Call Center Standards Need to be Raised
Teresa Hansen, Managing Editor
Call centers, more recently labeled as the customer contact centers, customer support centers or customer interaction centers, have been referred to by some as being the number one way to establish brand recognition and build customer loyalty. Perhaps this is the reason they are becoming big news throughout the industry. It is definitely the reason that this issue of Utility Automation is featuring call centers.
On page 16 you can read about the results of an Ernst & Young call center survey. The survey reports that electric and gas utilities lag behind other industries in delivering efficient and effective service. The survey also reports that healthcare and banking received the highest marks. I am not disputing that this is true, but based on an experience I had recently, I wonder just how “satisfying” any of these call centers are.
On the day that I was editing the Ernst & Young release, I had to call my healthcare provider`s radiology lab to get the address. I thought this process would take less than one minute. However, was I surprised! Having already listened to several recordings and having made several selections on my touch-tone phone, I was finally told that there was no one available to take my call, but to please remain on the line. I`m sure you are familiar with instructions. When it became evident to me that this was not going to be the simple call that I had thought it would be, I decided to start editing information from the Ernst & Young report. During the 10 minutes that I waited to speak to a real person, I reviewed the part of the release that said healthcare providers ranked highest in call center satisfaction. Needless to say, I was shocked. I did not find waiting 10 minutes for the answer to one simple question satisfying. In fact, I found it annoying.
If that is an example of the best call center operation, and utilities are lagging far behind the best, what type of service are utility customers receiving? I tend to believe that the call center with which I was dealing is an exception to the healthcare norm. I also believe that most utilities, even if they do rank low, provide better customer service than I received.
However, that does not mean that utility call centers are operating at a standard high enough to create the kind of customer satisfaction and loyalty that will be required in a competitive market place. The Ernst & Young report makes that clear.
The feature article in this issue emphasizes how important it is to have the call center connected to the customer information center. It discusses some of the main features utilities should employ in their call centers to give them the edge on the competition. The automation solutions article also focuses on call centers, describing how New England Electric is preparing its customer service representatives for Open Access.
I think my recent experience with and reaction to the healthcare call center indicates just how important call center responsiveness is to a company`s reputation and customer satisfaction. Our aim in this issue is to provide information that will at least give you some basic criteria with which to begin when determining your utility`s call center needs. Hopefully, the decisions you make and the system you implement will satisfy customers–not annoy them–and put utilities at the top on the next call center satisfaction survey. n