Q&A with United Call Centers CEO Richard Kozma
What comes to our mind when we hear the phrase ’customer support? An eternity spent listening to „entertaining” music while put on hold? Pushy or indifferent voices on the other end? A virtual labyrinth where we bounce from one rep to another like a ball?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of customer services and customer support reps has significantly increased in the life of businesses, since this is the first line where most people interact with a company. But how can you leave a positive impression? How can you make the customer experience pleasant for the target audience? What should you even communicate about yourself through customer service? Should you keep the process in-house or outsource it? Should chatbots or humans take on inbound conversations? Tibor Dancsevics (CEO of Adertis Ltd.) and Richárd Kozma (CEO, United Call Centers Ltd.) shared their thoughts about this topic. Tibor and his team have been developing customer service systems for 13 years. Richard and UCC have 20 years of experience in coming up with customer service solutions: as of today, UCC can provide help in call center activities in more than 30 languages through native-speaking professionals.
„The key to a good customer experience is to put the right person into the right position. It doesn’t matter how professional the technology is what we use to support our call center if the customer support colleagues do not consider the issues as their own objectives to solve, do not consider themselves as part of the company, and do not communicate appropriately. But what do we mean by the term ’appropriate colleague/communication’? A person, who not only knows our company’s values but can also identify with them, thus genuinely being able to represent us. Someone who knows our procedures, products, and services. If we support their work with technology, we can achieve a great degree of effectiveness, since we simultaneously help them and the customer, achieving a better customer experience in the end.” – Tibor Dancsevics
The Key to a Good Customer Experience = Motivated Colleagues + Professional Technology
Customer support and home office – challenges and solutions
No matter what technology we are using and what environment we are working in, we can provide two types of solutions to our colleagues: we should use process-based operations, and as a leader, we should oversee the complete system, and be able to effectively coordinate, and if necessary control the processes.
- Process-based operation
What does this mean? If we take a closer look at this definition, we can already see the difficulties in home office customer service. Is the flow of information efficient between colleagues? Who does what and when within the given process?
Let’s take a look at an example! The customer calls you. Where does the unanswered call appear? In home office, many times there is no adequate technology for this purpose: from time to time in-house customer support agents resort to using mobile phones, where calls are easily lost and follow-ups are more difficult.
- Questions regarding the flow of information
This is important where a minimum of 2-3 people are working together, because in this setup information flow can be a problem, including the monitoring of who does what. In this case, colleagues usually forward call: if the first colleague does not pick up the phone or is busy, then comes the next mobile phone, the next colleague. Three different people in different places. The call goes around all three phone lines, accumulating unanswered calls each time, which raises the question: Who will call back the customer?
- Problems related to the flow of information
„Here we need to consider two extremes – says Tibor – the customer service colleague simply cancels the incoming call and no one calls back the inquiring person. The other extreme is that all three of our staff will return the call. Neither scenario displays professionalism, and we cannot build trust in this way, let alone assess the credibility of our company.”
- The division of tasks
What happens if the problem described in the incoming call does not reach the right colleague? Call forwarding, holding, and offering to call back. At best, if we have promised a callback, our colleague who will then look for the customer, will listen to the conversation and prepare themselves. This is the most professional solution.
In reality, however, a more difficult scenario happens which is responsible for the misjudgment of customer services: the first colleague talks to the customer for a long time, but cannot help, does not understand the problem, forwards the call… After further call routings and never-ending conversations, the customer finally reaches the person who understands their issue and can help, but at this point, the mood is so tense that it is difficult to end the customer experience on a positive note.
Receiving incoming calls using skill-based routing is a huge step forward in making the call center organized. It significantly improves customer experience, if the incoming call is answered by the same colleague with whom the customer or partner has spoken before. This continuity builds trust, and the procedure becomes faster and more effective.
It can be useful to direct VIP customers to senior customer support agents after pre-screening. With such approaches we communicate to both our colleagues and our customers: we value their time.
- Call recording
In home office, the importance of this is increased as well, since our colleagues are left on their own so to speak, and we can communicate with them only through electronic channels. The importance of call recording lies in that you can listen to problematic conversations, develop colleagues in a more personalized way, and become more effective in giving feedback as well.
