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Expert's Angle: In a Virtual World, the Geography of Your Callers Still Matters

As advancements in technology and communications continue to encompass our everyday lives, it might seem that we are now living in a completely virtual world. High-speed Internet is widely available, and communication tools such as text messaging, email, teleconferencing, video chat and social media have made people more accessible to each other than ever before. It is tempting to believe that where we are physically located – both as a business and as a customer – no longer matters in the grand scheme of communicating with one another. This same philosophy can be applied to the call center.

Today, many call centers operate from multiple sites throughout the world - a perpetual, multinational drumbeat of customer service.

Virtual vs. Physical Call Centers

From a technology perspective, having a virtual presence can be a good thing. Virtual telephony enables call distribution across various locations, enabling better business continuity. Cloud based technology mitigates hardware failure and helps keep the most accurate information available on demand.

From a customer service standpoint however, the location of the caller provides vital information. The geographic footprint that outlines an organization’s customer base highlights telling data.

Though the world is smaller (thanks to the better communication) and substantially more virtual than it was 20 years ago, geography still matters. Examples are everywhere: banks have physical branches, cable companies provide a service hardwired into homes and businesses and even wireless phone and Internet carriers utilize local towers. Insurance companies continue to rely on extensive, local agent networks. Even Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, relies heavily on elaborate, location-based delivery networks.

Caller Location is Useful, Yet Ignored

Companies are often out of touch with the physical locations of their callers. None of our teams at Crescendio have encountered an established caller geography awareness initiative at any of the inbound centers where they have worked. Furthermore, in the resources reviewed for this article, not one of these same call centers have mentioned making any effort to relating callers to their geography. There were however, a myriad of resource articles that correlated location to marketing effectiveness. Inside the call center, the primary focus has been on metrics (i.e. average handle time, abandon rate, first-call resolution and average speed of answer).

Call center personnel are continuously educated on new and existing products and services. Agents are also provided with detailed information that enables them to troubleshoot a deluge of inquiries in the event of a lapse of service or an outage.
Agents are also trained on the idiosyncrasies of relevant location-related customer information, such as rate plans, which may have restrictions based on geographic considerations.
Even with all this insight and training, management seldom reviews the geographic location of the initiating caller. The false assumption is that all contact centers are virtual and locations – for the customer and the call center - no longer matter.

The reality is that location still matters. The volume of calls received by a customer service department is also relevant data. These numbers, good or bad, act as a reflection of the service being provided.
Steps can be taken to unearth the valuable information that lies in researching customer location. It requires some digging but the intelligence gathered will prove invaluable both with current projects and future initiatives.

Possible Next Steps

The following steps are potential methods that an organization can implement in order to gain a better handle on caller geography with limited investment of time and resources.

Identify where callers reside. This can be accomplished by linking telephony information to customer relationship management (CRM) software and then be used to perform an analysis of caller geography to more definitively pinpoint a customer’s account address. If CRM data cannot be linked to customer calls, then an analysis using automatic number identification (ANI) - an enterprise telephony version of caller ID- should be conducted.

According to several studies by the Pew Research Center, although areas codes are declining in relevance, they still accurately relate to location roughly 80 percent of the time. With this understanding, a company could identify the top 10 area codes and the top 50 zip codes that call into the call center. Either method should ascertain the same geographic area(s).

Keep the caller in mind when training staff. Call center agents are expected to provide expert knowledge regarding their company’s suite of products and offerings. With some planning, agents can also be equipped to address service issues that periodically arise per geographic location.

For example, a bank may offer two different types of accounts: one for customers residing in Texas and one for customers in New York. The Texas account seems to go over well but the New York product is rife with problems, and results in a high call volume for the bank’s call centers. Educating the agents on both of these offerings may help improve the overall customer experience.

Examine the caller base against a customer base. For example, if five percent of a company’s customers reside in the state of Florida, what percent of the firm’s callers are from Florida?

Create a caller "heat map." Areas with a higher proportion of callers than customers should be coded in one color, while areas with a lower proportion of callers relative to customers are assigned a different hue. This analysis will provide insight into the ideal hours of operation for the center per location.

Internal sharing of information between Operations, Marketing and Product Development. The information gathered by the call center from these steps can then be disseminated to various departments to maximize understanding about customer vs. caller location. The marketing division alone would garner added insight with everything from surveys and questionnaires to promotions and advertising collateral.

In conclusion, from a customer service standpoint, the location of your customers still provides vital information to the call center and for your organization – even if your center is virtual.

Andrew Studee is the Managing Director of Crescendio, LLC, a management consulting firm that partners with clients to provide superior customer experience and streamline business operations.