Do You Have a Call Center or a Relationship Center?

Background: the White Collar Sweatshop of our time

In recent years, more and more sources have referred to call centers as the “white collar sweat shop” of our time. The first time I heard this reference, it immediately hit home for me. All the stressful time I had spent either as a CSR, supervisor, manager or director, this made perfect sense to me. Most call centers I am familiar with are in a less than desirable location within the office, and a place where work is sent that others cannot complete – things the CSR’s can do while they are “on the phones”.

Think about the typical call center environment for a moment – perhaps your own. They are very often made up of mundane cubicles allowing for little to no creativity. Call times and wait times are the metrics that matter most, which automatically causes each call to be about the transaction rather than interaction. And last but certainly not least, many CSR’s see limited growth opportunities, even in companies experiencing tremendous growth.

The Opportunity: Turning a Call Center into a Relationship Center
So to think that this environment can somehow help an organization cultivate deeper relationships with customers seems like a pipe dream.  But is it?  There are many tweaks that can be made to help transform a call center into a relationship center.  The first one, and the most simple, is to change the department name to relationship center.  If we want our employees to be relationship builders, we should first start by referring as such.
In this world of micro-management of one’s time, tasks, and call volume, we must always remember this:  How can we expect our employees to treat our best customers the way we would like them to IF we don’t treat our employees as well, if not better?

We cannot.  We need our relationship builders to be ambassadors of our companies and our products.  As we all know, very often the call center is the only human interaction our customers can have with us.  Also, very often the customer is taking the time to call us because they have encountered some type of problem.  Wouldn’t we all love to have our relationship builders know as problem solvers as opposed to policy enforcers?  Would we all love to hear more instances of heroic resolutions as opposed to customers asking for a supervisor to move their complaint up the ladder?  The next question that typically pops up is: what is the right level of management?  How do we give our employees the autonomy to solve problems, but not give away the store?
We need to take the time to help our employees be prepared.  Prepared to fix what can go wrong, prepared to preform their job at the optimal level, and prepared to go above and beyond to WOW a customer when the opportunity arises.  The key word here is prepared.  We cannot simply expect our employees to recognize these things, nor can we expect to tell them once during an orientation and expect it to stick.  It also does not mean we can train employees once and expect them to maintain proper habits. 
The Solution: Creating A System of World Class Service

What we need to do, rather, is to create a system that all employees can use to consistently recognize and address defects, our standards, and above and beyond opportunities.  The better prepared our employees are to handle situations that arise everyday, the more time we have to manage behind the scenes.  This allows us more opportunity to monitor agent activity to ensure all team members are pulling their weight – without micro managing.  It allows us to ensure that our staffing levels are correct – ensuring that our best ambassadors are not over stressed and over burdened because we do not have enough people hired and trained -a HUGE problem in the call center world.  This all sounds great, but how do we deliver these tools?
The Change: What can YOU do?

I recommend two methods to begin the process – but be warned, both will take an investment of time and human resources:
1-The Customer Experience Cycle
First step in the process is getting your team together to create your Customer Experience Cycle, or CEC.  Creating your CEC is basically mapping your customer’s touch points with your team.  Once you have identified what these touch points are, you then dissect each one, looking for what can and does go wrong (Service Defects), what we need to do on each and every call (our operational and service standards), and ways we can surprise and delight our customers (Above and Beyond opportunities).  Going through this workshop with your front-line team is truly an eye-opening experience, for both you and your team.  A renewed sense of purpose begins to grow as excitement builds.  Your team becomes re-energized to do their job – and to do it well.
2-The Huddle
While this is a great start to the process, it is just that – the start.  You cannot expect the momentum you have just created to be maintained without consistent re-enforcement.  This is where the second piece comes in – daily huddles.  Now before you start saying “that will never work here because…” – and I know you will, because I have heard all of the excuses, and made some of them myself, think about the gold standard of service, The Ritz Carlton.  They hold a huddle, or in their world, a Stand-up, each and every day.  So does Chick-fil-A.  Each company has gotten past the fact that not everyone will be present each and every day.  They have gotten past the fact that they have multiple shift starting times throughout the day.  What they have done is used this platform to consistently focus on their service values, discuss things that went wrong (and how to fix them), and celebrate success stories – every day.

Results: What to expect
The process that I just outlined promotes autonomy and a strong sense of ownership within your team, while being a great team-building exercise to boot.  Creating your CEC, and then re-enforcing it on a daily basis will give your team a renewed sense of purpose, and help turn them into true relationship builders.  Thanks to the huddles, this will not wear-off over time, but rather transform your culture into one where above and beyond is the norm.
I look forward to hearing from you with results, and comments, and I am happy to help you in your journey by answering any questions that you may have.
About The Author

Dave Murray

Dave is the Senior Customer Experience Consultant for The DiJulius Group and has helped dozens of companies create incredible systems that allow them to consistently deliver superior customer service. Dave’s experience has varied from leading call centers and front-line team members, to working closely with key partners and stakeholders.

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