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Naughty or Nice? Call Centers Make a Difference In Consumer Ratings

Consumer Reports has released its annual "Naughty & Nice Holiday List" of companies, which includes such well-known names as American Express, Amazon, Southwest Airlines and Verizon Wireless. The contact center made a big difference for one company on the list. How could the call center have helped get more of the naughty companies on the nice list?

It's that time of year when naughty and nice really matter to Santa Claus – and to customers, according to the editors and writers of Consumer Reports. If you think about it, naughty and nice make a difference for a company’s bottom line the whole year round, and the contact center can make a difference. How?

Customers like it when you pay attention to them. Just ask customers of the clothing and sporting goods retailer Orvis. Sitting on the fly rods page on the company's retail website and can't decide between the ZG Helios 865-4 and the Clearwater II 704-4? Orvis will detect your indecision and dispatch a contact center agent to reach out to you via live chat. This proactive approach to customer self-service landed the sport retailer a place on Consumer Reports' nice list – it also likely saves a number of website sales by preventing abandons.

Customers appreciate it when you're there for them. Crutchfield, an electronics seller, provides customers with free installation, setup and around-the-clock support for as long as a customer owns the item. Obviously, Crutchfield has staffed up a technical support center and, apparently, its contact center agents know the drill for funneling customer purchase and installation information accurately and efficiently to the warehouse and dispatch centers and to the tech support lines.

Of course, being there means being proactive. Verizon Wireless uses proactive outbound messaging to notify its customers that they are on the verge of exceeding their monthly talk time and data usage limits. Customers complained that the cell phone service provider sometimes sends the messages too late, however. Verizon deserves credit for employing a contact center solution aimed at keeping accounts current (avoiding late fees for the customer and lagging payments for the company’s bottom line); but like any organization that uses this technology, Verizon’s contact center leaders need to make sure that execution of proactive outbound strategies is buttoned up to jump from the naughty list to the nice list.

Customers take bad news better when they feel like you're on their side. Video game software and hardware merchant GameStop made the naughty list for its over-zealous return policies and this brick wall of a claim: "We reserve the right to refuse any return." Most companies can't afford a return policy that's too lenient, and software/hardware is a tricky vertical for returns. What many leading organizations have found, however, is that contact center agents trained to listen and empathize with customers can take the sting out of an unsavory policy.

Empowered agents make for satisfied customers. Every customer appreciates it when a call center agent is empowered to make a judgment call on the spot to deliver satisfaction. This is a corporate strategy that must be defined and executed with extreme care, an it’s not always possible. However, consider the fact that knowledge is power, and it makes a difference for customers at American Express, REI, Costco and Microsoft. These companies made the nice list for their generous return and warranty policies, but customers likely wouldn’t be aware of them and handing out kudos if contact center agents weren’t sharing them with customers effectively.

On the subject on knowledgeable agents, RadioShack might've made the nice list if contact center agents and supervisors were on the right track. "The company acknowledges that it sometimes charges different prices for the same item," according to Consumer Reports. "When a reader shopped for an HDMI audio-video cable, the store price was nearly twice the online price. Asked why, a customer-service supervisor said he couldn’t do anything about the discrepancy, and directed the reader to the fine print on RadioShack's website." The electronics giant might generate more customer loyalty and increase customer engagement in it's online self-service offerings if agents and supervisors were trained to drive callers, chatters and emailers to the company’s lower-priced website offerings.

So there you have it: The contact center can’t move all the organizations customers rated as naughty to the nice list, but it could help many of them make the leap for the better.