for a classroom to manage or offering IT coaching, all of which helps staff hone their own management and communication skills.

We also encourage staff to undertake awareness training, counselling training and participate with local community group initiatives to combat social problems and this has given employees a greater understanding of home and workplace issues and a tremendous head start in both areas.

Ultimately it would be unrealistic to suppose that you can totally eradicate stress. This is just not possible: unreasonable callers, an unanticipated surge in calls or problems at home are unavoidable. But you can, by being properly aware of the causes of stress, take the necessary steps to manage it.

Staff absenteeism and attrition are the biggest issues facing the contact centre industry today. A lack of appropriate CRM technology may also be a factor in whether businesses deliver superlative customer service but it’s highly unlikely to be the root cause of poor service.

It figures that the return from investing in people will often be greater than the return on investments in technology – especially when those investments address the root causes of contact centre work-related stress and absenteeism.

Chey Garland

Em Foco – Opinião