A desk with a monitor and keyboard on it with headphones left over the monitor.

Early on in my career, I worked at a giant financial services company. My first major project was to display call centre data for senior leaders. At the time, I had no idea about how call centres operated, let alone anything about relevant call centre data for senior leaders! This is one of the major benefits of working as a UX professional though; you get to work on loads of random things! 

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time in the call centre. It was the first time that I had ever set foot in one, and so to understand this call centre operation and what data might be important, I needed to speak to the Call Centre Professionals (CPPs), but I really learned the most from the practice of call listening – where I simply sat and listened in on real calls into the call centre from various customers. 

Firstly, I learnt so much about our customers. What they were doing, what they were thinking, If they were happy with the service, what part of the service they did not enjoy, etc. Basically everything about the service and the customer experience that surrounds it. I did not need to know any of this for the dashboard, but listening to calls really opened my eyes and understanding of the company’s customers.

The insights generated from the call listening went well beyond what data to make available to senior leaders about the call centre operation. It generated discussions on areas to focus on next to improve the services that the company offered. It even resulted in impacting the discussions on the direction and future vision for the organisation’s products and services. Not to mention how it had brought the organisation closer to understanding the customer and their needs.

At this company, I was lucky how they saw the value in encouraging employees to understand the business and its customers. Being able to spend some time in the call centre and listening to some of the calls was a huge part of that. Unfortunately, since then I have experienced that some companies do not see the benefits of call listening, instead, seeing it as waste and a distraction to the CCPs. Afterall, call centres cost a lot to run and providing customers with a quality and timely experience is of the essence.

I have a few tips on how to help you as a UX professional can get your foot in the door. CCPs take part in a form of call listening as part of their training. Try to find out how this is organised and when it takes place, and see if you can sit in. Assure whoever is in charge  that you are there to observe and listen only and that the last thing you want to do is to be a distraction to the CCPs. Agree that you will only engage and discuss what you have heard with the CCPs separately, at a time agreed and set aside for you to have a follow up chat with them. This is important as CCPs do have a huge amount of insights that they can share, and it can be extremely beneficial to hear what they have to say. 

A common concern I have seen is that you will want to speak to the customer directly yourself. Call listening is only about listening, there are plenty of other research techniques that you can use to talk to your customers. Think of call listening as something that will help you understand what you want to learn in the next step of your research. Therefore, I recommend using a headset splitter, with the headset that the call listener is using devoid of a microphone to remove the temptation of them joining in the conversation.

In addition, I would also recommend that you share what you want to learn, and your insights from the activity with whoever is in charge of the call centre and the CCPs so it is clear why you are there. It could be hugely beneficial to involve them in the conversation. I find that it really helps to share stories of how call listening has helped in the past, how it fits into the bigger picture, and how it can ultimately lead to a better experience for the customers and users of the company. This is especially crucial if you are facing hesitation or cynicism. 

At every company I work with, call listening is one of the very first things I will do (if I can). It is so important to learn about the organisation, its customers, their experience, and ultimately how to improve the organisation’s service to the customer. 

Feature photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels

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