By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
It doesn’t matter if a call is answered in a modern contact center or by one person in a small, single-phone office. In both cases customers evaluate them the same way and expect the same outcomes; each call is compared with every other call and judged accordingly, regardless of who took the call or the technology behind it.
Consider three recent experiences I had in calling businesses without a call center.
1) A Husband-and-Wife Team: I needed to have a home inspection. A friend recommended a husband-and-wife team. He handled all the inspection; she handled all the office work. When I called, the quality of our interaction left me in awe. Not only was she professional, personal, and efficient, but she also excelled at high-level traits we value in the call center industry, such as tone, pacing, and pitch. It was as close to a perfect call as I’ve ever experienced.
When I had to call back to reschedule, she had a positive, no-problem attitude. Though I was inconveniencing them, there was no hint of that in her voice. Again the results were impressive. Even more amazing is that she handled this call while in the car on her way to pick up one of her kids. I would have not known had she not apologized.
2) The Small Office: Next I called a local service company. I easily accomplished my objective of scheduling an appointment. Though the person wasn’t skilled at customer service, I was pleased with her quick response.
Later I called back with a time-critical question. It was after hours, and she chastised me for calling in the evening. However, she did answer my question. Again I was happy to have an answer.
The next day I had a follow-up question. This time my query was met with unrestrained impatience. She promised me a return call later that day and then changed it to “within twenty-four hours.” The callback never came, but someone did show up two days later. In the end, my frustration with her was offset by the professional work of her staff.
3) A Family Business: My third call was in response to a postcard sent by a landscaping company. The wife answered the phone. She was friendly, although too casual for my taste. Still we established a rapport despite her lack of professionalism. Her overly familiar demeanor coupled with the absence of a hold button caused me to shake my head. In addition I don’t believe they even had an answering machine, because she always answered the phone regardless of how many times it rang; the record was nine. Often self-deprecating, she was nonetheless helpful on each call. In my many calls, her call handling never changed. I give her high marks for consistency.
Her husband, who handled the landscaping with their kids, was much the same in his conduct, overly friendly to the point of over sharing. Still, the finished product was well done and at a reasonable price.
Being Effective Is Essential: In each case I deem my interactions as effective because I accomplished my desired purpose. Being effective means the caller’s reason for calling is addressed, and the customer is pleased. A rating of “effective” sets the minimal expectations for a call center. Effective is our baseline.
Not Effective: Calls that are not effective are failures: The callers’ objectives weren’t accomplished, and they weren’t satisfied with the results. Too many organizations run call centers that are not effective. Wrong information is given; billing errors are not corrected; callbacks don’t happen; and repeated calls occur, with no movement toward resolution.
Surpassing Effective: Other call centers offer the other extreme, being effective and then offering more: professional, accurate, consistent, and empathetic, with first call resolution.
Whether you have one phone or hundreds of agents, first ensure you are effective in handling calls. Then take things to a higher level by being more than effective; become everything your callers hope for when they contact you.