Managing Great Expectations
28 June, 2021
Clients aren’t from Mars and Customer Care Providers Don’t Have to be From Venus
By Scott Newman, CEO, Transparent BPO & Tom Silzell, Managing Partner, CX PartnerSource
Good relationships just don’t happen.
They don’t happen in life and they certainly don’t happen in business either. In the corporate world, they take work. They take a lot of work. We’re not talking about transactional relationships where commodities are bought and sold. These associations are one-time or occasional transactions that don’t require a deep understanding of your client’s long-term needs.
We’re focusing on the profoundly intimate relationship between your company and your customer care provider, where the provider works and hires the right people so it knows your core business almost as thoroughly as you do.
As with any relationship, there are two sides – and we want to examine the tangible components and then, of course, a discussion of the intangibles.
First the tangible factors. These are easier to measure because hard figures can be assigned to each and tracked over time. But too frequently, not enough attention is paid to the low hanging fruit of measurable performance metrics that form the foundation of any good customer care relationships. But which ones should you focus on?
This goes without saying but too often this is viewed in the short term. Price is always relative to what the client wants to achieve. A provider may have an attractive hourly rate that provides immediate savings in the near term, but the costs may escalate in the medium and long term because of multiple factors. The provider offered an a la carte service where addition services (training or holiday coverage) wasn’t included.
A cheaper provider may have long talk and hold times or lower CSAT scores that weren’t accounted for when you were going through due diligence. Or perhaps a cheaper provider has a higher agent attrition rate, so you’re constantly having new agents talk to your customers week after week, month after month. In the end, your brand suffers and the costs add up.
Is this customer care provider a good service fit? If you need customer service agents, does the company have a history of providing sound customer service? Do they have agents that have technical training to help your customers on Level 1 or 2 tech calls? Do they know how to upsell to give your customers more options from your catalogue of products so you move more inventory?
Sometimes in the haste to retain a customer care provider, clients occasionally overlook the capabilities the company can provide and instead just want seats filled to ensure calls are answered. To ensure the provider can meet your specific requirements, do the heavy lifting: check their client references and not only with companies and contacts they provide. Find out who used to use them and why they left? Check their technology stack – are they compliant and can they reasonably protect your data and your customers’ information?
Clearly, a key requirement are language skills. Does the provider have a pool of agents who can support your customers in the language they prefer? North American customers are overwhelmingly English-speaking but there are also needs for Spanish and French-Canadian services.
Accent neutralization programs can be effective in helping your agents smooth out their accents, particularly when supporting English-speaking customers. But these programs can be expensive and take time to get agents hired and on the phones. It’s helpful to have native, English-speaking agents who can get up to speed quickly but who are also comfortable going ‘off-script’ to help customers. These agents offer a certain amount of empathy to customers who are in a stressful situation and may be having trouble with your service or product.
Don’t pass up a chance to conduct a site visit. Visiting the facility where your calls are being answered can give you a clear line of sight of the people who are acting on your behalf. You can learn a lot about the provider, the competence of the leadership on the ground and the quality of the agents who are talking to your customers every day. Make the time to conduct a site visit, the experience is invaluable.
This broad category can also include recruiting and implementation but essentially focuses on the care and feeding of the agents acting on your behalf.
It begins with the proper recruiting. Does the customer care provider have a good pool of candidates to hire from in the first place? How are they advertising and sourcing candidates? Also, it might be helpful to check how your provider screens candidates and the percentage of candidates actually get hired? Are they selective on who eventually becomes an agent, and do they conduct background checks? Finally, are they hiring employees who just want a job or are they recruiting personnel who want a career in customer care and work their way into leadership positions?
Once hired, what kind of training is offered? Does your provider work with you to customize a training program that fits your company? The time and criteria is important but you also want to meet the trainers who are prepping agents to support your account.
Once all the recruiting and training is complete, then its time to go ‘live.’ You should have a clear picture of the implementation step. This is not the time for surprises and you want to ensure your provider has all the bases covered? You can ensure success here by reviewing other launches they’ve managed with similar programs in scope and in size or a similar industry or account size with the same number of agents. The implementation step is the end of the beginning, but also marks the beginning of hopefully a long relationship with your provider.
These are the measurable items but there are still components that are harder to measure but they also contribute to the bottom line.
The Intangible Elements
This is a difficult component to measure. Its relatively easy to find a customer care provider that will follow instructions and deliver routine service day after day. But it is harder to find a provider who looks under the hood of your business to find a better way to serve you customers. These providers bring ideas to you that improve customer loyalty or they sit down with you to solve customer-related challenges and provide real alternatives.
You should find a customer care provider who is always tinkering with the process. Continuous process improvement never ends and comes with an appreciation that there is always a better way to do something. It’s not easy to pull apart a process but if you put yourself in the customer’s position, you can always find a better way to fulfill the brand promise and customer experience.
The right fit
Finding a partner with the right cultural fit is hard. Their corporate DNA is critical because their task is to represent your brand in a consistent manner that mirrors your values. This isn’t easy but once you’re comfortable that they will never leave an opportunity on the table, then you know you have a good fit.
These expectations are not easy to achieve and it takes work – on both sides of the table. But it’s reasonable to expect each criteria from your customer care provider because they each play a role in your customers’ experience which equals loyalty and that can be measured on your bottom line.