What If Your Competitors Tapped Into Your Call Center

By Trudy Nyden and George Lemmond

If your competitors tapped into your call center, what would happen? If they would listen, learn, and act:

  • They would know your weaknesses.
  • They would gain ideas for product improvements.
  • They would understand your clients and their needs.
  • They would surprise you and beat you to the punch.

It would be like the government monitoring foreign criminal activities. Beneath the buzz and clutter, they would find seeds of competitive advantage against you.

What if your management had the same feedback from your call center? Well, it’s there. But do you throw away this valuable information, viewing it as a necessary but useless expense? If you really paid attention, you would find a gold mine:

  • You would hear firsthand, today, about your problems.
  • You would have more ideas than you could handle.
  • You would gain insights into your clients’ minds.
  • You would know how to talk their language.
  • You would stay ahead of your competitors.

When your client’s customers call, they are engaged and focused on your client’s products and services, as well as your call center. There’s no better time to pick their brains, befriend, and influence them. This is the time client and customer loyalty can be made or broken.

There is a lot of waste in call centers’ advertising and marketing efforts that try to find new clients. But you are interacting with current clients who are calling every day. Each one is only the visible part of an iceberg; there are probably nine others that are submerged and don’t bother to call. And it’s a truism that a current customer is worth a lot more than a hoped-for new one.

This untapped treasure of client input is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars yielded by traditional research means. And this will be about the behavior of real, not hypothetical, clients.

Certainly every call is different, as are the objectives of every call center. We have heard reports from many diverse centers, crying out that they are sources of valuable information – yet management doesn’t listen. An aggressive call center approach can change a company’s image, culture, and bottom line. This means making it a marketing tool. Here are the things that could make it happen:

1. The cost to operate a call center should cease to be regarded as an overhead expense. It should be an investment, under the marketing research budget. Some of it might also be considered to be a product development bonus.

2. All managers in every department should be part of a “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) program. Non-agent staff should be required to log in to the center four hours per month. They would take and resolve calls. They would be trained to do this, and the results would be humbling and attitude-changing. They would understand that the client is the boss, the one who pays them. And they would understand more about the workings of all departments.

3. The client input must be managed as vital. For each type of center, a triage system must be implemented that would:

  • Quickly handle and put aside routine calls
  • Authorize employees to solve problems now
  • Note carefully any product comments and ideas
  • Establish a clearinghouse that forwards those gems to the appropriate department
  • Have a procedure in place that assures timely response

4. Each client must be treated as a long-term, valued friend:

  • Assume that every call is an emergency (a 911 call) until proven otherwise
  • Reward your clients. After the problem is resolved, don’t just thank them and say good-bye. Ask if you can send them something in appreciation for sharing their concerns, such as coupons or a newsletter.
  • Enlist them as panelists in your research panel

5. Assume that the conversation will be for public record and Big Brother will be listening – consumer protection or law enforcement agencies. Worse yet, it could be bloggers or competitors. It’s scary, but there’s a possibility it could happen now.

All this can be done – soon. It would take implementation of new technologies and the alignment and convergence of all systems. Every phone at every location should be able to connect into the call center. Every bit of a client’s prior call should be instantly available. For example, with the “Integrated Dell Desktop” system:

“When a customer calls, the computer screen instantly displays everything the sales agent needs to know: what products the customer has placed in an online shopping cart, what was purchased previously, even what products offer the customer the best performance while giving Dell the best profit margins. The IDD has made them more productive and their jobs more enjoyable.”

A multitude of available tools can streamline call centers and make the client’s experience a pleasant one. From speech recognition menus on the front end of a call to automatic surveys at the end of the call, technology can simplify clients’ interactions and provide an immediate way to score your performance.

It’s unlikely that one of your competitors would tap into your call center. That would be unethical and illegal. But what if a competitor implemented the steps outlined above? Would you be worried? Would you scramble to catch up?

It might sound like this transformation would cost a lot of money. Would it be worth it? Yes. You would have a powerful business tool. You would have greater teamwork throughout the company. You would demonstrate a serious commitment to CRM – and you would be an industry leader.

Trudy Nyden is the founder and CEO of Business Essentials and Associates, a sales, marketing, and business management consulting company located in Roswell, GA; she may be reached at trudy.nyden@beassociates.com or 770-642-6133. George Lemmond of On-Target Marketing, located in Roswell, GA is a consumer marketing professional who builds brands and solves problems. He may be reached at 770-645-8716.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2007]

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