Voices of CRM

Jun 24 2011   6:36PM GMT

Are your call center agents having relationship problems?

Rosemary Cafasso Profile: Rosecafasso

The old adage about the customer always being right is baloney, according to John Goodman, a call center industry consultant. Sometimes they are dead wrong. But you still have to take care of them.

Goodman claims that The Clorox Co., makers of Clorox Bleach, get customer inquiries about why the company can’t make bleach with flavor, like strawberry or raspberry, so it won’t taste so awful when they use it to whiten their teeth.

“If your customer is an idiot, it’s your problem,” Goodman said in a recent presentation at the International Customer Management Institute ACCE show. Goodman is vice chair of Tarp, a consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.

The consultant said one of the reasons call center agents are engaging with unhappy customers is their companies haven’t spent enough time anticipating all problems or concerns a customer might have. As a result, companies don’t always deliver the help a customer needs in the most direct way possible. That’s one reason customers get really frustrated.

For example, one of the more simple steps a company can take is to determine the top customer concerns about a particular product and then create an FAQ page on their Web site. Many companies have not yet done this, Goodman said, even though “most of the world now goes online for a quick answer to a question.’’

Other relationship advice:

Do not set the goal to always exceed expectations with customers. “We think that’s stupid,’’ Goodman said. Sometimes companies can get so caught up in wowing the customer with their interactions that they forget to just deliver the basics – correct answers delivered in a timely manner. Goodman suggests agents instead aim to “sensibly create delight.’’

Tell the customer why something happened. This is tricky. Often, companies do not want to explain policies and, as a result, agents are forced to stick to a script reiterating what the policy is but not why it is in place. This irritates customers and doesn’t give them credit for being reasonable human beings, Goodman said. Often, a person will accept an answer that has been clearly explained to them even if they don’t agree with it.

Take advantage of downtime. All that dead air while waiting for an agent to retrieve information should be filled with conversation. It is one of the best opportunities to start building an emotional connection with the customer. Ask them about their day. Let them know you are interested in them.

In the first contact with the customer, apologize for what has happened and take ownership of the problem.  This doesn’t mean the customer is right and the company messed up. It means the company is truly sorry that the customer has a problem.

Of course, none of this will solve the problem for the person who wants strawberry Clorox, but it’s a start.

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