THE BLOG

3 Things Call Centers Can Unlock from Uber

05/07/2015 01:27 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016

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Each day, American consumers conduct a quarter of a billion conversations with call center agents to address a variety of service needs. And yet, according to research from the Corporate Executive Board, any call center interaction is four times more likely to create customer disloyalty than loyalty.

Now, juxtapose this with Uber, the popular ride service company. Uber facilitates a million rides per day via its mobile app for - by most accounts - a rabidly loyal customer base. How is it that a 4-year-old startup that employs roughly the same labor base as call centers is able to get it so right?

The heart of the issue is that the call center industry has not adapted quickly enough to a profound change in consumers over the past several years. Today's consumers are spoiled by breathtakingly simple user experiences on their mobile devices. These experiences - whether provided by the likes of Uber, Tinder, Instagram or Google Maps - are consistent, enjoyable and reactive.

Call centers, on the other hand, are so bogged down by arcane processes that they often get in their own way of delivering anything close to a delightful experience. To truly serve the modern consumer, call centers should take a page from Uber and embrace components of app design in their service delivery.

Select My Service
Uber does something brilliant in terms of how it manages inventory and latency. It shows users all of the nearby cars on a map and allows users to pick the level of service they wish to receive based on what's important to them (price, wait time, luxury). Lines suck. And nobody likes to wait. So, by giving the power of choice to the customer, Uber solves its capacity issue while simultaneously delighting the customer.

The same capacity constraints apply to call centers. Forward-thinking leaders in the industry ought to consider modeling their automated greetings after Uber and empower customers to decide what is important to them: wait times; being paired with an agent who is matched to their personality; or even "white-glove" concierge service.

Share My ETA
Another opportunity call centers must address is that of context. Try to think of the user experience like a book, where some parties only know what preceded the current page, while others only know what comes next. Uber's "share my ETA" feature does an excellent job of taking the uncertainty and effort out of communicating arrival times to friends and family.

Unfortunately, call centers have a lot of work to do when it comes to making customers contextually aware of where they are within the journey. And much of the customer friction is evidenced by frequent callbacks to solve downstream problems that they assumed were already addressed. By communicating how everything interrelates, people are much more likely to understand where they are in the problem solving process and what comes next.

Rate My Ride
The 5-star prompt at the end of each Uber ride is perfect in its simplicity. Users love giving feedback that doesn't require work and the feedback is assigned to the specific driver and ride experience, versus Uber as a company. Uber is able to achieve consumer participation and can easily pinpoint specific areas of improvement.

Imagine if call center surveys worked this way. The traditional after call survey fails the modernization test in several regards: it's time consuming, intrusive, and assigns feedback generically as opposed to specifically. It's no wonder that the acceptance rate on call center surveys is less than 2 percent. Tying customer feedback to the unique interaction would help make it a conversation rather than a monologue.

American companies invest $1 trillion per year into their call centers, making it the most significant touch point of the customer relationship. Yet, according to soon-to-be released research by Mattersight, less than 10 percent of consumers actually want to pick up the phone when they have a problem. And 75 percent of consumers say they feel frustrated after speaking with an agent, even if their problem was solved.

It's as though consumers have become conditioned to treat the call center the same way they treat going to urgent care in the middle of the night - they dread it, but there simply isn't another option. To fix this, the call center industry should be encouraged to prioritize elements of app design that today's consumers expect, over managing employees by stopwatch. By being consistent, clear, and reactive with callers on where they are in the journey, call centers can actually deliver on the promise to serve.