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Customer Retention is a Contact Center Priority

Customer Retention is a Contact Center Priority

It’s a great deal more expensive to acquire customers than to retain them. This makes customer retention a primary concern for all companies, whether they sell to other businesses or directly to consumers. Enterprises have traditionally placed a greater emphasis on customer retention during recessionary times, when new customers are much harder to find. In the last few years, as companies have begun to accept the painful reality that consumers view most products and services as commodities, senior management has also begun to appreciate the crucial role played by contact center personnel in retaining customers when marketing loyalty programs fail to achieve their goals. In today’s highly competitive market, customers have choices and can easily take their business elsewhere. Customer attrition rates range from 7% annually in some industries, such as banking and insurance, to nearly 40% in the telecom industry. Slowing the customer “churn” rate by as little as 1% can add millions of dollars to most companies’ bottom line.

Marketing and Service Need to Work Cooperatively

Contact center managers should be invited to participate in strategy sessions to build customer retention marketing programs, as they know first-hand why customers are closing their accounts and have good ideas about the best ways to retain them. In many cases, customer dissatisfaction is driven by an operational problem, back-office issue or process failure. While contact centers can be effective in the “last ditch” effort to save disgruntled customers, the real challenge is to avoid reaching this point at all. Contact center staff can provide the necessary customer insights for proactive customer retention, if marketing and senior management invite them to the table. It’s time for contact centers and marketing organizations to work cooperatively to achieve enterprise goals for building a loyal customer base. Marketing has to realize that, while they are responsible for creating loyalty programs, the contact center helps customers understand the initiatives and is often instrumental in the success of the effort. If the contact center and the marketing department can work together to achieve their mutual goals, customers and the bottom line will reap the benefits. The best way for this to happen is for the service and marketing organizations to have shared enterprise goals where the success of one organization is clearly dependent upon the success of the other.

Empower and Recognize Customer Retention Specialists

Enterprise management must empower contact center managers to take immediate action to retain “at-risk” customers, and not tie their hands with limits from compliance and auditing groups, as happens all too often. It is fine to assign rules and budgets for fee reversals, free services, gifts given away, etc., but then allow managers to work within these parameters as needed. Customers are not all equal; some customers are worth a lot more than others and managers need to be able to handle each one individually. Since agents are the last line of defense against customer “churn,” they should have the flexibility to do what it takes (within reasonable guidelines) to retain customers.Contact center agents who retain customers must be recognized for doing what is unquestionably a most difficult job – preventing frustrated and often angry customers from deserting the company. Agents who successfully achieve this goal must be consistently empowered, supported and recognized. The best retention agents are highly motivated by the intrinsic challenge of the job and thrive on their success. While these agents do not perform solely for the recognition, companies should create formal rewards and incentives in order to attract the best talent for this high-stress function.

Final Thoughts

Customer retention is an enterprise goal and contact center personnel are well positioned to contribute to the success of this objective, but only if they are invited to the decision-making table. Asking contact center managers to retain customers is a good start, but they can contribute more substantially by participating in development of the strategy for customer retention and loyalty programs, as they know first-hand the reasons why customers defect.

DMG IN THE NEWS

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3/20/08 How to Train a Call-Center Agent(VoIP News)
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Ask the Experts

Question:

I run a multi-site environment with two locations. We use a hosted service contact center for disaster recovery.  I am fairly confident that in an emergency we could have our calls forwarded to the hosted provider and have our agents log in to take calls.  What else should I be concerned about to make certain that we can function at a similar service level as we do today?

Answer:A growing number of enterprises are signing up with hosted contact center infrastructure vendors to have back-up support in case a disaster destroys their primary technology site. This is a good approach for addressing a situation where agents are available, but the site is not functioning. (Agents can either go to a back-up facility or work from home.) To ensure a fully functional back-up environment, it is also necessary to address the servicing applications, such as the interactive voice response system and customer relationship management suite, in addition to core routing and queuing technology. A second disaster scenario that companies must unfortunately consider is where the staff is also impacted, as was the case on 9/11. While we hope that a situation never occurs where your agent population is not available to handle customer interactions, we do recommend creating a mobilization plan that addresses both technology and staff needs, pulling in alternate resources from support and other staff groups. The mobilization plan should be prioritized – contact center management and support staff, such as from training and quality assurance, can be called upon first. After that, we suggest using resources from the marketing organization. If your company is not opposed to using an outsourcer, we suggest having one on retainer for this purpose. The goal of the plan is to keep your enterprise in business long enough to retrain staff and re-populate the contact center.

The scenarios discussed above are “worst case” situations and are fortunately rare. It is more common to be confronted with a disaster that negatively impacts the operation of a contact center for only a relatively short period of time. The cause may be a flood, tornado or other weather event that destroys a contact center facility or prevents agents from being able to travel to the site. In these situations, using hosting for both the core contact center infrastructure and servicing applications should be sufficient, particularly if agents are able to work from their homes.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at www.dmgconsult.com.