I’ve been advising clients for years that if they want to know what’s going on out in their market community, there is no better place to learn than in their own customer contact centers. “You hear things on that hotline that you just don’t hear anywhere else,” reported one CEO. Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, regularly took calls himself in his company’s support center, and insisted that the insights he gained from the activity were vital to his effectiveness as a software company CEO. A handful of other senior executives of technology companies have done the same. Are you one of them? Or would there be a sudden hush as you walked through the door?
–The Customer Retention QuickStat
There is No Substitute
There is no substitute for hearing the voice of the customer directly in your own ears, no matter where you work in the company. When I was a tech writer, I relied on that knowledge to keep the product documentation I wrote accessible to the customer. From my own shifts as a customer support rep, I knew what my readers were likely to understand — and what would prompt them to reach for the phone instead to call the support center. I used that knowledge to write accurate error messages for the development group so that both the customer and the support rep on the phone had a better chance of understanding the reason for a call. Those customer conversations taught me a lot about how the products were being used in everyday operations, and gave insight as to what the customers hoped most to see in future versions.
Unfortunately, in most technology companies, the wealth of insight and data residing in the customer contact center is wasted. Nobody asks for it, and the support center managers don’t market what they have to the rest of the company. The result is that a significant amount of potential profitability is left untapped. It doesn’t have to be that way. Take the challenge, and go find out for yourself.
Play By The Rules
Before you head down to your contact center, though, make a commitment to play by the rules. You can take calls directly if you have the necessary skills and knowledge, or just listen in — but do so as John/Jane CSR. Leave your C-Level title and all of its authority behind. Listen closely to both what the customers are saying and how they say it. Watch how John and/or Jane CSR use the center’s tools as they work to help the customer. In between calls, ask them how they deal with different types of customers, personalities, and what they focus on as they manage the process of the interaction through to resolution. Resist the temptation to take notes, or to explain; just listen.
When you get back to your office, it will be time for reflection. What did you learn about the knowledge inventory in your contact center? What was different about hearing the voice of the customer directly in your ears? How does what you saw and heard directly relate to the profitability of your company?
And What Comes After
You aren’t likely to learn everything there is to know about your customer contact center in one visit. It will take many to gain a full understanding of the power of the resource. Ideally, you should commit yourself to a regular schedule of sessions on an ongoing basis, to develop your awareness and to keep the voice of the customer fresh in your ears.
There is another benefit to be gained from regular visitation by the CEO and the other C-Level officers to the company’s customer contact center. Each visit sends a subtle, but powerful message to the team that this is work worth the doing, important enough so that the senior management team pays personal attention to it. No amount of PR text or company meeting speeches can convey the message as well as a regular presence and direct participation.