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Where is the love?
by Kaspa Hazlewood

In arguably the most famous courtship poem of all time, British poet Andrew Marvell dives into everything he would do for his coy mistress had they ‘world enough and time’. They would sit and pluck rubies by the Ganges and he would spend a hundred years praising her beauty. But then he quickly changes his tune and urges her to accept him while they are young and youthful and time is on their side. No offence to Andrew Marvell but he wouldn’t do so well in customer service. Putting restrictions on time is really no way to woo a frustrated customer and there is plenty of research to back it up!

Like a strange Sisyphean curse, call centres can get caught up in a vicious cycle that simply engenders more and more dissatisfaction. Customers call up for help when they need support and yet studies have shown nearly three in four hang up more vexed than ever, even when an agent has swiftly dealt with their issues.

So what goes wrong? On paper, it all looks well. The customer has been dealt with efficiently through a swift response within acceptable handling time and perhaps, to a degree, even effectively, with a few follow-up questions on the quality of the call and what can be done to improve service in the future. In theory, the customer should leave delighted, but hasn’t. It leaves agents feeling their role is quite thankless and the organization perplexed over grating questions: why aren’t customers feeling the love? Where lies the deficiency?

Perhaps it has something to do with more than two-thirds of customers being deeply frustrated even before they get in touch with an agent... The customer has needs, wants as well as expectations from a call and while a quick resolution of the problem at hand will tick off the ‘needs’ subsection of a checklist, the ‘wants’ and ‘expectations’ may not have been met: those require a bit more digging and amateur psychoanalysis.

For example, a customer could have been inconvenienced by making the call or the breakdown of the service at home and could need – even for a fleeting moment – for the agent on the other end of the line to show a glimmer of empathy. Someone could have wanted that small acknowledgement that they’re valued while another caller could have been offered a fraction more hope.

So, the key is to build time for agents to speak with their customers in greater detail and really drill into what’s upsetting them. And one way to go about it would be to hire more agents, freeing up time for longer calls. But obviously the cost implications alone would demotivate even the most big-hearted companies.

An alternative way would be a marriage between tech and staff, but without the often-miscalculated expectation of reducing overheads. Technology at various touch points of the customer journey can help identify and sift through the customers who are happy to tap away on their phones, computers and use self-service for self-help, and others that prefer to speak to a member of the support team.

But – I repeat – the technology should not be used as a misguided tool to reduce operational overhead expenses; instead, the benefits or reduction in the customer care team should be re-routed towards giving customers with pressing needs, wants and/or expectations those extra two minutes that could deliver true satisfaction and even improve brand advocacy.

And so that’s what we propose as the answer to that key question: where is the love? It’s giving your call-centre staff that gift of time that will ultimately woo over your customers. Andrew Marvell - Who?

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