Welcome to the new blog of Better for Everyone, the UK call centre with intelligence, integrity and initiative based in Bradford, West Yorkshire!

The traditional call centre approach has earned the industry its awful sweatshop image and reputation for terrible customer service. I knew there was potential for something much better and that creating my own company with a better, more ethical approach to call centre services was the right thing to do.

Through this blog, we’ll keep you informed of our news and let you know our thoughts on what’s going on in the industry and in management generally, so do keep coming back.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Customer service - arrogance or ignorance? You choose.

BT, British Gas, Sky, Virginmedia & Vodafone were named and shamed this week in the findings of a survey of 5000 people across the UK into their views about 30 companies with call centres. Other major corporates featuring in the survey report include HSBC, AOL, Barclays, O2 and HMRC.

There are no real surprises when it comes to what people complained about - "the language barrier" and "call centres based abroad" were identified as one of the most infuriating aspects of call centres. And consumers said they hated the use of automated systems and having to answer numerous security questions as well as being passed from pillar to post and needing to repeat themselves.

There were no good guys coming out of the survey, either – banks and retailers seemed to come out just as bad as the communications and utility companies! But BT really took the top prize – the survey found that BT was almost twice as bad as second place British Gas when dealing with issues and complaints, even being accused of leaving callers on hold or struggling to get through its automated system to make complaints. And BT came top for longest holding times, with 18% of people complaining about the company!!.

The managing director of BT's consumer division was quick to dismiss the findings of the survey as “twaddle”, explaining that BT’s own “extensive surveys” demonstrated customers were far more satisfied! He even went on to brag that "the time it takes BT customers to get through to an adviser has dropped by 65 per cent over the last year and is now 32 seconds on average.” And that "customer complaints have reduced by over 40 per cent in the last year.”

Blimey – if they think that’s good, how bad was their service last year!

Unfortunately, however, as we can see from this survey, BT is not in isolation in the customer service hall of shame…

Maybe it’s time the senior people in responsible for the dire state of service offered by call centres became aware of what really matters to their customers’ and encouraged their call centre managers to focus on serving the customers they exist to look after instead of managing staff targets, using fantastic new technology to deflect their calls or sending calls to offshore call centres just to save a few quid.

But such a fundamental mindshift would take a strong, confident and magnanimous leader – after all, they’d have to admit they got it wrong, before they could improve things.

So, this blogger wonders if the repeated denial of any problem is a sign of corporate arrogance or corporate ignorance… or even worse, a bit of both?

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Observer needs Caulking!

After 16 years this week's column in The Observer by Management Editor Simon Caulkin was the last. I understand this is a decision made by management at The Observer as a cost-cutting measure…

If you’ve never read Simon’s brilliant yet appropriate and relevant column, then you really don’t know what you’ve been missing! Simon has written about ideas this blogger holds dear – indeed his column has been a must for anyone who understands that traditional management ways of thinking have largely created the mess the economy is in! His column has always been a refreshing and insightful read that appealed yet was relevant across the political spectrum, both public and private sectors, as well as different industries.

I am dismayed and disappointed by The Observer's bizarre decision to axe this column. And I’m not alone in my thinking… over the last weekend, over 50 distinguished signatories (including little old me!) gathered to produce not just a letter of protest to the powers that be at The Observer, but also an earnest recommendation that they reinstate Simon’s column as a matter of urgency!

The letter, signed by a diverse group - ranging from entrepreneurs, SMEs, management consultancies, large corporations, academia and renowned authors across the globe was sent to the editorial team at The Observer this morning and we await their response.

In the meantime, we’ve set up groups named “The Observer needs Caulking!” on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

This column must continue. Please show your support by joining these groups and posting your comments for all to see!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Q - Do call centres face increasing competition from the web? A - Only if they're not very good...

In a recorded message played to attendees to the Call North West conference this week, Beverly Hughes MP said that call centres face increasing competition from the web.

At first glance, this observation might seem a bit left field, but on reflection I think she could have a point…

I was talking recently to a contact of mine about call centres, specifically a well known UK bank. This company is one people used to always recommend (yes, you can probably guess who it was). I probed a bit deeper when she said their service was always excellent… After all, having seen a fly on the wall documentary on TV that featured that bank not so long ago, I figured that their new increased focus on individual staff achieving sales targets and throwing squidgy toys at colleagues on the phone to a complaining customer to improve staff morale might not be conducive to a fantastic customer experience…

I was disappointed, but not surprised, then, when the lady explained that she mostly dealt with them over the internet…. I guess then, there’s nothing that can go wrong - if you do it yourself, you do it right first time…

On that basis, then, I can understand where call centres could face competition from the web… Computers can replace transactional relationships (and save the companies money), but they can’t replace everything. Sometimes as customers we need to talk to someone, have a dialogue – after all business is about people, how they interact with you, how well they respond to the demands you place on them and the value they create in serving you… if we get to the stage where we only stick with businesses because their online capability works for us, then there is no longer any customer loyalty or value in our brands.

Yet ironically, that’s where the call centre can come into its own – by creating value and building long term and sustainable customer relationships and brand loyalty.

Unfortunately, so many companies miss this trick… they spend so much time in call centres focusing on targets and silly games to motivate their teams, that they forget the very customers they exist to serve. What businesses need to do is to start looking at the world through their customers eyes, design their processes to meet the demands their customers place on them, whilst encouraging their staff to take the time to do things right first time.

If they did this, then they’d find they could really make a difference to their reputation and the loyalty of their customers…. Now does that sound like a good idea, or what?