Businesses have always recognised the positive contribution that customer service can make to their success. Some of the biggest brands in the world are as famous for this part of their operation as they are for their products. The reputational advantage of great customer service is impossible to overstate. Combine that kind of service with a smart, versatile, secure payment method and you have a winning formula.
However, while traditional elements of customer service are rightly prized, the call centre has for many years endured a negative image. That is true of both the businesses that run them and the consumers who use them. Before we can look at ways of turning this modern business phenomenon into a revenue generator, we need to see what's behind this erroneous image.
The Perception of the Call Centre
For businesses, the call centre is an essential channel for taking customer payments, but beyond that, it can often appear to be a cost centre which adds only marginal benefit. You can measure the processing of transactions in financial terms but the customer service elements, both before and after sales, appear simply to occupy the time of your call centre operatives with little or no appreciable return.
Part of the reason for this perception may be that a customer support centre has a dedicated workforce which is often separate from other marketing and sales operations. In a bricks and mortar store, staff shift departments and swap roles so the discrete costs of customer service are harder to identify. With a telephone team, the expenses are clear: payroll, supervision, communications technology and office space. It's hardly surprising that businesses see this as a drag on profits when conventional wisdom suggests that call centres of any kind are designed to deal with customers as quickly as possible, keeping contact to a minimum and cost-per-call as low as possible.
In many ways, the consumer's experience is coloured by the attitude of the business. When an individual phones your company with an enquiry, a complaint or simply a request for advice, their experience will be entirely negative if their impression is that they are an inconvenience to be fobbed off as quickly as possible with little or no empathy and an unsatisfactory outcome. When a business undervalues telephone customer service in this way, it will influence the customer. Immediately, the reputation of the business takes a hit, not least because that dissatisfied customer is far more likely to tell others about their experience if it is bad than if it is good. In these days of online reviews, consumers are surprisingly energetic in taking to the internet to voice their dissatisfaction.
A 2022 survey conducted by the international marketing company Bright Local  discovered that 77% of consumers regularly consult reviews before purchasing goods or services and 40% will leave negative reviews after a bad experience. On average it takes 10 positive online reviews to persuade a consumer to spend money with a company. Every negative review sets that objective back.
The Potential of the Call Centre
The customer contact centre doesn't need to be any of these things. It can be a source of considerable advantage to both businesses and consumers. In many ways, it is the public face of your company. Websites, social media accounts, marketing campaigns and PR strategies are all extremely important in building your brand identity and visibility, but however sophisticated your use of these resources, human interaction remains irreplaceable.
In the UK, phone banking was pioneered by First Direct in 1989 and it remains in the top 10 for customer experience over 30 years later , despite the rise of online banking. Why? Because websites still can't match the effectiveness of the human touch. This is the perfect illustration as to how exceptional customer care can contribute to a brand's success.
If your business already uses or you are thinking of adopting telephone payments, then you are halfway to having the infrastructure in place for a first-class customer service offer. Instead of paying staff purely to handle enquiries, you have an in-built profit centre which can support your customer service programme. With a combination of call-handlers and the extensive technological tools now available, you can not only boost your reputation but also increase your revenue.
Taking payments on the phone
Phone payments are the perfect way of establishing contact with your customers. For many people, they are also the preferred method of paying for goods and services, because they are perceived to be secure. The idea that a live agent is in control of the transaction is reassuring, where a completely automated system feels impersonal and possibly unreliable. This perception might not be justified but it should be taken into account. If the customer prefers to talk to someone, then regardless as to the digital or automated resources the agent might be using to process the transaction, it is the customer's feeling that matters. Equally, it is far more efficient for a business to conclude a transaction in one event, on the phone, rather than directing the customer to a website in order to make payment.
It is important that whichever phone payment system you choose (also known as a virtual terminal system) that it complies with all major international regulations regarding remote payments, chiefly the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) but also the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) among others. Any business that uses a secure payment solution is not required to establish their own compliance credentials. On the face of it, you are collecting and processing data which falls under these and other regulations but your secure payment solution provider fulfils all your legal obligations.
The Essential Properties of a Customer Contact Centre
At the heart of this is the matter of trust. There is no escaping the fact that consumers trust people more than they are ever likely to trust machines. A well-trained, efficient customer service team can deal with customer queries to everyone's satisfaction. But it doesn't happen without planning, training and constant monitoring.
