Monday, February 09, 2004

Customer Service - Bah! 

No matter how hard a company works at public relations, it can throw it all away in its call center, as a firm was doing to me tonight. I called to make a change in some vital information. The phone answers, I get music and a cheery voice telling me someone will answer my call shortly. Ten minutes later, the music tape has repeated and the cheery voice continues to tell me someone will answer my call shortly. Finally, a voice answers without the least apology for the wait. And, companies wonder why customers think their service stinks...

PR practitioners are tempted to say call centers aren't their problem because they don't run call centers. But it is their problem because PR deals with relationships with publics, and relationships cross all contacts a company has with its publics. If your call center stinks, your relationships stink. All the press releases that you might write cannot cover up the failing.

Most companies understand this, but some don't. They see a call center as an efficiency process and not a service point. They talk about numbers of calls and queues and answering rates, but they fail to turn this into the feeling of customers left hanging while getting more and more frustrated.

Some companies do understand call centers and are wonderful to work with. The phone rings and a voice is on the line almost before one is ready. Conducting business is swift and courteous. The operator knows to make suggestions and to inquire for needed data. There is no hemming and hawing and waits while the operator looks something up. Of course, this requires a lot of machinery behind the scenes to make it sound easy, but that is what call centers should do.

Here is something for you to try. If you have a call center, dial it twice a month and listen for the reception you get. If it is anything like I experienced tonight, you have a PR problem. Tell your CEO to fix that first before launching the next major PR initiative.


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