How to improve customer service at contact centres

Contact centres serve as primary touch points between organisations and their clients. photo | jOSEPH KANYI
Contact centres serve as primary touch points between organisations and their clients. photo | jOSEPH KANYI 

Customer satisfaction is a priority for any business that wants to be successful. Exceptional and differentiated service is created when organisations adopt a customer-centric perspective; by understanding the point of view of a customer and designing organisational processes, systems and people to deliver that.

A contact centre is an example of a strategy developed by organisations to interact with customers to gain a competitive advantage. It serves as the primary touch point between organisations and their clients.

Direct, two-way conversations are critical in delivering outstanding customer experience, retaining customers, improving the organisation’s brand image and even generating incremental revenue. The centres are classified based on the size and magnitude of a company’s operations.

For example, virtual contact centres are typically operated by people working from home, whereas medium and large contact centres cater for many clients and have expanded operations such as handling domestic and international calls.

Other classifications are based on mode of communication. In this age of the Internet, agents not only make or receive telephone calls but use online platforms such as real-time chats on company websites, or email communication.

Generally, there is a shift in the nature of contacts adopted by contact centres as a means of communicating with the public, i.e use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

This trend is popular with big companies with large customer bases. This is due to the increased number of people on social media platforms.

Despite the shift, contact centres are still the preferred method of interaction for most firms. A KPMG survey on top 10 customer interaction methods revealed that 79 per cent of customers prefer phone conversation as a way of interacting with contact centres.

Different firms choose to have either an in-house or an outsourced contact centre depending on factors such as cost effectiveness, focus on productivity, and risk management.

While having an in-house contact centre allows direct supervision and attention to customers and reduces the risk of data exposure to a third party, the cost of running it and maintaining the technology and infrastructure is quite high.

On the other hand, an outsourced centre allows the business to concentrate on core activities, leading to improved productivity and saves on costs related to infrastructure and staff.

However, the organisation has less supervisory control over issues like quality and there is no loyalty towards promoting the brand. Whether an organisation chooses to have an in-house or outsourced contact centre, focus should be on achieving customer satisfaction and the organisation’s goals.

This calls for aligning the contact centre strategy with the business strategy, having effective systems, processes and procedures, motivating and equipping people with the right skills and attitude to deliver the service that customers expect. Customers only call contact centres with complex queries that they are unable to resolve through other channels.

This means that contact centres must adjust operations and deliver personalised, high quality customer experience. Contact centre agents need to be connected to the business and have authority and room to make decisions.

Who takes responsibility for resolving customer complaints? Responsiveness to customer needs should be more than a positive script. The ideal customer experience should be aligned to the strategic objectives of the business.

There is also need to establish proper linking mechanisms between customer service agents and technical staff to ensure access to real time, on-demand technical solutions that are responsive to customer issues.

In order to achieve this, specific performance metrics focused on quality and customer experience; and service level agreements should be enforced and intergrated in the company.

Only when this is clearly articulated will employees understand how they contribute to the business’ success and what is expected of them. This calls for a robust performance management process in order to influence business outcomes.

Employers also need to invest in training agents on their products and services, business process and procedures in order for them to perform effectively and represent the brand authoritatively.

The agents also need to have the right attitude to impact positively on productivity, problem-solving and quality of delivery.

Customers will choose to but or not buy from you depending on the quality of customer experience they get. Does your contact centre have the right process, systems and people to help you deal with the increased market competition and customer volatility?

It is time businesses transformed the way they interact with customers to gain competitive advantage.

Hilda Amahundu is Manager, Management Consulting at KPMG Advisory Services Limited.