Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why is calling into a call center so often infuriating?

An article that appeared in the WSJ in October of 2006 was the inspiration for this blog.  The article was entitled, "If you want to scream, press... Do call centers have to be so infuriating?"  The article suggested that the answer was no and talked about ho-hum, same as it ever was technology that was supposed to make it better.   If it has improved, I haven't noticed. 

What the article did not adequately explore is why is it so infuriating?

There are several reasons.  First, there is the IVR which asks you to press this number and that number.  Sometimes that works, but more often than not, that system makes you want to pull your hair out because the choice you are looking for is not given or you get trapped and cant get out.  That is why sites like Dial a Human were created.

Second is the fact that you have to keep repeating or reentering information you have already given.  Companies are trying to solve this problem, but it is still all to often that you enter your account number and have to repeat it multiple times.

But the real reason calling a call center is so infuriating is because of the person you are talking to.  There are a host of reasons the agents make you want to pull your hair out:  you can't understand them because of their accents,  they were not screened carefully enough, they are new, they have not been well trained, or they were trained well but they forgot what they were supposed to do, or they don't care or they are burned-out, tired and frustrated.  Managing your Human Sigma reports on a study of 5000 agents which showed that the quality of the customer's experience was a function of the agent that picked up the phone:  get a good agent and you get a good experience, get a bad agent and buckle up.  

Now , I am not really picking on the agents.  That would be like saying the poor quality of cars coming out of Detroit in the 70s was because of the workers.  Yes, they might have had something to do with it.  But the real issue was the car design and car manufacturing process.  

This poor experience we too often have with call center agents is a management problem:  it is well known, it has existed for decades, and it is fixable.  They have tried to fix it, mostly through monitoring and coaching agents.  But if monitoring and coaching were effective solutions, this problem would have been fixed by now and calling into call centers would not be so maddening.

As I said, this problem is fixable.  And that is what this blog will be about:  how call centers can change the tired game they have been playing for almost four decades by rethinking assumptions, stealing best practices from manufacturing and leveraging technology.

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