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27 November 2007

Towards a gold standard for contact centre service

I find a good part of my lunch hour is spent dealing with fairly useless contact centres. I would probably get more out of my lunch break and be able to do more interesting things than listen to boring hold music if contact centres improved their quality of service. Things haven't improved much in many years, I recall spending long hours on the phone to Alliance and Leicester in 2001 - often it was half an hour before they even answered the phone.

In response to the lack of initiative and progress in contact centre customer service, I propose the following initial list as targets that contact centres should aspire to, in order to offer gold standard customer service rather than the poor quality crap we have to tolerate at present. No particular order here and feel free to add your own ideas.

1. For an independent company to assess contact centres for typical and peak wait times until you get to speak to someone (including having to work through the menus). Then customers can make informed independent choices regarding which companies waste the least amount of time. These timings should then be published centrally with the worst offenders named and shamed.

2. For companies to aspire to a high level of standard rather than unacceptably long queues and to publish their standard on their website (and on the site mentioned in 1). e.g. "We aim to answer 90% of calls in less than 10 seconds". A standard that some companies actually meet, yet others would laugh at the idea of answering a call within 10 minutes.

3. For information to be available on what the busiest and quietest times are for the contact centre and their hours of opening so that I can make an informed choice about when to call them.

4. To have a facility to turn off hold music. This means that if I am in a long queue I can put my phone on speakerphone and get on with my job without annoying the rest of the office with a tinny version of Vivaldi's concert for hold music annoying everyone around me.

5. When using phone menus, every menu must have a "help" or "none of the previous options apply, I'd like to speak to a real person rather than a robot" type option.

6. Again with phone menus, they must have information on how to go back to the previous menu.

7. An option that if you have waited more than a certain length of time (e.g. a few minutes) in a queue, that there is always the option to leave your number and have someone call you back where your call has reached the front of the queue.

8. A fast track menu system so that you don't have to wait for all the announcements before you can progress to the next menu - you should be able to interrupt any menu and advance quickly without having to hear all the options. Many contact centre menus already do this but it's worth mentioning anyway.

9. To publish the contact centre menus on the company's website so that I can work through them quickly via a web browser, click on the relevant menu option and then to open up Skype or similar and jump straight in the the relevant queue that I've just clicked on.

10. Not having to repeat my details every time the call is transferred, including when I have to transfer from an automated system to an operator. Surely the IT systems at the contact centre can do this?

11. The ability for the contact centre to text or email relevant information in the event that you can't write things down very easily (e.g. driving, walking down street carrying mobile and briefcase, etc.)

12. An acceptance that excessive wait times is not only exceptionally poor customer service but in the false economics of saving money for the company, it actually wastes time for the customers of the contact centre. Since cc operators are usually on less than the average national salary, the implication is their customers' salary average is near to the national average and thus more than the contact centre operator's wages. This means it is a false economy employing insufficient contact centre operators and transferring the consequent wait time onto people whose time is more "expensive" and who would probably be happy to pay a higher premium for shorter wait times.

13. being able to access my account via the same lookup procedure and security procedure used by operators (i.e. if I don't have my policy number, I can just enter postcode, security answers etc). Banning the use of "usernames" for telephone access. My address, security details etc are enough.

14. If you end up in the wrong queue, the centre should be able to transfer calls for me without me having to hang up and start again

15. When the contact centre phones me, they use a legitimate number that accepts return calls and which announces the name of the company (i.e. not like Powergen). This implies the said number is not withheld, a very irritating practice.

16. Operators that have a good command of English. This especially applies to companies thinking of outsourcing their contact centre to Asia.

17. If I don't select a menu, then the options are only repeated twice before I am put through to an operator. They are not repeated indefinitely, nor does the system hang up on me.

18. Being able to easily speak to a manager/supervisor/complaints department.

19. Being able to dial straight into a relevant queue so that I don't have to pay to wait on hold. 20 minutes on hold on a mobile calling internationally is not funny.

20. On completion of a call, being given the option to provide feedback there and then on what I thought of the service given (e.g. press 1 for delighted to 9 for unhappy, etc.)

21. Being able to email the contact centre without having to go through menu spaghetti.

22. Using a phonetic name field (in addition to the usual name fields) in the customer record so that people with names like mine, difficult foreign names etc can have the correct pronunciation of their name recorded, thus meaning that time isn't wasted explaining how to say the name.

23. Treating email as important as fax and phone and providing a response within a "phone call" order of magnitude turnaround. It can be done for a phone call, yet for email response some companies take 5 days to respond. I'm mailing you via a medium that works at close to the speed of light because I want a quick response, not because I want it to sit in a backlog for a week.

24. Employ operators in the contact centre that don't talk over me, listen, and have a good level of knowledge of the topic I am phoning about.

Any more to add to this?


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