Three Concepts for Excellence in Contact Centers

Headset with a microphone

Using contact centers to deliver digital services is an emerging area in government. Due to the growth of online services, centers receive more attention and represent an important touch point for customers.

When you need to speak directly with someone to get help or resolve an issue, it must be a good experience. This reflects on all channels associated with that brand.

Timeliness of resolving your problem, question or request.

Provide context so customers can understand what to expect and why. Use explanatory statements to explain a process and set clear expectations. There’s a big difference between: “I need to place you on hold for no longer than 1 minute so I can research your question further” and “Please hold.”

To understand the customer experience better, GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies collaborated with JD Power and Associates on a comprehensive operational assessment of our National Contact Center (1-800-FED-INFO). We also implemented independent customer satisfaction surveys across our telephone, web chat, and email contact channels.

This exercise provided us with an “outside in” analysis of our contact center operations and customer experience as seen through the eyes of the customer and from a leader in the industry.

We received valuable, actionable results.

Three core concepts I learned that are applicable across the board:

1. You cannot be all things to all people. Customer satisfaction is your customer’s perception of your performance versus what they expect it to be. This sounds so simple, but we learned that it isn’t. We sell our services one way, so the customer expects that service level. Makes sense.

In the example we analyzed, we tell our customers that we are “government made easy” and that we can answer their questions about government programs and services. This is true, but not all the time. In many cases, we cannot answer the specific question and we must refer them to other agencies who can best meet their needs.

So, in the end, did we really satisfy our customer? Not really. Did we really make it easier? Not really. The reality is that there are times when the customer must do more work on their part to resolve their question.

Lesson learned: Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Be clear about what is in your control and what is not. In this case, we cannot be “all things to all people.” We often serve as a “navigator” to government-wide information. Our website is a “gateway” to government information, but it doesn’t contain everything, and it is not always as easy to navigate as we say it is.

2. Customers expect service representatives to be prompt and timely, provide context, and to show concern.

Express concern when a situation they describe is difficult or the question cannot be answered. “You have an excellent question Mr. X. I’m so sorry that we do not have all the information you need to best help you. I’ve researched a bit further, and I’d like to provide you with the name, phone number and web address of X to help you further.”

Better yet, “warm transfer” them if you’re able and your technology supports it. If a customer describes a difficult situation that has caused them to reach out to you, “I’m so sorry you’ve experienced difficulty changing your address after your recent move, let me see how I can best help you today.”

3. Customers expect the following from an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system: Simplicity. Keep menu options short with most popular options readily available. Simplify option descriptions. Use plain language. Consider natural language options if you have the technology.

Give the option to speak to someone. Customers get frustrated when they have to wade through a long IVR and figure out how to reach a person. If customer experience matters to you, give them an option to speak to a representative versus driving them away in frustration.

Learn more about customer experience: Check back in a couple weeks, when we’ll share the lessons we learned from JD Power on our web chat and email channels. And in the meantime, share your insight with us in the comments section.