At some level, working in a call center should be a good job. You’re out of the weather and there is no heavy lifting. That doesn’t mean that it is a bed of roses, however. Imagine that you worked for a company for which there are web sites whose URLs pair the company’s name with “suck” or “must die”. That is, imagine you work for Comcast. (To be fair, comcastmustdie.com has morphed into customer-circus.com into an all-purpose site on customer service and support.)
The Chicago Tribune recently had a pair of articles on Comcast customer service (So you think you can be a customer service agent? and Coaching sessions help calls go more smoothly Both Nov 15). The stories are written by the paper’s “Problem Solver” columnist. His motivation was that
I have written about Comcast a dozen times, dinging the communications giant repeatedly for crimes against customer service. Almost weekly, I receive a letter or e-mail complaining about Comcast.
That lands him in a Comcast training class, hearing a myriad of technical jargon and umpteen rate plans.
But mostly I learned that taking customer service calls isn’t as easy as it seems. “Sometimes it’s hard, but we’re learning to just put ourselves in the customer’s shoes,” said Carla Woodson, a trainee who had transferred to the Woodridge facility after spending two years answering calls for Comcast in Peoria. …
“I think the front-line people answering the phones (have) the toughest job here because you don’t know what you’re getting,” said Tim Nemec, a customer care manager who oversees almost 100 employees. Customers, he said, “are not calling because they love us, right? They’re calling because they have an issue. Our job is to put a smile on their faces.”
The second article (on coaching) relates to the vague threat that “your call may be recorded for training purposes.” At Comcast, every agent gets two coaching sessions a month. You would think that such sessions would focus on really unique calls with extremely complicated transactions or really irate customers. Those are what I would expect to deliver teachable moments. But apparently that ain’t necessarily so. This video shows a service reps and managers listening to a call:Vodpod videos no longer available.
It seems so banal. I as a customer didn’t see what was so wrong about the call. Of course, I as a baseball fan don’t necessarily see when a pitcher is missing the release point on his curve ball. This review apparently went on for an hour. Some of the advice makes sense (avoid technical jargon) but some seems trite. The rep in question apparently has been working on showing empathy. He is consequently encouraged to say “I see,” and “I understand” instead of “OK.” It reminds me of David Spade saying “Buh-Bye” to passengers as they file off the plane. At what point does robotically echoing a phrase that grown ups don’t use in everyday conversation become corporate double speak as opposed to a meaningful attempt to show caring?
One way out of empty words of empathy may be Twitter. When you have only 140 characters to burn, OK is much more efficient than “I understand.” That gets us to Best Buy’s Twelpforce. (See What Best Buy Learned About Service as Marketing and Empowering Employees, Advertising Age Nov 24.)
This is the viral army of 2,200 Best Buy employees who answer questions and solve customer problems via the customer-care channel we know as Twitter. Self described as “a collective force of Best Buy tech pros offering tech advice in Tweet form,” the program has nearly 15,000 “followers” and it’s growing. Think Apple Genius Bar but without the physical counter. …
How does it work? Employees sign up to participate in the program and are empowered to respond and engage with online consumers, primarily through Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook), who have service questions or problems or seek knowledgeable recommendations about the potential purchases. Think of it as a social media concierge service designed to ensure you really do make the best buy. According to Bernier, any employee is eligible, but there are protocols, guiderails and principles in place to balance employee passion and “authenticity” with branding objectives.
The article goes on to observe:
In many respects, Best Buy is pushing the boundaries of what me might typically call the “call center” to a much more expansive, and inclusive, frontier of consumer need and participation. Along the way they are dramatically raising the bar of expectations. …
Interestingly, with or without bold commitments along these lines, most brands on Twitter or Facebook — even those with more “promotional” objectives — are inevitably defaulting to acting as a de facto call-center. A recent Nielsen study we conducted for USA Today found that nearly two-thirds of brand Twitter accounts deal with some level of customer service, and over half are interacting with consumer in off-hours, including the weekend.
This is just an interesting development. If short, quick responses can substitute for long calls, this opens up a whole new realm for managing customer service. It seems to hit a sweet spot between the traditional call center and pure self-service. I suspect that much of what the Twelpforce is tweeting about can be found in on-line FAQs or a PDF manual. The human interaction sending you to the right FAQ or manual gives a touch of personalization at much lower cost than a call center. The one caveat is how many people will avail themselves of this. I know that I am not a cutting edge technology hipster (I follow only one person on Twitter) but I am a reasonably savvy in some ways. I would definitely look at web sites etc before calling Best Buy for help. However, I cannot imagine tweeting for twelp.