Customer Support – The „Frontline”
„It is an enormous burden for call center colleagues that they serve as the first real impression to the customers. By now everyone is aware of the fact that the nicely articulated words written by a PR team on a website do not necessarily mean what they portray. Customer support is the first touchpoint where we can see „the real face” of the company. We also know that most people resort to this platform when a problem arises, so the whole communication starts off pretty sensitively. If we cannot handle this well, the loss of trust is most certainly guaranteed.” – points out Tibor Dancsevics.
- Now, more than ever, everything is based on trust. The most fundamental example is your voice. We don’t really have any other means, since in the case of customer service we cannot use video – at least, not yet anyway.
- Customer service is NOT only about handling complaints! It needs to provide support, even sales support (is the product available currently; how to use it, etc.). We should be able to communicate that customers can always turn to us and we will help them in each and every case. Customer support should be considered as a whole package, where part of it is complaint handling, another supports, and some customers use their call center for campaign results measurement.
- Customer service 101: the customer seeks a professional.
- Keep it in mind that practicality and effectiveness lie in customer reach rate as well. Telesales – especially during this pandemic – is more useful, and more time- and cost-effective, than door-to-door sales, which slowly fade into obscurity. However, there are a few exceptions, such as the banking sector, where personal meetings cannot be replaced by contacting people through the phone for a long time.
To Outsource, or Not to Outsource
„Providing customer support and working as a contact center agent is a profession just like any other. It requires adequate knowledge and training, so it is best to leave it to professionals. – says Richárd Kozma – Let me tell you a funny example! I like to think of myself as a master chef, when I’m happily cooking our kitchen into oblivion during my creative sprees. Then when I’m in the restaurant, I’m muttering to myself that the duck that the chef has prepared must be better only because he has a sous vide machine – but we all know the difference is rather attributed to more than 20 years of experience and knowledge between us.”
- It applies to call centers as well that it’s important to determine what makes someone a professional, whom we can trust with our customer support?
- We can build outsourcing on four major pillars: knowledge, quality, cost effectiveness, and flexibility.
There is no point thinking about outsourcing if the calls are distributed evenly, so someone can always pick them up and is able to solve the problems quickly. (But this is the rare and ideal scenario.)
- For a professional call center one of the most important duties is to reduce the time spent in the virtual waiting room as much as possible. We can solve this by giving the task to a colleague trained in the given area of expertise, someone who can effectively and quickly react to any questions that may occur.
- Effectiveness can increase if the operator can diligently represent multiple professions and companies. We can allocate these colleagues wherever help is needed the most.
- In-house call centers are rarely flexible, which you can see in the dip in quality, but you can improve your customer service by providing continual trainings to your colleagues.
- If you trust an external partner with operating your customer service, make sure they represent your company appropriately, and they assume the mentality of your company’s culture.
„Just as we say between colleagues, we are fortunate for having a new job every day. Part of our work method is to try to completely put ourselves into our customer’s shoes, immerse ourselves in their problems, processes, and strive to offer the most flexible, most effective solutions for them. We expect our own agents as well to wholeheartedly represent our customers’ brand.” – says Richard from the perspective of a customer support outsourcing professional.
Frequently Asked Questions: „Why can’t I record the conversation too?”
Currently most customer support calls begin with a disclaimer that the call is being recorded. But how does this facilitate trust? And does it undermine trust if the contacted individual cannot do the same?
- The company’s hands are tied as well: they need to follow strict legislations about where, how, and how long they can store a conversation, and these legislations are difficult to enforce in the case of civilians.
- Recording calls facilitates fundamental trust, since if a conversation is recorded, it can be tracked, and it can be measured, whether the company does everything to be professional or not. It is important to know that both parties have the fundamental right to request the call recording from the company, anytime, without having to provide any reason.
- Call recordings offers an opportunity for the company to improve and create personalized trainings for colleagues.
English translation with kind permission of the author. This article was originally published in Hungarian on Bizalmi Kör Blog (Circle of Trust Blog), on 7th of April, 2021.
Circle of Trust is Hungary’s number one business club for company leaders, established in 2011. CoT’s mission and vision is to create value-based Hungarian business environment and organizational culture, with developing, sustainable companies, and open-minded company leaders, who wants to develop themselves, and who are not afraid to share their experiences and knowledge. For more information in Hungarian please visit: https://bizalmikor.hu/