More than anything, financial services customers want ‘their’ Call Centre to provide them with the same level of service they used to receive in the branch of their bank, building society or credit union. Some resent the necessity of having to use a Call Centre. They talk to us in group discussions about how Bank Tellers who they used to know have disappeared, leaving empty ‘stalls’ and longer queues. They tell us that the remaining Tellers/CSOs are briefed to encourage customers to use Telephone or Internet Banking more often, and the Branch less often. Even recently, some Bank Branch customers have told us that they have been encouraged to call their Bank’s Call Centre from the Branch, only to find either that the Telephone was out of order, or that the Call Centre Operators were out to lunch!
The aspect of Branch service they want maintained in Call Centre service is a personal, yet professional relationship. While that sounds simple enough to provide, many banking customers do not believe that it is well provided. (They also tell us that a personal relationship is possible with a Call Centre CSR, but is not possible with Internet Banking.)
The personal treatment Callers want is a person, not a machine; a person who is friendly, but not too familiar; a person who is pleasant, but not ‘too nice’ or ‘too saccharine’; a person who is helpful, but not too pushy; a person who is intelligent, but not too ‘smartarse’; a person who is patient, but not too patronising; and a person who is caring, but not too intrusive. And every caller wants to be made to feel important.
Better educated customers (often in white collar occupations) want a reasonably experienced and intelligent person to talk to – someone who knows as much about the subject as they do. Less well educated customers (often in blue collar occupations) lack confidence and don’t want the CSR to confound them with science, or to make them feel stupid, when they are not sure what the CSR is talking about, and this has become evident during the call. They want to be taken through things slowly and easily, and this is not always done.
The professional treatment that Callers want is someone who knows what they are talking about, and doesn’t ‘duck and weave’ on the enquiry. If the CSR sounds experienced, this gives the caller the confidence that the person they are talking to is well trained. Customers prefer someone who knows them personally, or at least who knows their details, because they possess all of these details on a computer screen. This expedites and helps to personalise the process.
The most evident sign of professional treatment that callers want is something extra and helpful offered on the call – something unexpected and not requested – which they say can be the difference between good service and great service. One example is information about a product or service they didn’t know about, but can see a clear benefit in having. This need-identification – the most effective form of cross-selling – is missing from most calls that they make.
Financial services customers want their calls to be answered quickly, and dealt with quickly (but not dismissively). Speed can be the clearest sign of Call Centre efficiency. Customers want to be treated with empathy. This includes courtesy; respect; helpfulness; friendliness; careful listening to what the caller wants or to what is being asked; instilling confidence that the CSR can help the customer; and making the customer feel wanted and important. Empathy can also be demonstrated by enthusiasm about speaking with a customer, and by recognition of the customer and his or her accounts or policies.
Callers do not want to hear an (Asian) Indian voice answering their call. This suggests to most that the Call Centre is located in India, and that the CSRs therefore have no knowledge of either local customers’ needs or no understanding of how to deal with Australians. Even if the Indian-accented CSR is located in Sydney or Melbourne, many Callers will still cut short or terminate the call. (This is an issue that is raised by respondents – without us prompting them – in just about every banking service group discussion that we conduct. Customers hold similar views if the CSR does not speak English well, regardless of the CSR’s location.)
The Financial Research Company has long ago developed and often used an inexpensive Call Centre Study which measures main reason for call; speed of answering; whether and how Caller transferred; how they rated the call on five aspects compared with calls made to others; how they rated the CSR/Operator on courtesy, understanding, knowledge, interest, helpfulness, clarity, speed, information detail and accuracy, speed of callback (if promised); overall call satisfaction; whether they were offered any extra, helpful information and whether they took any consequent action; their future purchase intentions; and their comparative rating, against competitors, of certain products and services offered by that financial institution.
(Occasionally we also conduct a mystery or ‘shadow’ shopping exercise on the Call Centres of our clients, where the interviewer rates the call on very similar criteria to those above.)