Customer Care in Your Call Center

By Gary Dupont

In many organizations, the customer focus is relatively straightforward: provide substandard service to your customers and they will ultimately leave to go to your competition. The concept of providing exceptional service should be easily recognized. Let’s face it, replacing lost customers is a costly endeavor.

Customers are an organization’s most valuable asset. Customer retention is essential to ensure long-term financial viability. The “customer service techniques” we have used in the past are no longer sufficient. Simply providing dedicated access points for premier customers and dedicated account teams for problem resolution is no longer enough to sustain customer loyalty.

Contact center managers must be aware that customers are becoming more savvy and that customers are the ones in the power position. Everyone in the organization, including upper management, must be committed to three things: (1) creating a “customer service culture” throughout the enterprise, (2) embracing change, and (3) encouraging thinking outside the box to meet individual customer needs. Since this a process, it must evolve over time.

This article will touch on current and future initiatives that we at MSI (MASCO Services Inc.) use to measure and create change in order to enhance the customer care experience:

  • External Benchmarking Studies: Since we were unable to find any benchmarking studies (similar to Jon Anton’s Benchmark Portal) that include answering services, MSI created a set of criteria to measure ourselves against other hospital answering services in the Boston area. We contract with independent market research firms to measure indices such as speed of answer, tone of service, time to process the call, and accuracy.
  • Remote Monitoring: An outside vendor performs daily audio quality audits and provides daily feedback to the contact center manager. The manager then uses the information to coach the representatives. The Association of Teleservices International’s (ATSI) standards are applied to all answering service calls.
  • Internal Service Observations: Call center managers perform monthly audio/visual monitoring of each Customer Service Representative (CSR). An online grading form is used to apply all ATSI quality standards to this process. A representative scorecard including monitoring scores and other individual metrics is produced and reviewed with each representative.
  • CSR Self-Review: CSRs listen to several of their calls recorded at random, rate the calls, and discuss their impressions with the contact center manager. We have found this to be an extremely useful tool.
  • Spot Checks and Mystery Calling Program: An outside contractor makes calls at random and rates the handling of the call.
  • Customer Surveys: Several times a year, we survey our customers verbally and in writing. We want to ensure customer loyalty and verify that our service remains at a high level so we solicit views, gather feedback, assess future requirements, and rate complaint resolution. Customers have the option of taking the survey online, via email, or by hard copy. Responses are sent directly to an outside firm where they are tabulated. We also conduct verbal surveys. Negative comments are dealt with expeditiously and follow-up is conducted with the customer.
  • Project Implementation Teams: Whenever we have a new campaign, major initiative, or customer, we make every effort to involve a staff member from each shift throughout the process. His or her insight is often invaluable.
  • Incentive Program: Quarterly, CSRs in good standing are eligible for a monetary bonus up to $600. The scorecard used with the program consists of two global measures. One is always service level plus individual representative metrics such as productivity, quality, and schedule adherence.
  • Customer Problem Resolution: Customers are provided escalation procedures to resolve issues and to facilitate the communication flow in both directions. We want to “close the loop” and track follow-up steps.
  • Pre-Employment Testing: MSI uses the ATSI pre-employment testing program in conjunction with targeted interviewing techniques. We plan to add a customer service aptitude component soon.
  • Training: A comprehensive initial training program has been developed that includes online exams and HIPAA training. The process is measurable and tangible. After 60 days, all associates go through “Service Excellence and Patient Sensitivity Training.”

Changing organizational culture is evolutionary and occurs each time we make contact with a customer. The dynamics of that interaction reinforces the culture. Each component mentioned in this article is based on basic customer service concepts. We look to strengthen our relationships with our CSRs, our current customers, and our prospective customers.

The shift from traditional customer service to a customer-focused organization reinforces behaviors centered on the customer and their needs. Over time, the transition to a customer-focused organization will yield competitive advantages in the marketplace.

Gary DuPont is Director of Telecommunications and Customer Care at MASCO (Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc.).

[From the February/March 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]