Thursday, July 19, 2018

What’s in a Name?

When we hear a word or phrase, the mind begins to create a concrete visual for an abstract concept so that we can make sense of the situation and behave as expected. The concrete visual for the abstract concept is based upon the individual’s understanding of a similar situation, the context for the occurrence and the circumstances surrounding the word’s utterance.  We humans associate specific word utterances with past events, rewards and/or the related punishments related to behavior exhibited. 

You might be asking, we what does this have to do with the name we used to identify the “the departments we call when, as consumers, we need support from a company from whom we purchased goods or services?  Humans use the culture’s values, beliefs and attitudes as our reference and compass to understand behavior in context. When the word we use to describe a persona, place or thing, changes, we humans, like the chameleon, must attempt to make meaning by recalling a similar context in which the word or phrase was used to create meaning. And like the chameleon, when the words or phrases used to describe an employee’s role or work environment, changes, we like the chameleon are expected to adapt. To the best of my knowledge, chameleons readily adjust to environmental changes, but they are not being renamed.

However, human beings have free will and higher thinking capabilities, and therefore when we change the words we use to describe a persona, place or thing, we are changing the context or the lens through which we understand the words meaning.  Therefore, when an employee’s role is renamed, meaning changes. Again, a chameleons has to adjust to the environment, but get to retain its name.

According to Wikipedia, “Customer service is the provision of service to the customer before, during and after a purchase” and “The perception of a successful service interaction is dependent on employees, who can adjust themselves to the personality of the guest’s Customer service concerns”.  
While researching the definition for a Call Center, I found the following on Google. “A Call Center is a centralized department to which phone calls from current and potential customers are directed”. In reviewing Wikipedia, I found their definition of Call Center stated it is “a centralized office used for receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone”. Notice that in their primary definitions for a Call Center, the word support is absent.

As you are reading Wikipedia’s definition of Customer Service and Google’s definition for Call Center, what are the images invoked in your mind? What are the behaviors you associate with the words Customer Service vs. Call Center? What is the feeling emerging from within?  More importantly, what rewards, punishments and measures are we using to describe a successful Customer Service/Call Center interaction?  As we using words or phrases that resonate with the customer and the customer service professionals called upon to exhibit behaviors that customers would rate as 10 on the “Best In Class Service Experience Scale”. When you interact with the Call Center Agents, ask them the same questions. What are the images being invoked, behaviors called forth and, what; in their minds are the rewards and punishments associated with being a Call Center Agent vs. Customer Service Representative? 

In past when I called Customer Service, I didn’t have to wait on hold, speak to multiple people, be transferred several times, nor repeat my story over and over again. When I called Customer Service, the company’s first and foremost objective was to resolve my issue during the premiere call or “provide first call resolution”-no matter how long it took. Now, anytime I have contact with a Call Center, I experience a plethora of IVR options, listened to numerous product advertisements and after 15 minutes got disconnected from the call.

Yes, we’ve changed the word we use to describe an environment that provides support to customers who have purchased goods or services. We’ve changed the moniker for those providing support to customers, from one embedded with empathy to one denoting production. The Call Center moniker tells us that “there’s no time for empathy and that what matters most is the speed in which calls are answered.  The evidence? We’re using quantitative metrics (AHT, CPH & ABD) to determine if we’re meeting our customer’s qualitative needs and this is where the dissonance occurs. I submit that if we continue to interchange the terms Customer Service and Call Center, to describe the interaction between a company and its customers, we are confusion catalysts and are intensifying the dissonance being felt by our employees and customers.

The impact of changing the name from Customer Service Representative, to Call Center Agent is in: the agent’s inability to objectively analyze data, inability to think critically about their findings and the inability to create viable solutions that are in the best interest of the customer and company.  By changing the title from Customer Service Representative, and now to Call Center Agent, we have shifted the paradigm of customer service excellence, from one of empathy, to one of automation.

Previous notions of Customer Service concepts contained natural and nurtured assumptions that were connected to familial, social and corporate mores absent of technology and social media influences.

Conceptual meaning for the abstract terms ultimately resides within the individual and therefore, what it means to experience Customer Service and call center excellence is heavily influenced, influencing, impacting and impacted by the customer’s perception which as you know varies from person to person.

We must also account for the implications that generational differences in communication styles, new have on our ability to modify behavior associated when changes are made to job titles and department names. When it comes to the words or phrases we use to describe the department we call when, as consumers need support from a company from whom we purchased goods or services we must all be aligned; regardless of who is providing the service, since excellence is defined by the customer during interaction.    What if we asked our customers, those who purchase goods or services from our company, to provide definitions of the Customer Service Representative and Call Center Agent?  Would we see a definition steeped for the Representative in empathy and compassion and the Agent in automation and speed?  I believe that the consumer would use to describe a Customer Service or Call Center would be markedly different.

However, I want to point out that throughout the decades, there is one word that has been agile, flexible and mutable unlike any other. Like the chameleon, the word 'bad' is used in multiple contexts, successfully maneuvering it’s meaning of positivity and negativity through both time and context.

What’s in a name? Ask yourself, based on the definitions used to describe the roles. With whom would you rather speak, a Customer Service Representative, or a Call Center Agent?
 “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi

Eldridge Jean Alexander is a higher education professional with broad experience in all aspects of Call Center Operations, Leadership Development, Team Building and Change Management. She has a proven track record with managing diverse employee work-groups, designing curriculum, and facilitation of training for leadership and front-line employees working in both technical and non-technical professions.

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