Using the right answering service to manage incoming calls to your business is essential to your company’s branding and reputation management efforts. Ever been in a situation where you needed to call a service provider or wanted to order a product over the phone (i.e., talk to an actual human being about a question or concern) and eventually hung up the phone feeling unsatisfied, mortified, or mad enough that anyone within reaching distance is in imminent danger cause the phone service riled you up so bad?
It’s impossible to please everyone. However, most of your customers can at least be sated if the person answering support calls has the right attitude and is afforded the tools to handle most of the situations they’re presented with.
Since most medium and large-sized companies outsource to companies offering a telephone answering service, it’s important that you or your decision-maker be able to put yourself in the shoes of those who’ll be calling your business and dealing directly with your call center. Really, this is the most important first step, but is often ignored over pricing considerations.
If it’s all about the money, your company’s branding/reputation will suffer and outrage among your customers (if you’re lucky enough to have/keep them) will take over, stalling the expansion of your customer base.
If you choose the wrong service it could spell disaster for your company, and the worst news is: you won’t know until a lot of significant damage has been done!
First, we’ll put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, then we’ll take a look at a few important considerations to make before outsourcing your telephone-based services.
Let’s start out with an all-too-typical (and utterly vexing) scenario
It’s Saturday evening. You’re researching some changes that you plan to implement in your business first thing Monday morning, which involves loads of Internet browsing – then the Internet goes down!
You want to spend all day Sunday surfing at the beach, so you need to get this research done tonight.
(Note: if this scenario doesn’t fit into your life, imagine your smartphone has died right after your car broke down in the middle of the sticks, the tune from “Deliverance” is ringing in your head, you need to call a tow or cab, and the only outbound call you can make is to the phone company)…
You now call the ISP to find out what the heck is going on (and let’s be honest: you’re the paying customer, you need your Internet, and they bloody well better get it working ASAP!)
Here are a few of the most common, yet very non-satisfying eventualities that can take place when you make your call:
They’re closed, but hope is not lost!
You receive a message telling you that their offices are now closed, and that you can call back during business hours, or use their “free” online troubleshooting guide to try to fix the problem yourself! Really? Just go online and fix the problem, huh? There are many variations to this, such as having a computer talk you through things over the phone, like powering off the device; unplugging this that and the other while balancing on one foot and with your arm tied behind your back; talking nicely to the device and/or spanking it repeatedly in anger ‘til it starts working!
The company’s based in North America, but their customer service staff isn’t!
You call, speak to someone who’s incapable of forming a sentence in English (let alone understanding what you’re talking about) and finally, after much confusion and timely frustration you’re forced to hang up the phone and either give up entirely, or try to call the switchboard again in the hopes of being connected with someone who can effectively take care of your “Internet” problem.
I find this scenario to be the most common. Many a good customer has been frustrated to no end by this seemingly indifferent act on the part of a business looking to save a few bucks, or which simply chose the wrong service to handle their calls.
You get an agent, but they can’t wait to get you off the phone!
(Note: this might not apply to those of you imagining the smartphone scenario! But it might…)
Your call is answered and the super-friendly voice on the other line tells you how ready, willing and able they are to help you with your issue. That’s the end of the “Mr. Nice Guy/Girl” act though. The agent starts bossing you around, treating you like you’re a dimwit, and expects you to have 3 hands or the ability to make decisions at lightning-fast speeds!
This is called “handle time” in the call center business, and if the call center uses this metric in their customer service it does nothing but frustrate the customer in most cases.
How to make sure you’re choosing the right call center for your company’s customer service
Hopefully the above-listed scenarios have snapped you into reality. Most of us forget all about what it feels like to be a customer when choosing a call center. It all comes down to cost, and the sales representatives from these outsourcing companies are great at telling you what you want to hear in order to get your business.
Here are three of the most important things to consider when dealing with a client.
1. New or old?
Going with a young call center service might get you cheaper rates, but you’ll also have a tougher time looking into their history. Make sure there are provisions in your contract that give you a way out of your contract if they’re under-performing and/or alienating customers.
Older services on the other hand, have more experience, meaning they often have more tricks up their sleeve – including a willingness to allow their agents to abuse customers without consequence, provided certain metrics like “low wait times” and “fast handling times” are met. As with new companies, make sure there are provisions in place to protect you against customer abuse, or poor performance.
Always have a lawyer, who knows your goals, to look over every contract.
Ask the rep for specific companies they represent and how you can audit their service, without the agent who answers knowing anything about you other than you’re a customer who needs their help.
You and your team should make several of these calls to accurately gauge whether the service is reliable or not. Hire another service to make these calls for you; hundreds if possible.
Don’t judge them based on one or two bad apples though; there’s always a few bitter or disgruntled employees in every call center.
This is the hardest factor to gauge, and you’ll have to go beyond meeting with the sales reps from the call center outsourcing firms. Talk to other businesses who’ve used them, spend hours online looking for clues about them. When dealing with established call center solution providers, there will be lots of evidence online to indicate how they treat people. Whether you’re hiring them for collections purposes or barebones customer service, forums and social media leaves lots of clues about how these companies will treat your customers.
Most companies inflate their sales claims. In particular if upselling, collections, or telemarketing is your reason for recruiting their service. It really helps to have a competent corporate-level accountant on hand, to scrutinize the service’s claims, and determine if they can get the results they’re promising.
The best advice before venturing out to outsource your company’s telephone-based services
Hire and consult with people who understand this side of the business. You’ve worked hard for your customers and value the service-level you’ve offered them up until now. Don’t let some profit-hungry outsourcer come in and muck everything up!
Spending money on consultants, lawyers, and accountants is vitally important to help you find the right solution for your company.
And oh, before you go, please do consider choosing the best of the best – like what they do in Japan – or else, you’ll regret your decision.
Best of luck!
About the Author: Sara Parker writes for Face for Business, one of UK’s leading telephone answering services