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Top Financial Call Center Hires for Service, Trains for Skill

In business for more than 140 years, F&C Investments today handles investment trusts for some 180,000 customers from its UK Direct branch, with some 17,000 calls handled by its call centers each month. And, as the top-rated company in the U.K. Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service benchmarking program, the company can boast that its customers are pretty happy with the service they’re getting. That’s a pretty big boast for a company that outsources its contact center.

Call Center Benchmark Study Demonstrates Direct Impact of Outstanding Service on Sales

Outstanding customer service has a direct impact on improved sales and customer retention, as well as brand perceptions and trust. These are the findings of a major new call center industry benchmarking report, commissioned by the UK’s Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service, to find out how their customers and the general public think call centers are performing.

The study, which ranks call centers according to their customer service performance, found that the call centers that ranked in the top 10 achieved more than double the level of customer satisfaction compared to the bottom 10. Half of customers of the top ten call centers were "extremely satisfied" compared to just 20% in the bottom 10, against an overall average of 33% among all of the Top 50 call centers.

The study concludes that satisfied customers have a direct impact on the bottom line: Customers of the top 10 call centers were more than twice as likely to make a repeat purchase than those in the bottom 10; 38% of callers to the top 10 call centers were extremely likely to use the organization again, compared to just 17% among those in the bottom 10.

In addition, 39% of callers to the top 10 call centers were "extremely likely to recommend" the organization, compared to just 15% for the bottom 10. The top 10 performing call centers are also almost twice as likely to enhance perception and trust, with 56% saying the call enhanced their trust of the brand, compared to just 32% for the bottom 10. Furthermore, 66% of callers to the top 10 said that brand perceptions were enhanced, compared to 37% amongst the lowest-ranked call centers.

The good news is that the Top 50 continues to grow, with companies that participate showing increased performance year over year. That means there are more companies pushing performance in their contact centers to drive sales and customer retention.

F&C decided in 2004 to set up a full-time contact center for the business, but the company’s management team was quick to recognize that, although F&C knows investments, it didn’t know contact centers. So, the company’s directors set out to enlist a partner – not to cut costs, but to deliver exceptional customer service.

Outsourcing for the Right Reasons

To deliver on that service promise to customers, F&C management realized it would have to work closely with the outsourcer so that agents would know who they were representing and to instill in them the financial firm’s philosophy of putting the customer first. An F&C-branded environment surrounds F&C agents within the outsourcing operation, but the process truly begins at the recruitment stage.

"We recruit on attributes rather than knowledge," says Cheryl Robertson, director of retail client services for F&C. "We don’t want someone who’s doing this as part of a summer job, or something casual." F&C agents are recruited based on their skills in customer service, and technical training is part of the company’s investment in their career. Every recruit is invited to undergo training in investments so that they can inform customers appropriately. In return for investments in training, F&C expects true commitment from its agents.

F&C also supports its agents with knowledge-delivering technology. A suite of software gives agents access to all customer information, including the details of their last contact with F&C, making each contact instantly more personal for the customer. While this fosters loyalty, access to such customer information also means that agents’ jobs are easier and less stressful – it also means calls are likely to be shorter and less costly to the company.

F&C wasn’t looking to cut costs by going to an outsourcer; it simply wanted the expertise and experience offered by a company that has built its business on contact center service. "Call centers weren’t our core business," says Robertson. "It was a strategic imperative to outsource because we simply couldn’t sustain the levels of service in house."

And it turned out to be a very smart move. This is the second year that F&C has led the U.K. Top 50 pack. The firm can also tout that 30% of new customers join because of personal recommendations, which it attributes – at least in part – to the customer service experience it delivers through its outsourced contact center.