I’m sure that the clever marketing person who first came up with the idea of a call centre had the very best of customer service intentions at heart. Unfortunately things have changed over the years and, while there are a small number of call centres that really do add value to the customer experience, there are many more that simply don’t.

The problem, it seems, lies in the fact that most call centres seem to have lost their way and customers are finding it hard to discern any tangible benefit from dialling an 0800 number. It’s sad, because call centres really could be the jewel in the crown of any business’ customer service value proposition, but many have gone from being convenient and accessible centres of service excellence to little more than a source of frustration and endless loops of canned music.

I believe there are three main reasons why so many call centres fail to deliver on their full customer service potential:

  1. For many, the focus is not on service anymore. There are few large companies that customers can call directly anymore. Instead, all branch listings in the local directory show one call centre number and unless there are well trained and empowered consultants on the end of that line, customers are left feeling unappreciated and worse off than before they phoned.
  2. The balance is tipping from service to sales. Establishing (or outsourcing to) a call centre is an expensive business. So it’s understandable the companies want to find ways to generate a good return on that expense. However, many make the mistake of trying to generate that return by putting the consultants to work doing outbound sales calls. The result is long waiting times for customers who call in and, potentially, a greater focus on commission than care.
  3. Employee empowerment is no longer a prerequisite. This is almost certainly the biggest problem of the three. When, as has recently happened to me, you get a call to tell you that three of your company cellphones are due for upgrade, but it can’t be processed because you, quite coincidentally, owe exactly 68 cents on each of them, you have to wonder just how much of a priority the company places on encouraging their call centre staff to think for themselves and empowering them to question their daily client lists before picking up the phone.

Fortunately, however, all is not lost. There are some companies that have grasped the potential value that exists in offering call centres staffed by empowered agents who can add real value to their customers. And if they can do it, surely everyone else can too.

All it takes is a sincere commitment to putting the customer first, a willingness to invest in a 100% undiluted service centre, and an investment in training and empowering staff to think before they dial or respond, and act in the best interests of the customer. None of which are overly difficult to achieve. Oh, and if they could also have the guts to throw away those horrendous scripts and allow their consultants to engage customers in real conversation, that would be a real bonus too!