Contact Centers Generate Few Complaints, but Don't Resolve Many Either

Ann All

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 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.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 5, 2010 2:46 AM Ann All Ann All  says: in response to Loraine Lawson

True, few folks will go to the trouble to track down a call center manager to complain about an employee. And relatively few take their complaints to a public forum -- although Twitter is making it darned easy. But I think even when the call center does a bad job, it's often due to a larger corporate indifference to customer service. I've got a follow-up post on it today.

Mar 5, 2010 9:06 AM Jeff Yablon Jeff Yablon  says:

So basically . . ."customer service is bad"?

Yes, that's a recurring theme. It's hard to do good customer service when a company WANTS to. Once the support center becomes viewed as an expense item . . . or even worse an expendable expense item, it's over. And sadly, that seems to happen . . . every time.

Usually once a company becomes successful, certainly once it starts "answering to its shareholders".

Jeff Yablon

President & CEO

Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant ServicesAnswer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

Mar 5, 2010 10:07 AM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says:

I call foul on that survey.

I've had complaints about contact centers, but - really - who do you complain to? I mean if you call to complain about a company and the people responsible for hearing that are horrible, don't most people just walk away - rather, than, say hunt down the CEO's blog and post to that? I think few people have the tenacity of journalists to hunt down someone else.

Also, can you really trust the people you're complaining about to report the complaint?

Mar 12, 2010 9:55 AM Nik Nikkel Nik Nikkel  says:

I do have complaints about call center customer service, but calling the call center about it doesn't seem like a plan.

My experience with call centers is that, for the most part, they operate off a script and are lost when the call departs from it.  This is particularly true of offshore call centers.

I don't complain. I cancel and take my business else where.

Sep 19, 2010 9:52 AM Shelby Shelby  says:

I think there can be advantages and disadvantages to using contact center solutions to handle the customer services for companies, which can cause for improvement to make it better!

Oct 6, 2013 10:49 AM Lisa researching call centers Lisa researching call centers  says:
No. I don't believe you can trust the people you're complaining to to report the complaint. I know this from experience. To make any sort of difference, you have to go as high up as you can in the company. Demand to speak with someone who is higher up, or go to the company website. Don't just leave a general message. Figure out who's really "in charge" and find a way to get through to them. It's a process, but that is the only way to get changes to happen! Reply

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