Outsourcing and Call Center Blog

20 July, 2007

Yikes! Customers don’t care about price or features

I ran across a couple of notes today on how people make purchasing decisions, both suggesting that we are pretty irrational – which could be a blessing or a curse for us marketers depending on how you look at it. Joe Cooper writes about how people decide on emotion and justify with logic in their buying process. In other words, the quantifiable features of a product or service don’t count as much as the feeling we have about purchase we are making (you didn’t really think that Nike shoes were somehow better than the store-brands did you?). The implications of this are pretty profound, for example it means the features and benefits statements that fill our endless supply of incredibly boring PowerPoint presentations contribute only in a backhanded way to selling our product (Hooray, can we outlaw PowerPoint now?).

The second item was in Seth Godin’s blog and quoted this amazing fact from an article on eBay buying patterns:

In some categories, more than 40% of the auctions went for more than the Buy it Now price.

This says a lot about the psychology of auctions I suppose (Mark Tillison writes a succinct analysis of this phenomenon in his blog).

If I put these two items together, is says that buyers don’t tend to care (at least as much as we think) about either price or features. Wow.

This opens one to a fascinating area of thought regarding what purchasers do care about. I won’t fully explore here other than to posit what this means to outsourced call centres. What I see in our industry is a lot of us trying to sell our product based on one thing, price. This I contend is a dead end street for any call centre business that has genuine aspirations to become the next Wipro or Infosys. Why? First, because I think the era of cost arbitrage is ending, the world is just as flat for us here in India as it is in the West. And second, because a price-dominated strategy will consistently attract customers who focus solely on price to the exclusion of customer experience and business process. You can afford to have some customers who don’t care about their customers and who are loyal to you only as long as you are the cheapest provider they can find, but if that is your niche, you’re going to have a hell of a time maintaining your base.

So if we don’t sell on price and features, what do we sell on? I think to find the answer to this, one must put himself in the shoes of his customers. If you were going to trust your sales, your customer service, your future revenue stream and/or your current revenue stream to an outside organisation, what would you be looking for? What springs to my mind are things like trust, confidence, consistency, fit, culture, synergy, harmony, all very squishy, intangible right-brained criteria. I believe that if both we and our customers are looking for these things in our business relationships, we’ll have many more successful, more profitable programs.

8 July, 2007

Five things you should do to increase retention, improve customer satisfaction and enhance your business

Filed under: BPO,Call Center,HR & Staffing,off shoring,Outsourcing — shamrin @ 16:55

It’s time to start thinking outside the box. Put down your pencils and stop thinking tactically about how to better sweat your seats or reduce AHT or lower communications overheads. Let’s think strategically about how to make your call centre better from the ground up – and that starts with your agents.

1. Hire a Francine
When I was working in New Jersey for a company called American Management Systems, we had a staff of about 70 really bright, young, energetic consultants most of whom where on their first job out of college. This was the IT business and it was the early 90s so there were lots of job opportunities and lots of money, it was hard to hold on to good people. Our office had great luck at retaining staff and the reason was Francine. Francine was our admin supervisor and HR coordinator but more importantly she was a great listener. She listened to our young consultants’ problems, both business and personal and took a real interest in them and their wellbeing. And when the problem was organisational, she would take it up with our Managing Director and be an advocate for the staff (and badger him until he fixed the problems, often to his annoyance). Get one or two Francine’s into your organisation, they’ll help your agents be happier and healthier and they’ll help you fix things that you’re doing wrong in your employee care.

2. Consider yourself a Restaurateur
Think about how you feel after having a meal out with your friends at a nice restaurant. You’re relaxed, refreshed, in a positive state of mind, satisfied. Now, what is the state of mind you want your agents in when they take that next phone call from one of your customers? What I’m looking for with agents on my projects is what I call “Smiling happy people holding hands”, if you want great customer experiences it’s not just about training, state of mind is important and there are few things that have a more positive effect on state of mind than having a pleasant meal. The quality and diversity of the food are just the start, the surroundings should be comfortable, the atmosphere pleasant and the service excellent. There’s a beneficial side effect to this as well,
people are more likely to want to come to work and they’ll want to stay if they associate good times and enjoyment with their jobs.

3. Make work fun

I don’t know about you, but if I look back over my career the jobs that I’ve had that stand out in my mind as being the very best have one thing in common, I was working with great people and we had great times working and playing together. If you can create this esprit de corps in your centre, I predict you will cut your attrition by no less than 20% and your absenteeism by even more. A lot of this will come from the nature of your managers and team leaders, hopefully you are growing good leaders organicly that make your centre a great place (more on this below). But you can also facilitate a fun environment by providing a fun facility. Set asside some space in your centre for a chill room where staff can go to unwind and have some fun with their colleagues. When I was working 18 hour days building software systems in Malmoe Sweden many years ago we had a dart board and ping-pong table right in the middle of our office that became an essential part of our daily activities. I’m not sure such a low-tech approach would do the trick on its own any more, but it would be a start. You’ll also need music, videos and a few Xboxes. Sponsor tournaments, post results, make it part of your work environment. Create opportunities for your staff to interact and enjoy each other’s company and commraderie.

4. Create Leaders
I suppose some people are born great leaders, but I think you’d be pretty foolish to think that you’ve managed to hire many of them, for the most part great leaders are made. Leaders are important to your business because they compensate for all the misery that management causes. I don’t know a single person that likes to be managed but I believe humans universally like to be led. Managers set guidelines for people and structures within which your people must opperate, leaders open up possibilities bringing out your staff’s strengths, creativity and capabilities. Managers make and enforce rules, leaders encourage and guide success. People quit because of lousy managers, but in my experience having led and been led, leadership forms relationships that last a lifetime. You need leaders to sustain your business and you have to make them yourself. Perhaps I’ll devote an entry sometime to this topic, I’m sure there’s not enough space to suggest how you’ll do this here. You’re definitely going to have to go outside your organisation for materials and lectures. I can personally recommend 7 Habits training but there are many others as well. Also, take the training yourself or you’ll be wasting your money.

5. Walk Around
In a conversation with my CEO last week he was despairing over that fact that he used to know every agent that worked for him by name, but now with over 8000 staff he doesn’t even recognise everyone. Well, it would be an extraordinary fellow indeed who would know a staff of 8000 by name (especially in a business with such attrition) but getting down to the floor and meeting staff is still important. I’m going to make a wild assumption that if you are running a call centre or are part of the executive staff of one, you’ve got something on the ball. You’ve got some business savvy and experience, some leadership skills and some ideas about the way you think things should be done. Your people will only benefit by seeing that in action. Set aside some time in your week, even if it’s just an hour, to go meet the people who are the foundation of your business. You can do it informally, Management By Walking Around as it is called, a term coined by GE Chairman Jack Welch I believe and championed by Tom Peters. Or just think up some excuse to have a meeting with a couple mangers and their teams to discuss how things are going on their process. Farmers don’t hole-up in the barn during growing season, they get out and tend the crops, you should too

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