By Carlo Atienza, BusinessMirror, 29 Jul 2020
FOR a country known for its call centers, it is disappointing to see local industries lacking customer service. Take the case of the utility providers now facing multiple complaints for their exorbitant charges; or the telecommunications and Internet service providers which have circuitous processes for customers seeking remedies, thus leaving their clients regretful in engaging their services. Or how about the case of the unresponsive bookstore services of a homeschool provider? Or the LPG delivery man this morning who did not even have the name of the person who ordered for it? There are a myriad of variations of such situations, but they all say the same thing: we are in dire need of good customer service. It is something local industries can learn from call centers.
I worked in a call center for more than three years as a member of the learning and development team. A decade before, I would not have thought of joining a call center. In fact, I cautioned my students that being a call center agent was not a career and that they should refrain from joining one. As fate would have it, I joined a call center where I became part of a team creating the training materials and marketing collaterals for the professional development programs offered to employees.
Call centers place a premium in developing the skills and abilities of their people. They substantially invest in creating a learning environment for their employees so they can offer multiple career paths within the organization. An agent does not necessarily have to remain an agent their entire professional lives because they can upskill themselves for better career opportunities. This means a bigger and better talent pool from which management can choose to lead teams. This also means that the better your performance is, the better your chances of landing that promotion. And one way to have better performance is being trained.
Local industries can take their cue from call centers by offering professional development programs which target customer service. While it is good to develop management programs, frontliners have personal interaction with customers. It would do you and your company good to ensure they are equipped to handle common types of customer concern. More and more industries are starting to understand that what separates them from their competition is how they design their goods and services to positively impact customer experience. And when one complaint in social media can negatively affect nine other people’s decision to buy or engage, customer experience becomes the difference between retaining and attracting more customers and losing them.
I also realized while working in a call center that there is a relatively high degree of collaboration and consultation with employees, especially in thriving call centers. Leaders are open to concerns from their employees and they regularly hold town halls to understand the needs and sentiments of their people. In one town hall, employees made it known they wanted free coffee in the pantry to keep them awake and keep warm. I was surprised when management decided that instead of free coffee, they offered free meals. Other amenities were also a result of consultation with employees—sleeping quarters, daycare, gym, a drugstore within the building and even a café, among others. All of these might seem to cost a lot but they actually save the company in terms of retaining employees and providing work-life balance. They take care of their employees so they can in turn take care of the customers.
Most call centers are also high in engagement by going out of their way to prepare activities and events for community bonding. Because of the multigenerational nature of the work force, the human resources department allows a great deal of informality to accommodate different and often conflicting ways of thinking. This helps in ensuring different perspectives are encouraged and acknowledged to formulate policies and activities to foster a sense of belonging and acceptance. This results in a happy work force which in turn yields to better performance and productivity.
Leaders are also empowered and entrusted to be accountable for their own units. This means taking care of their own people and ensuring that processes are aligned with the organization’s objectives, which are to ensure delivery of your services, retention of existing clients, and expansion of the business. The key to ensuring that teams operate seamlessly under a great deal of pressure is to maintain engagement with your team. You need to create an environment where everybody is excited to go to work because they understand their contribution to the organization’s success and to their own personal aspirations. Rewards for good performance come in many forms and can be as grand as a promotion, or as simple as candy bars.
And because of the high level of accountability, leaders are strategic in the way they do work. Managers are expected to review workflows and monitor their team’s productivity. This means observing how things are done and coming up with solutions on how to make work easier and simpler for their team. Managers are expected to manage themselves first so they can manage others, which means setting the standard for their team in terms of work output.
I think no other industry focuses more on the customer than the call center industry. I know because when I was part of the learning and development team, we had copious materials on customer service ranging from empathy to handling difficult customers. Note also that most of the branching scenarios and gamified training materials we created were mostly on customer service. These courses were given to frontliners who handled different customer concerns. On the other hand, another department is busy developing technologically driven services for existing and future clients. Needless to say, everything points toward the customers to ensure they always have a good experience.
Emerging technologies and innovations have paved the way for new goods and services to become available in the market. And when these new consumer products have become the norm, what will separate the flourishing businesses from the struggling ones will be their brand of customer experience. And to know which one you are depends on the customer’s answer to this question:
“How likely are you to recommend our business to a friend or colleague?”