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Customer service made a giant leap when companies began employing sophisticated communication technology that managed large call volume with ease. In turn, call centers expanded the service availability beyond normal business hours, while automated messages allowed access 24/7.
Launching a Call Center - Large, Small, or Not at All?
Call centers can be as simple as a single phone line manned by a couple of shift employees or as sophisticated as technically complex or geographically dispersed call management systems.
High volume call center situations require careful coordination of the total investment with the appropriate service level. For example, a system that provides an average of three minutes of hold time 80 percent of the day and an average of eight minutes of hold time 20 percent of the day (during peak load times) may well meet company objectives.
Companies looking to implement call centers should understand and evaluate critical factors such as:
Upon completing a detailed evaluation, business owners may then determine the most efficient measures to improve customer service as well as reduce company costs. Call center software can run into the millions of dollars, so a thorough assessment is critical to gain cost-effective results.
Conversely, small to midsize companies may find that call center software available on today's market does meet their customer service needs while remaining within budgetary parameters. When setting up an in-house center, industry experts say the following considerations are critical:
Given the intricacies of launching an in-house operation, a company decision-maker may find it simpler to outsource this aspect of the business. Nevertheless, an off-site center may still become the customer's main point of contact, so careful selection is a must. Potential call centers should demonstrate:
Call Center Courtesy
Although the call-center concept may extend to a variety of designs and models, it's important to note that a consistent message on the part of staff provides the foundation for proactive customer service on every level. Call center employees define a caller's perception of the company, so hiring and keeping quality personnel is a must. To this end, all new hires should show commitment to the organization's mission and goals.
The knowledgeable business owner will emphasize these maxims when screening and training employees for an in-house set-up:
A Script for Success
When developing the actual script, it's a good idea to incorporate several standard fundamentals for maximum effectiveness:
No matter how polite a call center staff is, the occasional irate customer does come along. Let employees know that they:
Since call centers are product/service-driven, business owners should assure that staff members check the "pulse" of the customer soon after each transaction. Random follow-up calls, or mailed evaluations, should be part of every call center's routine. After all, feedback is essential to catching problems or improving performance. Scripted questions can include:
Call Center Refunds: Upfront Policies, Satisfied Customers
The point of sale - or follow-up call - is not necessarily the final interaction with a customer. Questions or complaints about service or billing may continue long after the product leaves the premises. For this reason, when customers wish to return items purchased over the phone, the business, like any brick and mortar facility, must have a clear return policy in place. Doing so will both protect the vendor against fraudulent returns and offer the customer a reliable mechanism to return unwanted goods.
A return policy is product-driven and set by the individual business and may also be subject to the applicable state law. Return policies can include cash refunds, credit, exchange or no refund at all. Special or custom orders, sale, close-out or clearance items may not include a refund option.
In a retail store, refund policies are posted at the cash register. Online sale refund policies are posted on the business's website, but telephone orders need a verbal statement at the point of sale and/or sent to the customer with the merchandise.
Questions to address in a refund policy include:
Special considerations to reduce customer inconvenience in making a return:
The objective is to have a return policy that the customer can understand. When a company keeps the process clear-cut on both sides, the customer usually remains a loyal patron - and the business likely can reduce added costs.