The good news: Not many consumers complain about contact centers. The bad news: Agents have a tough time helping them with their complaints about everything else.
I suspect my experiences with contact centers are similar to those of other consumers. When I call them, I have a problem I'm hoping someone can help me solve, but it's not a problem associated with the contact center. (For those, I do what a growing number of other frustrated folks do, I air my beefs on Twitter.) Though I've had the occasional experience with a rude or clueless contact center agent, that's the exception. The rule is, they tend to be polite and helpful, sometimes to the point of getting frustrated on my behalf at all the hoops they seemingly have to jump through to fix my problem.
So no shock, industry analyst ContactBabel found a huge majority of the 6.6 billion complaints fielded by U.S. contact centers last year weren't about the contact themselves or the folks who staff them, but about "failure demand" triggered by a breakdown of processes elsewhere in organizations. For instance, 99 percent of the complaints coming into retail and distribution contact centers involve such failed processes as a wrong delivery or faulty goods.
Technology, media and telecoms enjoy the dubious distinction of generating the most complaints, 25 percent of the calls coming into those sectors' contact centers, 87 percent of which involve the broader business. That's well ahead of the average percentage of complaints received by contact centers, 14 percent, 89 percent of which are about the wider business. Said Steve Morrell, the report's author:
There is a real risk, especially within large contact centers, that a single agent does not have the capability or responsibility to deal with the customer 's issue, which may reach across various internal departments -- like finance, billing, provisioning and technical support -- none of which can or will take responsibility for sorting out the whole problem.
Is IT failing contact centers by not providing a better view of customer-centric processes? Yes, said telecom marketers surveyed by the Chief Marketing Officer Council and the Customer Experience Board in July.
More than 35 percent of them saw "deficiencies in IT, back office or operational systems that subvert marketing claims and fail to meet customer demands and expectations." The CMOs faulted IT for data scattered across organizations in multiple silos and "inadequate or incompatible IT systems or databases." Fifty-nine percent of CMOs said unmet needs and expectations were customers' biggest pain point, followed by product/service usability and complexity (43 percent), billing errors (40 percent) and quality or relevancy of service or product offerings (32 percent).
Last March, I cited a MyCustomer.com article that focused on fostering a proactive problem-solving approach in call centers to cut down on the number of customer calls. Much like a good Web site, for example, if you can help customers answer their most common questions themselves (through clear and informative FAQs or other means), you can free up agents' time to deal with more complex issues. The article referenced a company that achieved some pretty impressive results with such an approach, reducing calls to its billing helpline by 61 percent and lowering manual billing backlogs by 60 percent. It also saw an 80 percent increase in the number of customers who say they're more likely to stay with the company following a billing inquiry.
Taking this approach might get expensive, but it needn't be. The article's author suggested starting with creating an agent panel and/or administering agent surveys to identify a list of the most common customer calls. Then begin looking at the root causes or triggers for those calls. The advice: "Actively look for the problems that occur during the customer journey; talk to agents, departments or partners outside the contact center; work to develop options for routing that journey differently through policy, system or call handling process changes."
A surprising number of fixes may be relatively cheap and simple. For instance, if customers frequently complain about late deliveries, agents may need to begin telling them to expect delivery in four working days rather than two to three days.