Raising the Bar for Call Centers and Customer Service: Brad Cleveland on Top 50

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Okay, so you know it intuitively: better service pays off. But how do you quantify it? How do you communicate that across your organization and get internal and external stakeholders on board? Most importantly, how do you put it into practice – contact-by-contact, customer-by-customer?

Top 50 Numbers, Notes, Notables

Statistics are courtesy of Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service, published by Raconteur Media and UBM Live (with contributions from other research firms):

54% - Call center agents agreeing they have a clear opportunity to progress beyond their current position, compared to 40% in prior year study.

55% - U.K. call center managers who started out as agents.

58% - Agents stating they would like to develop a long-term career in the industry.

94% - Overall “Ease of Use” scores for companies participating in Top 50, up from 92% in the prior study.

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“We are proud of the service we provide our customers through our call centres and are always looking for ways to improve upon it. Getting this right is a real competitive advantage. Listening to customer feedback is invaluable and I was delighted to hear one customer recently describe our call centres as ‘free range’ rather than ‘battery’. A very colourful way of recognising the way our call centre colleagues personalise every call and have the flexibility and knowledge to deal with customer enquiries.”

Source: Richard Doe, CEO of ING Direct, in Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service, published by Raconteur Media and UBM Live.

REAL STORIES FROM TOP 50

Take a look at these features that highlight companies who are part of the Top 50 Call Centers for Customer Service – the collaborative industry initiative launched in the U.K. and coming to North America and other regions.

As the top-rated company in the U.K. Top 50 program, 140-year old F&C Investments reels in customer accolades and ups the service ante in the brutally competitive financial services sector:  http://www.icmi.com/Resources/Articles/2010/October/Top-Financial-Call-Center-Hires-for-Service-Trains-for-Skill

Coca-Cola and Specsavers uses Top 50 to improve operations, recognition and brand (free webinar, short registration):  http://www.icmi.com/Resources/Webinars/2010/Qtr4/Focus-on-the-Customer-Experience-for-Contact-Center-Success

Here are highlights of the gala evening that revealed Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service: http://www.callcentre.co.uk/top50/gala-evening

In this interview series, industry journalist Claudia Hathaway interviews Top 50 winners: http://www.callcentre.co.uk/top50/tv

This special supplement on Top 50 call centers – which appeared in major U.K. media – gives an inside view of companies raising the bar in service delivery: http://np.netpublicator.com/netpublication/n30072607

Last September, I had the opportunity to cross the Atlantic and lead a strategy discussion among group of organizations that are part of “The U.K’s Top 50 Call Centers” – a program facilitated by ICMI’s sister company. Many are well-known brands: American Express, British Gas, Coca Cola Enterprises, Dyson, Virgin Atlantic, and the London Underground. Others are not as broadly known yet, but are enjoying robust business growth and brand reputation by using the program to push service improvements and recognize those efforts.

I found the excitement and engagement in the room was palpable. These leaders feel they are part of a collaborative effort that is raising the bar across the board. For example, Joe Keight, call center manager for P&O Ferries (Europe’s largest provider of cruise line and cross-channel ferry service), says the program has boosted the perception of the organization both with customers and internally. But he says the most startling outcome for P&O has been the impact on day-to-day operations. "We thought our calls were perfect. It wasn’t until we saw our results and listened to a really good chunk of calls that we had a bit of a eureka! moment and realized there were improvements to be made.”

What exactly is Top 50? Think of it as part benchmarking, part consulting and part recognition. The benchmarking piece is the backbone of the service – you find out exactly where you stand within your sector and within the industry (in great statistical detail!). The consulting part is an operational action plan that specifies the effects of your service on customers’ future actions. And the recognition component includes publicity in mainstream press (e.g., major papers, press releases, etc.) that boosts your reputation externally and morale internally.

This initiative truly is a collaborative effort – of, by and for the profession. But what really excites me is seeing the positive returns it is driving for those who are part of it.

A recent study commissioned by Top 50 concludes that “outstanding customer service has a direct impact upon improved sales and customer retention, as well as brand perceptions and trust.” Among the findings:

  • The top ten ranking call centers achieved more than double the level of customer satisfaction compared to the bottom ten.
  • Customers of the top ten call centers were more than twice as likely to make a repeat purchase than those in the bottom ten.
  • Twice the number of callers to top ten call centers were ‘extremely likely to recommend’ the organization, when compared to the bottom ten.
  • Half of customers of the top ten call centers were ‘extremely satisfied’ compared to just 20% in the bottom 10.
  • And, 66% of callers to the top ten said that brand perceptions were enhanced, compared to 37% among the lowest ranked call centers.


Brad Cleveland was one of two initial partners in and former longtime President and CEO of ICMI; he currently serves as Senior Advisor. A sought-after speaker and consultant, he has worked in over 60 countries, and is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward (updated edition, ICMI Press, 2006-2010). He can be reached at bcleveland@icmi.com.

Topics: Strategy & Planning, Customer Experience, People Management

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