Generalists or Specialists?

Tom at QAQNA had a good post about whether it is better for customer service representatives to be generalists or specialists. Tom also linked to an interesting post by Ginger Conlon.

I am a specialist. I believe in cross training (a lot), but I am not against having agents who specialize in one thing or another. A company with two employees working can be at a place where they can efficiently use a specialist system. And it can be a pleasant experience for the customer.

The problem that Tom points out is that as companies become more specialized, more transfers are needed. I agree with him – as both a consumer and as a customer service consultant. Most companies are terrible when it comes to efficiently and effectively transferring a customer to another department (they obviously haven’t read about the T-R-A-N-S-F-E-R method). They don’t know who to transfer the call to and when they figure out who, it is the wrong person anyways and/or they don’t transfer the call properly. However, some companies are quite competent when it comes to transferring, so this problem doesn’t apply as much.

Tom is right when he says that good sales people are good at their jobs for a reason. Good customer service people are good at their jobs for a reason. It is like comparing engineers to marketing people. They have different training, do different things, and even think differently. You can’t have a marketer fix the code and you can’t really have an engineer do a marketing campaign or write ads.

My solution is a mix of generalists and specialists. Overall, each representative should be a specialist. The techy people should do the technical support. The sales people should do the sales calls. However, everyone should be able to answer basic questions about the others’ specialities.

For example, if I asked a sales representative how to login to my account, he or she shouldn’t say “Let me transfer you to technical support.” That doesn’t accomplish much. For a question like that, the sales representative should be able to answer it.

The same thing goes when it is the other way around. Technical support people should know roughly how much the Super Duper Deluxe Package or what it offers in comparison to the Super Deluxe Package.

The best solution that I have found (and one that I preach to everyone who will listen) is using receptionists. Not receptionists in a “how may I direct your call?” sense, but receptionists are actually useful. They can do things like:

  • Answer level 1 questions (how do I login, could you reset my password, could you tell me how much I owe for this month, what does X mean, etc.?)
  • Direct calls to the correct person or department
  • Create new tickets and gather personal information (that way, the customer only has to describe the problem once (to the receptionist who writes it down) and then is given a ticket ID by the receptionist)
  • Direct customers to an FAQ or other self-help resource when appropriate
  • etc.

These receptionists can help a lot and when trained right, work wonders. They seem to add the “missing link” between specialists and generalists.