Call centers, properly organized and directed, can be a tremendous asset with regard to increasing customer loyalty. My concept of call centers, indeed of customer service and support in general, has long been oriented toward considering it/making it a profit contributor, like Marketing or Sales, rather than a cost of doing business.
Most outsourced call centers, and most of the corporate call centers with which I come in contact, specialize in what I call 'reactive' relationships with customers. They function by responding to emails, letters, telephone calls, etc. The more advanced are involved in online service and interaction.
While the best of them may help enhance customer equity by positively handling complaints, questions, and other issues, the most effective relationship with customers through call centers is both proactive and reactive.
What do I mean by proactive? Well, for one, proactive customer support operations don't wait for complaints to be registered. Even in B2B service situations, there's a tendancy for customers to be reticent about making complaints. In B2C situations, the percentages are very low. Registered complaints are not cross-sectionally representative. They may be used to correct problems which don't contribute to customer loyalty. What's needed here is proactive, or unexpressed, complaint generation.
Call centers can be integral players in maintaining the Customer Information System. They do their traditional job of fielding inquiries and complaints, but they also record every such interaction. These are reactive data examples. Proactive data examples include research among prospective, current, and former customers, solicited complaints, participation in cross-functional customer information teams, etc.
Staff should be trained and incented to provide optimum value to customers, and, as in companies like MBNA, they should know how their efforts are impacting customer loyalty.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it has offered some direction.
For more information, read these articles by Michael Lowenstein:
Customer Complaints: The Whole Enchilada
Why aren't customer complaints more effective?
The loyalty power of 'customer first' teams
Related Q&A from Michael Lowenstein, VP and Senior Consultant, Customer Loyalty Management, Harris Interactive
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