Can I carry live crayfish in my hand luggage? How do I install this piece of household equipment? Every once in a while an elderly man will even call just to flirt with the operator! These are just a few examples of the funny questions and situations that are encountered each and every day by employees of client service centres. Daniels Dubovskis, operations manager for the international business process outsourcing provider Runway Latvia, talks about the challenging nature of work at contact centres and about how essential it is to respond professionally to unusual questions.
People who work for contact centres must constantly improve themselves so as to answer any and all questions. They must be familiar with more than just the nuances of the services that are provided in each of the different sectors. Client service specialists must also know how to deal with situations that are out of the ordinary and react to the most unexpected circumstances. That is why professional employees are worth their weight in gold.
“For the most part, the questions that are posed to our employees are serious and complex, but it is not uncommon for us to receive funny and surprising questions,” says Daniels. “For instance, recently a client asked whether he would be allowed to bring a live crayfish in his hand luggage on a flight. Upon learning that only pet cats and dogs can be transported in that way, the client and his wife erupted in laughter, admitting that they had caught a crayfish in a local river and were planning to bring it to the client’s mother-in-law as a house gift, not a pet.”
Runway Latvia client service centre handles around 55,000 customer-service inquiries for our clients each month. “People who call an airline or travel agency are mostly interested in tickets and reservations,” says the operations manager. “Clients of household equipment retailers often ask for advice on installing the equipment that they have bought. Employees who provide services to health insurance companies often check instructions from doctors and register patients for x-rays or other procedures.” The length of each conversation depends on the sector, client, and project, but Runway Latvia has found that the average amount of time needed to help a client is between three and five minutes.
Flirting is also occasionally a part of the day for client service specialists. “Sometimes callers try to learn more about the employee in addition to asking for help with their situation. For example, anenergetic and happy senior citizen from Norway who was ordering an airline ticket flirted with the operator and talked about himself while she was entering the necessary information into the system. At the end of the conversation, the elderly gentleman proudly told her his email address, which included the words ‘hot gutt’, or ‘hot guy’,” the operations manager of Runway Latvia in Riga says with a smile as he relates the experiences of his call centre colleagues.
In addition to the ability to accept some questions with a good sense of humour, call centre employees must also understand differences among cultures when it comes to conversations. In some countries, people start with a short and informal introduction that has nothing to do with the topic at hand – so-called small talk. In other cultures, people want to get right down to business. Interestingly, it is not just Scandinavians, but also Spaniards and Germans who do so. “For the most part, it is the English speakers from Great Britain and the United States, as well as French speakers, who enjoy polite, gentle and informal language, and before getting down to business, they like to talk about the weather or some other everyday topic,” Daniels has found.
This means that Runway Latvia employees specifically learn about these differences. Those who will be dealing with Spain learn to speak directly, while those who work with Americans or the British learn to engage in small talk. Daniels says that this is particularly important because in most cases, client service centres are not in the country they are serving: “For instance, in the Baltic States (including Riga) Runway Latvia contact centres mostly provide services to Scandinavians. We also have client service centres in Ukraine, where we provide services to the American and British market; as well as in Spain, where we handle calls from Scandinavia and from those who speak Spanish.”
Increasingly in the world, clients choose to contact service centres not just by phone, but via other channels as well. Runway Latvia has found that approximately 20% of clients get in touch via email, chatting or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. “People appreciate talking to a real person, and they do not like to wait,” says Daniels. “A study at Purdue University found that more than 92% of respondents base their views about a company on their contact with the relevant client service centre.” The manager adds that 12 positive experiences are needed to make up for one bad one.