Companies: Please stop outsourcing customer service…
…and cool it with the automated answering systems
…and cool it with the automated answering systems
It’s a familiar situation. You have a problem with your internet connection, a question about your phone bill, or you want to sign up for a new service. You dial the 800 number in the pamphlet and after a few short rings you’re greeted with an automated answering system.
“Press 1 to…”
“Press 2 to…”
Press 3 to…”
And so on.
You’ve waded through five levels of menus and backtracked when sub-menus lacked the option you seek. Now, after turning down the customer survey, you finally get the option to bid adieu to the disembodied computer voice on the line so you can speak to a real live human being. That is, after you listen to light jazz for ten minutes while waiting on hold. Then, a short ring and a click. At last! A real person has picked up, but suddenly your heart sinks when you realize “Steve” from “Your home town” (by way of Mumbai) picked up. Oh, bother.
So “Steve” asks how he can help you, but you know he can’t because he’s thousands of miles away from the people who actually make the decisions, and he has only scripted blurbs at his disposal. The thing is though, the lack of proximity in and of itself is hardly the main problem.
Companies hold the mistaken belief that customer service is simply another form of overhead, and that reputation is something managed solely by clever TV ads and viral videos. They’re completely wrong. The modern consumer cares more about what their friends think of you than what your ads claim you to be, and tales of your poor customer service spread like wildfire through social media. You need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to PR.
So they make the decision to outsource customer service. The cost per employee per service inquiry is lower than if they were to keep it in-house, which pleases the bean counters. The problem with the bean counters having too much influence in major business decisions is that they’ve never worked in customer service and they’ve never worked in marketing, so they have absolutely no idea how brand identity and reputation affect sales, nor do they care.
All they see is overhead and profit. What’s coming in and what’s going out. It seems silly but the thought of earnestly developing strategies to increase revenues sometimes doesn’t occur to them. It’s something they pay lip service to but do little to implement because really, that’s somebody else’s job, and their job is to get in the way of the people who try to implement those strategies. Budget cuts are their only concern. It’s, “How can we do this cheaper?” not “How can we do this better?”
Don’t get me wrong. Streamlining of processes to reduce labor costs is extremely important. Although, that is something too that doesn’t get done properly when a business is chasing that red ink. They end up using the same old inefficient practices with fewer people juggling more responsibility. But enough about the bean counters.
It doesn’t really matter where that customer service representative is located. It could be in a call center in India or it could be just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Most people think outsourcing is synonymous with offshoring, that it means sending jobs overseas. That can be the case, but outsourcing can be a harmful practice regardless of where the jobs go.
The problem with outsourcing is that it takes a large degree of control out of the hands of a business. New policy is slow and difficult to implement, documentation slow to roll out. But even with excellent documentation (the documentation is generally pretty terrible and incomplete, by the way) a business can never foresee every possible service breakdown. The call center employees are usually not real “tech support” people either, being poorly versed in most subjects the customers inquire about, sometimes providing misinformation. Often there is no proxy between the call center and the business to handle individual cases. Unless dozens of customers, maybe even hundreds, call in with a similar complaint it’s likely that the company never hears about it.
It’s a yes or no proposition, yes we can do that or no that’s not possible. They can only do what is says in the call script and nothing more. What’s worse is that each department within the call center has such a narrow scope even as to what account information they can access, which means there’s a substantial possibility that you’ll be bounced around between departments. There’s also a substantial possibility that your call will get disconnected several times, forcing you to browse menus and wait on hold for yet another ten or twenty minutes. This is really no way to serve your customers.
“But,” you say, “what about online support chat? Isn’t that far more convenient?” Same problems, and more. When done right it can save serious time over phone support, but often the infrastructure behind the online chat is similar to that of the phone support department. Even worse, sometimes you’re left to write a service ticket after which you play email tag for several days, or weeks.
Outsourced customer service disconnects a business from the customer completely and makes it very difficult to respond to major issues quickly. Even so, moving everything back in-house isn’t a magic fix. Some companies structure their phone support like those overseas call centers. Why? To conform to industry standards. If it’s standard, there must be a very good reason for it, right? There is no thought put into why these practices exist or if it is the best way to do things.
For great customer service to be possible, you need people who are A) intimately acquainted with your product or service and B) believe in it to be answering the phones. You need IT people, your IT people, not call center people. If your company is active in social media, encourage your customers to ask questions through those venues as well, and answer their questions quickly. Twitter, for example.
In closing, a word of advice, keep the automated stuff down to two menus then give me a real person. I don’t care if I have to wait a little bit longer so long as I don’t have to yell at your computer like a lunatic for five minutes. Also, go write up a great FAQ so fewer people have to call you in the first place.
Do you have any examples of companies with great customer service? What about the bad ones? What would YOU suggest to companies to improve their customer support? Please share in the comments! Any topics you’d like me to write about please let me know!