Consider the cycle of frustration caused by poor telephone service. The customer calls for information or help. The agent takes their details - name, number, email, possibly letters from a password - and inputs them into their automated phone system. The agent asks them the nature of their query and puts the customer on hold. On-hold music plays. The agent comes back on the line to say the customer needs another department and transfers them. On-hold music plays again. The second agent comes on the line and asks for the same personal and security details. They ask the customer the nature of their query and when the customer tells them the second agent apologises and tells them they have been transferred in error. The caller is put on hold while the second agent transfers them. On-hold music plays again.
How long is it likely to take before the caller hangs up in frustration? Most of us will have been through a comparable experience and we know how it makes us feel about the company.
It really doesn't have to be this way. If a business takes its telephone support service seriously, it will use everything at its disposal to prevent this from happening. Not just because it is discourteous and unprofessional but because it is potentially damaging.
Every business must treat its customer contact centre as an opportunity. It should not be a burdensome obligation to be treated and resourced as an after-thought but a vital form of passive marketing. As we've already touched upon, combining a phone payment system with customer care is a smart strategy and it isn't hard to get it right. With a versatile, advanced payment processing system such as that provided by Paytia, you can collect income in real-time and generate lucrative future business.
Firstly, you need well-trained, motivated people with a strong customer service ethic, empathetic communication skills and diplomacy. With that as a given, you also need to explore all the possibilities of technology.
Growing Your Customer Base
A well developed, technologically empowered customer care service is a powerful tool for customer attraction and retention. The moment when a potential customer phones your call centre is a golden opportunity because at this first point of contact, the future of the relationship is unwritten. Before they have even made a purchase, you have the chance to impress, engage and persuade. Convert that call into a sale and the customer could become a permanent one if the conversation is properly handled. If the sale is achieved in spite of rather than because of the service they receive, it is unlikely to be repeated
According to surveys conducted by Access Development, the American merchant network, more than 52% of customers give up on a business if they receive poor customer service. The consulting firm Invesp discovered that a business that increases customer retention by just 5% can increase its profits by anything from 25% to 95% . It also costs significantly less to keep a customer than to attract a new one.
Cross-Selling and Up-Selling
Sales and service are complementary. Customers expect both and this is creating shifts in consumer behaviour which make customer loyalty, founded on the relationship with businesses, a central currency in driving business success. Just as increasing numbers of people are drawn to companies which openly support and pursue policies of social justice, environmental responsibility and inclusion, so too are they realising that they do not have to tolerate poor customer service. A business that under-estimates this does so at its peril.
The customer support centre is a perfect forum to develop the relationship with the customer and leverage the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell. If your customer feels appreciated and trusts the agent on the other end of the phone, then it is a great deal easier to introduce them to products and services which might not have been on their mind when they called but which they are quite happy to hear about and consider. Immediately a customer support call is transformed into a sales opportunity.
This is often called the 'hidden channel', which leverages the 'sales through service' model. Because you are already talking to a receptive customer, this is a long way from cold-calling and hard sell. It is also highly effective. A report from McKinsey revealed that a decade ago, the vast majority of businesses in the retail banking and communications sectors had not even considered the revenue-generating potential of inbound customer service centres. Now those sectors are driving new revenues from this hidden channel of 25% and 60% respectively . The report goes on to confirm that a satisfactory outcome to the caller's enquiry makes them happy to hear about other offers that might be relevant to their needs.
Customer service can also play an important role in both the planning of marketing strategies and product development. While you can gather a certain amount of information about customer preferences and behaviour with tools such as website forms and post-transaction surveys, there is a special value in the kind of feedback that customer service agents can collect from callers. Ticking boxes and giving ratings from 1 to 5 on webpages can only reveal so much. In a conversation, people can be encouraged to open up and be expansive about their experience, their priorities and their requirements. This is very valuable data which can help your business perfect both your products and your customer service, both of equal importance for growth and sustained success.
So next time you look at your budgets and find yourself wondering how to justify the costs of your customer contact centre team, remember that not all the answers are in those numbers. Customer service - the hidden channel - can be a major generator of income. By inviting customers to pick up the phone and make a purchase, you are opening a door and issuing a very warm welcome which can lead to the perfect outcome of a very satisfied, returning customer and another boost to your revenue.
Read more on taking card payments by phone