Getting all call centers to work to your advantage

Too many managers forget their customers are already upset when they call

My article, “Shouldn’t You Know What Your Customers Know?” which appeared in the Feb. 6-19 issue of NHBR created quite a stir. It showed how a call center manager with state-of-the-art computer monitoring had no idea what it felt like to be her customer. Charts and graphs will only tell us so much.

I got quite a few calls and emails. Among them, two CEOs indicated they called their 800 numbers without saying who they were. They were surprised at what they found and will ensure fixes happen quickly. Hopefully, others have done the same.

Because of the interest, I thought I’d say a little more on the subject.

Too many call center managers forget their customers are already upset when they call. Whether it’s customer service, technical support, whatever, we usually call these numbers when something is wrong.

When’s the last time you called technical support to tell them you love your product and everything is working just fine? 

If people are already upset when they contact us, it’s very important to ensure we aren’t inadvertently upsetting them even more. Sales call centers tend to be very good at this, since they don’t want to lose customers who are ready to buy.

Unfortunately, the other call centers tend to pay far less attention to ensuring an easy and pleasant experience. Once you get through the “press this, press that” maze, wait an interminable amount of time listening to annoying music or commercials that tell you how good they are, you’re ready to strangle the poor rep who finally comes on the line.

How would you like a job talking to angry people all day? That doesn’t sound appealing, but do we want to make them even angrier than they already are, if we can help it? Reducing the aggravation will also make your rep’s job more pleasant, perhaps reducing turnover.

Not rocket science

You may want to have the people who designed your sales call center systems do the same for the remedial systems, paying attention to making the process as simple and pleasant as possible for the customer.

Here are a few simple suggestions to reduce or eliminate the most common complaints:

• Whether a person or a machine answers the phone, make the customers feel like you’re really glad they called.

• Don’t ask for any more information than you really need.

• Don’t make customers give you the same information more than once. (My health insurer wants my policy number three times on most calls.)

• When customers are holding, play soothing, pleasant music. Admittedly some market segments have different tastes, and it’s hard to please everyone. Even so, the better stores (e.g., Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, etc.) and restaurants tend to play soft classical music, as they’ve found customers stay longer and spend more.

• Provide customers on hold with realistic estimated wait times every few minutes, to give them some idea how much longer. Don’t use this as an opportunity to annoy them with commercials about how good you are. If you’re really that good, they wouldn’t be holding.

• Minimize wait times.

Yes, patience is a virtue, and many of us lack it. If your system is designed so that only the patient can endure it, you will find yourself serving a much smaller market than you otherwise could.

None of this is rocket science, yet it requires real thought and perhaps some testing to ensure our customers have as pleasant an experience as possible, even when they’re angry. Good customer reps know that handling such a customer well could make the next sale. If you think of your own experiences calling into other companies, the things that annoyed you probably annoy your customers as well. Likewise, the things that please you will probably please them. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

The golden rule applies, especially here. Don’t think that since they’ve already bought, they’re stuck with whatever service you give them, unless you want future sales to decrease. Remember you’re trying to sell the next one; don’t send them to your competitors.

Yes, this costs money, but it’s a lot cheaper to keep your customers than to keep finding new ones.

If you haven’t done so, go ahead and call the various numbers your customers call into and see what you find. You have nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain. nhbr

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or