Contact Center Catharsis

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ONE OF THE interesting consequences (Perks? Symptoms?) of being a contact center analyst is that many people will proactively share all their weird and wonderful experiences with contact center representatives. I suspect that it’s in part meant to be fodder for my ongoing research (and it is—I love it), but I do suspect that it serves as a little bit of contact center therapy, too. When I hear these stories, I like to consider what exactly went into the series of decisions that led to contact center experiences. How did a company get it so wrong (or, on occasion, so right)?

As part of getting inspiration for this month’s column (and as payment for those free therapy sessions), I asked a handful of my colleagues, friends, and family members where they felt contact centers tended to miss the mark. Here’s what they said:

They don’t appreciate the platitudes.

Say the words “contact center” and most people probably think of the same phrase: “Your call is very important to us.” Is it, really? It sure doesn’t feel like our calls are important when companies make us navigate an automated maze before having the privilege of waiting 20 minutes for an agent. And the platitudes don’t end there! One respondent said, “I find that many of the call center agents I deal with sound like they have a sheet of automated responses.” I don’t think she knows how close she is to the truth!

They don’t like feeling like the star of the movie Groundhog Day.

Too often, dealing with the contact center feels like running on an eternal treadmill. One respondent recalled a particularly harrowing experience where she had to contact a brand multiple times for the same issue: “No one was making note of anything, so I had to explain over and over and over again.” Most said they get frustrated when being transferred to multiple agents, but only because they often have to start from the top with every new person.

They wonder why companies don’t use their account info.

Almost all respondents mentioned being frustrated with brands that seem to have no mechanism for recognizing who they are, even (and especially) once they’ve literally told them. One noted, “They asked me to log in, so why do they need me to tell them my order number?” It’s a good question! Others wondered where exactly the info they just shared with the chatbot went, because it certainly didn’t seem to be passed along to the agent.

They are frustrated that agents aren’t set up for success.

This one hits close to home for me, since it’s my biggest contact center pet peeve. One of my respondents’ No. 1 contact center issue is when companies “obsess with managing the behavior, friendliness, and courtesy of agents while simultaneously implementing processes that make it impossible for them to actually resolve issues and satisfy the customers.” Preach, brother! And most contact centers double down on that bad habit, assigning customers’ negative surveys as direct feedback on the agent’s performance. Boo!!!

So what about the good?

You’re right. We’ve wallowed long enough. That was pretty cathartic, though.

The thing about contact centers: When it’s bad, it’s really bad. But the other thing about contact centers: delivering a good experience is totally achievable. We’ve all heard remarkable stories of companies that have gone way above and way beyond—but customer expectations are not really all that high. I asked the same people about the contact center experiences that stand out for them:

“I appreciate when people are real with me and actually want to help.”

“I appreciate when information I shared has been relayed to the next person or department and they understand what I need and tell me how they’re going to solve my issue.”

“The difference between Hi Jane, I see you’re calling about… and Hi, who are you?

Pretty reasonable expectations, I’d say. Wouldn’t you agree? 

Christina McAllister is senior analyst, Forrester Research, covering customer service and contact center technology, strategy, and operations.

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