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Curium Solutions – Simplified Change Management, Birmingham, West Midlands

Call centres and the customer experience

By Mark Turner

Principal Consultant Mark Turner considers call centres and the customer experience

I’ve read a couple of articles reflecting on poor service from call centres. One talked about NHS plans to revamp its 111 helpline on the back of consistent concerns about the quality of service. The other was a more personal frustration penned by John Humphrys after his experience with a call handler.

Both articles reflect the impact created when inadequately skilled call handlers are deployed in frontline customer service roles. These challenges are not unique and I wonder how many other organisations recognise a similar experience in their own operation?

The call handler role is typically seen as an entry level position. You start a career, moving on to more exciting or ‘important’ roles as soon as the opportunity arises. The shame is that inbound call handlers represent the voice of the business, so the perception of customers is based on this interaction.

If call handlers are inexperienced, poorly trained or inadequately skilled, a ‘script’ for the call is not going to mitigate the underlying issue. Scripts are required for some parts of a call to satisfy specific regulatory statements, but we all value the experience of receiving a personalised service. The John Humprys tale is a great example of the polar opposite of this.

When a customer calls an organisation, they want to speak to someone who is fully competent, listens to their enquiry and can answer or resolve it in a single call. However, when the call handler’s role is undervalued or considered merely a stepping stone to better things, everyone suffers – the business, the call handlers and the customer.

Another consideration is that the number of inbound call handler roles are likely to decline as AI and robotics soak up the simpler enquiries. It is even more important to develop heightened and appropriate skills for the ‘voice’ of the business and to consider how to establish a genuine and valuable career path within the call centre.

The best call handlers may stay in a call centre environment and even progress into team or operational manager roles. How well are they supported to develop into highly effective people managers within the specific environment of a call centre? Being a great call handler does not mean they will naturally become competent managers.

There is a long list of highly talented stars from a range of sports who tried and failed to manage others – hoping that by ‘copying me’ their own natural abilities would be instantaneously multiplied across their teams.

Digital disruption will undoubtedly be a catalyst for change within call centres, although the urgency with which this takes place will depend on the timescales of each organisation. There are benefits to be had by developing the skills and career paths of call handlers and managers now, in readiness for the journey.

It would be great to hear other views and thoughts on this and hear about the progress being made and challenges being overcome.

Curium in the News