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Has anyone out there considered the impact of call centers on a company brand?

I have been considering this question, as part of looking at the interaction between call centers and marketing organizations, and the following comes to mind:

1. Companies spend considerable time and effort communicating their Brand Promise to the market yet little time and effort communicating this to call center agents.

2. Call Centers are an integral part of the Brand Image - i.e. the call center is a key vehicle through which a company's brand is conveyed to the market as part of how the agent interacts with customers. Yet I suspect that few marketing organizations adequately consider this role of the call center agents and even fewer companies prepare the agents to assume this function.

2. Call centers have the potential to be a vehicle though which a company can capture and/or measure a customer's Brand Experience - i.e the customer-agent interaction is a point in time at which a company can implicitly or explicitly measure the extent to which a customer perceives the brand experience equating the brand promise. However, most call center metrics are focused on the efficiency/productivity of the agent rather than the experience of the customer and as such the opportunity to evaluate brand experience is either forgotten or overlooked.

I would welcome your thoughts, experiences etc.

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Wilson,

The greatest experience of my life was when I joined Gateway 2000 computers in 1995 and we tackled exactly this issue. The work we did on the brand and delivering what we called the "ideal customer experience" resulted in Gateway going from the number 7 PC Manufacturer to number 2, growing at twice the industry average for 3 straight years, winning the equivalent of the JD Powr award for Customer Satisfaction 3 straight years and being named one of the top 5 brands in the US based on customer loyalty with 53% of our sales coming through referrals. I would be happy to share with you how we did it.
Very good point but one which forward thinking companies are changing.
Becoming ever increasingly popular in Australia is Notional Promoter Score (NPS) where customers are are asked how much they would recommend or promote the organisation after they have had an interaction with the call centre. Under 5 is negative , 6-8 is neutral and 9-10 is positive. By measuring the score of how much customers would actually promote the organisation gives you a measure of customer satisfaction. Obviously its much more complex than this but you get the idea. i have noticed this being introduced by organisations that are mainly call centre based or have a heavy reliance on call centres ie the marketing is already geared to the measure and promote the call centre. Traditional companies are I regret always slow to see and measure the value of their call centre.
In communicating with the call centre I again totally agree. It is one of the key 5 planks in good call centre management (I won't digress by going into those here). In one organisation where I managed their call centre my brief was to expand its call volume. Stage one was to increase the footprint across the organisation so we 'internally marketed' the product to the entire staff. In this I involved the call centre team and we offer the centre to assist the rest of the organisation with their work. instead of being locked away in a corner doing our thing we shone a light on our work and showed how it enhanced and impacted the rest of the organisation. Very soon we received more info and requests for help and soon become the ears and eyes of the organisation. Big mind shift just by opening up. involving the agents in the conversation gave them more info and a sense of worth and had a huge impact on morale.
Hope this is of use. If you need any more drop me a note
Let me address each of your points.
1. This is true but having to describe a brand is like expressing how a person should feel when eating a particular food. Branding often is viewed simply as the logo when in fact it is what the company represents. There are logos that no one knows but when you tell them the name immediately is associated with a particular value statement. In the case of call centers what does that generic brand conjure up in terms of images. For me at least, and maybe because I understand the space, it offers two things; complaints (inbound) and unwanted solicitation (outbound). Now we all know that there are many other positive messages that can occur but this is the branding loss that has taken place.
2. We have to remember that no matter how hard we want to be front stage we are an enabling business activity (you notice I refrained from using the term 'service function' although in all due respect we are). For this reason it's not about all of the things that we do to amplify the business message for the client it's about how we work as a seamless part of the clients delivery solution. In fact, the better positioning to talk about the world class nature of our call center partner is when you are working with the client on leveraging a sale. Otherwise, if placed in marketing statements it sounds like we have to have a call center because of either problems or because we are going to bug you with unsolicited phone calls.
2. (ah.. maybe 3! haha) Absolutely! The problem is as you pointed out inward operational efficiency concerns... often driven by SLAs. To really be of value a customer dash board would be a real promotion point to allow real-time insight into volumes and complaint/issue areas. Would insulate a bit of the detail so that we don't get into a micro managing situation, rather information that provides the client with information that they can use to guage performance behavior on their end (not the call center).

Hope this is of some added value. J. Durant, IIOM-Chairman (www.Int-IOM.org)

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