Article : How Contact Centers Build Better Brands
Moving From Case to Conversation - How Contact Centers Help Build Better Brands
By Rick McFarland CEO for Voice4net
It is no secret contact centers of late have taken it on the chin. Whether due to significant technology investments that have failed to deliver expected ROI or agents who don’t make customers feel as cared for as they should — and in most cases, it’s a bit of both — today’s contact center managers seem more and more focused on one fundamental goal: to prove the operation’s worth to the company and to find ways to deliver value. Of course, the go-to strategy for companies has always been to leverage up-sell and cross-sell opportunities through the contact center channel. And the reasons have always been good ones, like more direct income for the bottom line, and tangible and measurable return on the dollar. Those familiar mantras have been much thought about, written about, and consulted upon, so it would be fruitless to mimic the same.
One area of thought that should warrant further exploration and discussion, however, decidedly has more of a marketing angle, but one that is no less relevant or impacting to a company’s bottom line. It is the issue of brand management. The question on a company’s collective mind these days shouldn’t solely be 'How can our contact center sell more?" The more pressing challenge to tackle should be "Is our contact center helping to strengthen our brand or is it slowly and systematically debilitating it?" More than philosophical pondering and posturing, this question gets to the very crux of not only the contact center’s ability to sell, but also the company’s ability as a whole to do the same. Because no matter how dedicated or aggressive a contact center’s up-sell and cross-sell efforts may be, sales efforts enterprise-wide will fail if the brand is consistently compromised by what its contact center is doing—or not doing. And, since every touchpoint is a pure and direct customer-facing moment, the opportunity to fail or succeed is repeated with every connection that’s made.
Calling For a New Perspective
Both top and mid-level management must begin to reexamine the contact center from a different lens of perspective. The mindset must be reset. Before the seeds of up-sell and cross-sell can be sown, the customer field must be weeded first of choking negative perceptions, and then it must be consistently fertilized with enriching customer interaction. Just another apt metaphor? Not at all. While the argument may seem rudimentary at first, this goes beyond simple Branding 101. It’s about having the insight, the courage and the fortitude to get back to basics.
Marketing departments would kill for the kind of direct access that contact centers have with the customer every day. These calls, emails, chats, posts, tweets, and everything else are more than simply nameless impression metrics populating colorful projection charts and graphs; these are actual people, flesh-and-blood customers, all who want more than their problems solved; they need to know that they are cared about. They need to know they count. It begs the question thatif marketers want so desperately to know and manage how customers feel about their brand, why does such a divide still persist between these two crucial departments — marketing and customer care — when it makes so much sense to strategically integrate their efforts? With such ideal synergies to be leveraged between these two customer-influencing business units, why do their day-to-day operations remain so far apart?
If companies are looking for new ways to squeeze value out of their contact centers, they need to fundamentally remember with whom they are making contact in the first place — the customer. And because they are doing so quite literally on a daily basis — and some around the clock — they are presented with recurring moments of priceless customer connection, and each is a monumental branding opportunity. Yes, monumental; the term is not glibly used. In fact, monumental doesn’t come near to describing the importance of that first customer connection. Too often these moments are thought of as simply ticking seconds on a perpetual timer; the longer they last, the less customers are reached, the more time and money are spent. But an agent can disillusion a customer just as easily in a quick call as he or she can in a lengthier one — and, ironically, the odds for failure grow often greater when less time is spent with the customer. Thus, this issue is less about the length of the contact and more about the quality of its content.
Maximized Efficiency; Minimized Humanity
For decades now, efficiency and productivity have been the rally cry for the modern contact center. Reduce call times by x%. Condense and standardize "if/then" scripts to accelerate call resolution. Implement self-service IVRs to exponentially increase call handling while reducing costly personnel. The more these nameless and complex metrics were collected and empirically crunched, the less human, and, therefore, less real, these contacts soon became. Today, it has all amassed into such a mountain of mind-numbing math, that the customer has become carelessly relegated to an abstract numerical value: a fraction of a dollar, a percentage point, a faceless data bit.
The time has come for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction. Companies today must shift a step or two left of what has become traditional contact center SOP — meaning, shorter contacts and more of them — and they need to loosen up their death grip on this rigid time-oriented thinking. The moment has come to focus less on strict statistical values and more on the actual value of people; in particular, the value of interaction... interaction with the customer. Nothing builds brand loyalty more than a customer who feels consistently well cared for. Period. No ad, no Web site, no catchy jingle can or will ever do more for your brand.
