If Companies Care About Word of Mouth, Why Aren’t They Improving Their Call Centers?

If you can bear to read the meme-saturated twaddle of what Popken likes to call a “marketing douchebag”, Peter Blackshaw asks a crazy question: if companies are so interested in reaching out to their customers by having them make their ads and feel more involved in the business, why aren’t they paying any attention at all to the shameful service of their call centers?

On the flip side we have the consumer affairs department, the neglected stepchild of the organization. It’s usually stereotyped as the non-strategic cost center backwater where rowdy and atypical consumers direct complaints. The name of the game is operational efficiency. This group is rewarded by finding vendors that reduce the need to add more consumers to the database by creating FAQ engines and reducing time spent with each consumer.

Can You Say Disconnect?

Here’s the rub: consumer affairs is the most intimate feedback pipe to the same vocal consumers marketers are struggling to reach, understand, and leverage. At a time when marketers, in the name of entering the conversation, keep getting slapped, dogpiled, and embarrassed by clumsily stepping into hostile conversational territory, consumer affairs may well be the most controllable lever to manage today’s vocal, active, and influential consumers.

Why? Because the consumers most likely to express their feelings directly to brands are the same folks who create media (opinions, product reviews, blog posts, photos, homemade videos, podcasts) and post them on the Internet for other like-minded consumers to see, read, and share. The gold is actually right under marketers’ nose.

For us, actual consumers, the sentences of these few short paragraphs could as easily be punctuated with ‘No duh’ as it currently is with periods. If you listen to the customers who actually call you, try to help them with their problems, you’ll engage them more in your business. It’s refreshing to read a marketer figure out what we’ve known all along.

Word of Mouth Begins With Consumer Affairs [Clickz.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Jeff Liu says:


    “Customers complained workers didn’t know Southampton from Westhampton. And North Fork’s reputation as a neighborhood bank suffered.

    So Kanas brought the jobs back to Long Island, adding $2 million a year to his expenses.”

  2. KevinQ says:

    I think Brownlee’s post about trying to buy a laptop from Apple demonstrated why people get passionate about Apple. I’ve had to call Apple once or twice with service issues, and the people I talked to were always very friendly and helpful. This makes me much more likely to encourage people to buy from them in the future.

    Companies that focus on good after-sale interactions encourage their customers to recommend their products.


  3. theora55 says:

    Yesterday, I tried to place an Amazon order yesterday. Despite everything being eligible for free shipping, there was a shipping charge. I chose not to place the order, so I had no order #. Amazon does not make their customer service email address public; they use only forms. Which require the order #.

    A little Googling found the Amazon phone number, but the representative (in the Indian subcontinent) could only *try* to place the order without shipping charges. Could not give me a direct email address for amazon customer service.

    This drives me bonkers. I’m limiting my purchases from companies that are hard to reach.

  4. theora55 says:

    oh, umm, yeah, it was just yesterday.

  5. Karmakin says:

    There are several possible reasons for this, I see.

    #1. Because companies really have no concept of word of mouth, especially in the connected age. They probably have expensive consultants who reassure them that the only thing people listen to is marketing, so lets spend more on marketing and commercials instead. (Then they get their nice kickbacks. Isn’t capitalism fun?)

    #2. Even for companies that do try to empower their contact centers with the power to both listen and resolve customer issues, the human factor comes into play.

    I’m going to put it bluntly. Phone fraud, minor and major is a HUGE problem.

    Rule #1 when working in a contact center, is “Customers lie”. Believe it or not, that’s the reality of the situation. Most people, will tell a lie. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s huge. Sometimes it’s innocent, sometimes it’s malicious. But lie they will. Why? Because they think that if they tell the truth, they won’t recieve the outcome they desire.

    That’s the problem. When people use a contact center, they don’t call and get their advice and counsel and follow it. People have an idea of what they want, and anything that gets in the way of what they want needs to go. This is a pretty thin line, of course.

    E.G. One problem that all ISP’s have, especially dial-ups, is that there’s a fair number of scammers using those services. They’ll literally break their own service, then complain and complain and complain until they get comp months, then when that’s up, break it again, rinse and repeat. This not only hurts the companies, but it hurts the consumers as well, when front-line agents have to be more questioning of what you’re telling them.

    In short? Blame it on your neighbour.