There has been much debate on whether call centers will survive. Since customers are armed with many options and channels to access help with issue resolution, the question seems timely and appropriate. However the best leaders of call centers know they are more relevant than ever. While recently speaking at ICMI’s call center demo and conference, I had the opportunity to meet many who are doing it right. The conference focused on managing complexity. The diversity of channels available to customers make it quite complex for the company, yet the customer is seeking simplicity, ease and responsiveness.

The reality is customers don’t want to call. They will do most anything to avoid long IVR menus, on hold times, transfers, scripts, disconnects and repetition of their issues. A study done by Sitel reports most customers search for issue resolution online first. So here’s why the call center survives – when the customer can’t get an issue resolved via their preferred channel, they pick up the phone. The tough stuff and the tough customers go to the call center. In essence, it is already an “escalated” call. And when the customer is talking to a real person, they expect better treatment. They expect a knowledgeable and empowered employee. Keep your call center relevant by following these three guidelines.

  1. Design the phone experience for the customer not the company. This one should be the norm however many companies are still impossibly difficult to reach. Do journey mapping to check what your customer experiences. Improve, redesign and get it right.
  1. Reduce the effort required to resolve the issue. Customers are tired of hassles, hurdles, handoffs and rote responses. Anticipate your customers needs so you can avoid the second and third call. Marry data from other channels to resolve issues faster.
  1. Have the best people possible answering your phone. The call center is the keeper of customer loyalty. Your people make the difference. Let them be real with the customer, show respect and be authentic. This requires rethinking your hiring and training of the team. This team is the face/voice of the company. Your brand is on the line with every contact. Make certain these employees are the best of the best.

Customers will still call you. Your goal is to make it easy for them to do so. Make your phone number accessible, streamline the process and put your best team members in the job. To survive, your call center must valuable and relevant. The customer really doesn’t want to talk to you but when they do, make it count.