Enterprises who understand this dynamic tend to stand out in their competitive fields. The Zappos shoe company, and now full apparel enterprise, serves as a good example. Did the Zappos brand get to where it is today with clever ads and marketing? No. Did they succeed with insightful PR? Not entirely. They built their premium brand utilizing a simple and recurring resource at their disposal each day: contact with the customer. Zappos understood early on from its birth that customer perception was everything. They understood a simple truth: that they weren’t selling exclusive products; they weren’t offering exclusive pricing; and they certainly weren’t reaching customers through some exclusive sales channel. In fact, they built their model on the most heavily populated and cluttered marketplace in history: the Internet. So, what was their simple truth? How did they succeed — and do so, so convincingly? They understood the importance and opportunity in every customer contact, and they ensured that these contacts served to instill and sustain one value over all: trust. Zappos agents did more than sell; they interacted with the customer. They conversed with the customer. They got to know the customer. And the customer, in turn, got to know them, came to trust them, and, as a result, believed in their marketing.
Not only didn’t the management at Zappos discourage calls, they actually encouraged customers to call, inherently understanding that the time spent with these customers would provide invaluable opportunities for building their brand. They saw the Internet not as a means of distancing themselves and minimizing contact, but as a way to conversely initiate that contact — quality, human, brand-building contact. The marketing folks at Zappos made sure that contact center personnel not only understood the brand’s core values, but also worked hand-in-hand with contact center operations to infuse those brand values into day-to-day procedure. This went beyond having agents recite a brand tagline or tie into some current campaign. This was about agents fundamentally understanding that building and sustaining customer trust meant everything to the company’s future. Zappos championed this strategy so compellingly, so consistently, that their knowledgeable contact center agents soon became perceived by the customer as more than customer sales or service representatives, but actually as trusted advisors, making not only initial selling a lot easier, but up-selling and cross-selling a slam dunk.
Moving From Case to Conversation
Contact center managers today can take a few lessons from this proven Zappos model. How can they interject trust-based marketing into their busy contact centers? By implementing a subtle but important shift in perspective, and then inviting their marketing departments to collaborate in the shaping of a new communication — not simply a customer transaction, but a meaningful interaction.
For the most part, today’s numbers-driven contact center operations view customer contacts as cases to be solved — as issues to be identified and resolved — and done so, as a matter of policy, in as little time as possible. But if they viewed that same contact as a conversation to be had — an opportunity to get to know more about the customer and for the customer to comprehend more about the company — the results would be substantially different. Negative brand perceptions would be neutralized on the spot, not just through slower-working and more expensive traditional advertising and marketing, but through real-time words and actions; conversely, positive brand perceptions could be consistently reinforced, not by dropping rehearsed and tinny-sounding slogans, but by actually listening and responding to the customer’s appeals. Up-selling and cross-selling would come more smoothly and naturally, more effectively, not through rigid and robotic scripts, but through a meaningful conversation and interaction conducted agent-to-customer/customer-to-agent — where preferences are uncovered with no undue pressure, needs are expressed more freely and fluidly, and solutions are spontaneously suggested by the agent, not transparently hawked.
But what about time? Yes, time is still money and seconds still count. True. But thankfully, technology has finally caught up to the contact center, so that an effective contact center operation need not sacrifice one for the other — quantity of time and quality of time are no longer mutually exclusive. The progress of technology now allows yesterday’s promise of relationship-based marketing, or CRM, as it was familiarly coined, to become the highly implementable Trust-Based Marketing of today. All it takes is the belief in the potential and the desire to make it happen; technology will facilitate the technical connection, so that agents can create a meaningful connection. Enhanced "screen pop" functionality, for example; more dynamic, intuitive and customizable IVRs; seamless integration with social media; anytime/anywhere mobile access; the technology possibilities today are endless, and every breakthrough enables agents to find out more about the customer in a lot less time, so that more of that priceless moment of contact can be spent on relationship building, and on brand building, and, ultimately, on trust building.
This paradigm re-shift won’t happen if marketing is still off on its own, spinning highly researched brand messages that contact centers will rarely use, because the numbers being crunched by efficiency experts won’t allow them the extra time. Rather, it will take a concerted C-Suite effort to ensure that these two company silos begin sustaining a real and ongoing collaboration in constructing a new kind of contact center communication — one that moves from process to people... from time-driven sterile customer transactions toward value-based human interactions... from solving cases to having conversations. Building trust to build better brands.
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Based in Dallas, Texas, Voice4net generates new and useful tools that integrate telephony and database systems. Voice4net clients enjoy one hundred percent seamless integration between customers, employees and their business. By combining the traditional technology of telephones and its cutting-edge proprietary software, Voice4net ensures unrivaled flexibility in the crucial area of business communications.
Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012