How Call Centers Can Make Or Break Brand Loyalty
How much does a brand’s reputation suffer when its customers who need help can’t connect with a real person… or spend what they consider an unacceptable amount of time on hold?
Do call centers and tone deaf chatbots undo the work of brand management teams?
I recently asked Tim McDougal, managing director at Deloitte Consulting, to help us understand the connections between efforts to nurture a brand and the realities of executing customer support.
Paul Talbot: Marketers have different definitions of brand loyalty, accompanied by different expectations of the impact brand loyalty can make. Where do you weigh in?
Tim McDougal: Brand loyalty is tied very closely to a collection of a customer’s experiences with a company, both with its product (when applicable) and its service, and is often an outcome of a series of positive interactions.
Examining this through a contact center lens, in most cases a single or even set of positive interactions alone may not create loyalty but can reinforce it if done with purpose.
We find market leaders analyze customer interaction types to seek out ‘moments that matter.’ This is where a customer’s situation or request can be differentiating, such as a fraud event in financial services, or a missed connection in travel.
Talbot: When you compare the process of creating and cultivating brand loyalty online vs. offline, what notable differences and challenges come to mind?
McDougal: While there are certainly differences between online and offline, brand loyalty is something cultivated over a series of customer experiences rather than something built within the confines of a digital or in-person interaction.
Each type of experience comes with its own benefits and challenges, but I think it is important for companies to build their customer service platforms in a way that allows the two to build on and complement one another for a consistent customer experience at every touchpoint.
Talbot: With so many jobs open right now, and employers short-staffed, there would seem to be a higher risk of making a bad hire. How does this factor in to ensuring the level of service required to sustain the brand?
McDougal: We have found that contact centers continue to struggle not only with hiring but also with retaining staff. In addition to the historical factors that influence hiring and retention, such as pay, schedule and management style, additional factors are emerging, including work location and employee experience.
Talbot: Very often, all a customer wants is somebody to talk to, to ask a question and get an informed answer. The perception is this has become more difficult for the customer. Can we quantify this?
McDougal: The simple answer to your question is ‘yes this can be quantified,’ but it isn’t really that simple.
Historically, contact center leaders use customer contact volumes, call arrival patterns and call duration to predict future volume throughout a given day. This statistical approach enables a typical call center to schedule an appropriate number of agents efficiently and effectively within a set answering period, balancing cost with customer experience. This process serves most organizations quite well as long as volume and call duration remain predictable and within a margin of error.
However, when something unpredictable happens that creates more volume or longer call duration, the impact is almost immediate – longer wait times. The resolution is to reduce the call volume, shorten the call duration or hire more staff.
All three activities take time, effort and additional investment. Hiring staff is typically the most difficult and time intensive, requiring recruiting and training which often spans 6-8 weeks at a minimum.
We’re seeing this today in several industries, with hospitality as an example. When the pandemic hit, there were suddenly thousands and thousands of would-be travelers who needed to cancel flights, hotel stays, and cruise sailings, and these travel companies were left scrambling to manage an influx of calls that they’d never seen before.
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best solutions to this issue is finding ways to drive customers toward digital interactions. We talk a lot about right-channeling with our clients, helping their customers find the best path for their specific need or problem, and oftentimes that is a digital channel.
When companies are able to creative intuitive and effective digital platforms for customer service, it releases some of the pressure on the contact center agents and makes space for those whose best channel is actually speaking to a person to get through.