Contact centres aren’t perfect, but they are better than what went before. They are here to stay, even while we continuously improve their performance. Contact centre transformation is easier when we don’t lose sight of the core reason for the centre in the first place: to enable customers to talk to our company, buy things and get help.
Nowadays it has a different association (see illustration) but many of us in the UK still associate this timeframe with a familiar phrase: “Please allow 28 days for delivery.”
It was a routine part of the terms and conditions for mail order.
A serious customer journey
Mail order, of course, meant not just receiving goods by post, but ordering them by post as well. Find the product you wanted in a newspaper (or magazine or catalogue), fill in a paper form, cut it out, write out a cheque for payment, put them both in an envelope, address the envelope, put a stamp on it, go to a post box, post it…
For up to 28 days.
Almost a month.
Then when the parcel arrives, open it and see if what you have received is anything like the black and white image in the original advertisement. Or the right size. Or if it works properly. And has not been damaged in transit.
And if it’s not right, begin the whole rigmarole again. In reverse.
Not, by any measure, an ideal customer journey.
Contact Centres make it better
Contact centres changed all that. Want to buy something? Call up, place the order and it will be dispatched quickly. Problem with a product or service? Call up and the agent will handle your problem or help explain what we need to do to resolve it.
Sure, none of us like being put on hold or to have to navigate through endless sequences of IVR numbers; and many of us have service disasters we can recount about when we got to speak to the agent from hell, but we forget, sometimes, how much better it is than it used to be.
Oddly, the internet hasn’t killed off the contact centre. Despite that we can now order things and services online from our laptops and tablets and mobiles, many of us still want to call up and talk to someone. And when things go wrong, while email, customer forums and online chat are all very well, many of us still want to call up and talk to someone.
Because our lives are complicated and what we want is complicated and our problems are complicated and sometimes we need to explain to someone – a person – what we want, and have them confirm that they have understood what we want, and that something will be done about it.
And a website can’t do that.
Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t work this way, and every one of us has a horror story to tell. But most of the time it does, and often, it works very well indeed.
Contact centres enable this experience. And they continue to do so: while most now also handle customer communications across a range of channels, the customer telephone call tends be the heart of the operation.
Keep sight of the purpose
The challenge facing all of us who work with customers, however, is how we equip our people in contact centres to deliver a service which is consistently good, and consistently cost-effective – while customers remain complex people with changing needs, and the technologies available to customers and to us develop constantly.
I believe that the only way to succeed in meeting this challenge is to remember one thing: the core purpose of the contact centre is to enable customers to talk to our companies, to buy and get help.
Everything we do in a contact centre is about doing this better.
And when it gets hard to do this – and it will – we can console ourselves with one fact: even when things aren’t great, for most of our customers, things are much, much better than they were.
Contact centres revolutionised how we engage with customers and vice-versa. People complain about them, sure, but how many of us remember what it was like before they were commonplace? I, for one, don’t want to wait 28 days again…