Sunday's paper had an interesting article on call centers and why dealing with them can be so frustrating. One of my companies, Koeze Direct, has to staff up to run a seasonal call center every year, so I'm pretty familiar with the challenges of attempting to provide good customer service.
As the article points out, customer service begins with training:
But I was surprised, in some cases, how much training such workers did receive. Ms. Strong and Randi Busse, who worked at a Verizon call center on Long Island for 15 years, both said they underwent 12 weeks of training, close monitoring for a while after that and continuing training during employment.
But training is often complex because the IT systems used to operate customer service centers are so complex:
One problem, Ms. Strong said, is that most people don’t understand how difficult her job could be. “For one call, we have to look in a million places and go through a myriad of information,” she said.
Work schedules have to be based on projections about call volumes and other call center work loads. Sometimes they are wrong:
[Sometimes] enough workers are scheduled for the expected number of calls, but a storm, a rate or policy change or a new product introduction can mean an onslaught of calls with too little staff available.
But all the planning and training in the world can't make up for the mixed messages that call centers send with their productivity standards that require call center agents to hurry up and provide good service -- a contradiction in terms:
[One agent] said the average call was supposed to take just under five minutes, and her target was to answer 70 to 100 calls a day. Although she was not judged solely on the number or time of the calls — and said she was never told to shorten a call with a client — the number of calls she handled was one part of how her bonus was determined.
While we do watch our call lengths, we don't give any incentives, positive or negative, to get customers off the phone quickly. I will admit to cringing a little bit when I hear that one of my agents spent 45 minutes chatting on the phone with an elderly customer, but patience and listening are key to taking care of customers.
Zingerman's in Ann Arbor has played a big role in getting the news about our peanut butter out there in the world. Several years ago I went down to Zingtrain to do a seminar on retail merchandising, and presented our Cream Nut All-Natural in Peanut Butter in official Zingerman's "what's so great about [fill in product]" format. The result was a sale to several of my classmates.
Zingerman's themselves took awhile to come around and buy our product, but they do an amazing job and truly believe in partnership with their vendors.
This morning, out of the blue, I got a short little note of thanks from Ari Weinzweig. How many retailers actually thank their suppliers? A great little touch, and another thing I need to steal from their playbook.