Ensure Success With Customer Care

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While many e-business strategies are being implemented at light speed, developing the right customer care support center takes time. Because there is a correlation between satisfied, loyal customers and a company's profitability, it is imperative to consider some of the following points as you develop or refine your customer care center.


Know your company's mission. It is essential to know your company's business objectives, your position in the marketplace and your short-term and long-term goals. Does your company have a mission statement? Does it have a three- to five-year plan? Is it fluid enough to respond to the dynamic changes of the global marketplace?


Without an understanding of your company's mission, you could be making costly errors when establishing your customer care center. Understanding your company's mission will help you design the framework and benchmark your progress.


Establish your customer care center's mission within your company structure. What will your center do for your company? Build loyalty? Solve problems? Handle complaints? Survey customers? Provide information? What do you think your customers will expect, want and need? Having a grasp on your customer care center's role will drive a unique set of operational needs and strategies.


Understand and determine what type and quality of service you want to provide. On the front end, customer care can take either a sales or a support role, depending on your customer care center's mission and on how much hand-holding your customers need. Avoid being mediocre by categorizing service as reactive. Instead, determine how your company can be proactive with its service efforts.


Empowered customer care representatives create relationships with customers and embrace the notion of customer caring. It is therefore important for all entities within your organization to commit to your service offering; a strong understanding of how your center supports the organization's overall direction will lead to positive results.


Learn about the tools and technologies that can enhance your customer care environment. Look at the various customer relationship management tools, including e-suites, knowledge-based systems, Web chat, e-mail management, interactive voice response unit and automatic call distributor/private branch exchange systems. Be careful not to unleash technology too complex for your agent group. Try to find the right mix of technology and people.


Design your operational model. Organize your approach by making lists of the items needed within each category and their corresponding costs. For tasks involving people, determine the type of person needed to perform the work and lay out your recruiting plan along with appropriate testing procedures to ensure that agent skill levels meet company needs.


Consider these areas in your operations model: developing a policy and procedure document, determining your hours of operation and contact methods (phone, e-mail, chat), creating your agent/supervisor profiles, establishing your training curriculum and developing your quality measurement and service performance benchmarks.


Fundamental benchmarks that are important to outline in your operations scope of work include average speed of answer, abandonment percentage, service level, agent occupancy, e-mail response turnaround, cost per call/contact, scheduled staff compared with actual staff and customer satisfaction.


An operations model also may be tailored for an outsource provider should your company choose to outsource any or all of its customer contact.


Test, refine, measure and get feedback. Test processes, equipment, systems, call flows and resolution methods. A step-by-step approach will help you identify areas for refinement. Even after your customer care center begins taking live calls, the refinement process will continue.


The most successful contact centers continually review and assess how they do things and measure their performance results. Quantifiable data as well as feedback from your agents and customers will help. Analyzing this information will help identify what can be improved, what should be scrapped, what assumptions no longer make sense, what can be done differently and whether an outside agency can do it better or more efficiently. Keep in mind that what works today will not necessarily be appropriate tomorrow.


Don't lose sight of your goal and your customers' satisfaction. Serving your clients requires a customer-focused culture that can be influenced through your customer care center's framework design and your unrelenting effort toward improvement. Keep the pulse of your customers' satisfaction level by listening and talking to them. Surveys, focus groups, correspondence and one-on-one discussions are ways to gain insight into your customers' well-being.


• Gary Blasiar is president of Alert Communications, Los Angeles, an outsourced call center.
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