Mother was right, first impressions count

Terry Flynn is President of Market Chord Direct Group, a collection of consulting and marketing technology companies focused on improving multichannel marketing results in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer categories.

GR: The importance of that first contact with a customer is never far from the minds of call center management, Terry, but it is usually thought of in terms of efficiency. You take a different approach.

TF: Well, efficiency is certainly important and first call resolution is an important indicator of how well the business of the caller is handled but there is much more to it.

GR: You mean there is more potential in that call than simply the efficient handling of the task at hand?

TF: Exactly, the task is what you have to talk about but how you talk about it can be the start of an ongoing relationship that can be much more beneficial to both the customer and the company.

GR: But how does an agent, someone who is always under time pressure, accomplish that?

TF: It has to do with the quality of the time spent rather than the amount. It doesn’t take much longer to ask a few questions that go beyond the essentials of the task and that indicate the agent is interested in the caller and the caller’s needs.

GR: Which makes the call more personal.

TF: That’s right. A call center is not meant to be the equivalent of an FAQ on a website. When a customer and a call center agent are talking it is two human beings in a personal interaction. The customer should feel another person reaching out to them to help them with a willing, inquiring attitude.

GR: Not just a duty.

TF: If it feels like a duty then an opportunity has been wasted. Something as simple as asking about shipping policies for instance; the agent can respond with the facts of the policy, but if the agent is alert and listening for unstated needs, then they will ask about what the caller is trying to accomplish with their shipping requirements.

GR: So it’s not the shipping policy that is the point of the question but the result, the benefit to the customer.

TF: It is the accumulation of such small touches that add up to the start of a relationship. And once a relationship exists, the customer is more willing to share information more fully – email addresses and phone numbers, convenient times to call. Another thing: even a canned thank you note sent right after the call opens another line of communication and another way to enhance the relationship. Once a relationship has begun the path through the clutter of competing messages is clear and the customer knows that messages from the company are relevant to their needs and are from someone looking out for their interests.

GR: These are all the small courtesies that any good relationship fosters.

TF: There is no magic to it but the magic we bring to it.

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