Need for brand activism changes the contact centre game

How your company behaves directly affects how agents represent it to customers

Companies are no longer judged based on their marketing material. Staff and customers judge them based on their actions, big and small. The link between the way a company behaves and customers’ affiliation to the brand is clear and direct.

According to Lisa Roos, Business Development Director for Merchants, South Africa’s largest contact centre operator and business process outsourcing provider, this inevitably calls for the contact centre, which is at the sharp end of delivering customer experience, to be an integral part of the organisation’s brand activism.

“At an obvious level, this means that contact centre agents must go beyond being employees to becoming brand activists. But getting to that point is not necessarily an obvious process. You can’t teach brand activism. It arises naturally from voluntary commitment to a brand, triggered by the integrity of the way a brand behaves.

“If you like a brand, you’ll talk about it with enthusiasm and you’ll represent it accurately. To like it, however, you have to respect the way it treats you and the world at large. Its behaviour must be consistent with what it promises.

“This doesn’t mean that all companies have to promise the same thing. It simply means knowing what you are, as an organisation, and then being that. If you are all about low prices, then it makes no sense to throw extravagant office parties at expensive venues with top end gifts and pricey entertainment.

“Your staff will mistrust the inconsistency and, as a consequence, be hesitant in promising to customers what they don’t believe the company delivers. By the same token, if your brand promise is founded on high value, then giving your staff cheap t-shirts at the Christmas party undermines the integrity of your brand.

“Driving brand loyalty is not difficult. It simply requires consistency. And it’s the consistency that will enable your contact centre agents to believe in your organisation and, therefore, become brand activists.”

Building blocks of consistency

Achieving consistency is a matter of putting small but essential organisational elements in place. These include treating both your agents and your customers fairly.

“When it comes to treating your customers fairly, no agent is going to live up to the ethos of putting the customer first and not letting customers off the line until their issue is resolved unless that agent believes absolutely that your organisation as a whole puts the customer first,” Roos says. “Why should an agent do what you won’t?”

Treating agents fairly includes enabling them to love their workplace and their jobs.

The generation of young people from which most contact centres draw their agents has a high social ethic. Merchants’ experience, derived from more than 30 years of operating contact centres for both local and international clients and, in the process, managing 4 000 seats, shows that agents are not motivated purely by financial or career incentives.

They want to work for organisations that invest in the community and protect the environment. They will leave organisations they believe to be lacking in social principles.

“Of course agents want to earn good money and have opportunities to grow as people and employees,” Roos says. “And, in South Africa, where jobs are scarce and many young contact centre agents are taking care of extended families, there is tremendous appreciation of companies that do own contact centres and, thereby, create jobs.

“But, that doesn’t mean they will accept unpleasant working conditions or sell products and services they don’t believe in.”

Harnessing the social network

Understanding this is even more important in the context of the highly networked society in which most young people now function. The lines between home and work are blurring. For instance, Merchants agents frequently participate on weekends in their client’s online forums – or repost brand news on their private social media accounts and participate in online client events.

“In a networked world, organisations can no longer hide their intentions and behaviour from their employees or their customers,” Roos says. “For organisations that keep their brand promises, this is great news, because their contact centre agents quite willingly function as brand activists even when they’re not on the clock.”

Organisations that are surprised at the power of fair play in driving brand advocacy among their employees will also be taken aback by the effectiveness of internal recruitment referrals in achieving the same objective.

“Any member of staff who is enthusiastic about his workplace will recommend it to his friends and family,” Roos says. “This spreads positive brand information informally, enabling the organisation to build a strong community of third party brand advocates.

“It also gives you powerful internal cultural alignment and ensures that your employees take a direct interest in and, therefore, responsibility for the success of their colleagues. In the contact centre, this translates directly into exceptional customer experience. In fact, the ripple effect of internal recruitment referral can extend all the way to increased market share.”

From Roos’ perspective, any brand campaign that ignores the value of a contact centre as a vehicle for brand activism actually does the brand a disservice.

“However, for the contact centre to be such a vehicle it must function instinctively and naturally as a brand advocate. And that calls for the entire organisation to be clear about what it stands for and how it manifests that purpose.”

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