Poor service experiences can leave customers unsatisfied, especially when their calls concern a product recall.

For some automakers, this can cause repercussions far beyond the individual vehicle owner, particularly when that owner takes their concerns to friends and neighbors, social media sites and even traditional media outlets.

The best antidote for customer backlash is to address concerns during the first point of contact, which for most automakers involved in a recall is the contact center. Establishing a contact center with sound procedures, clearly defined metrics and well-trained, informed agents is critical for providing a customer experience that builds trust.

Agents should be advocates and allies to their customers and trained to display sincere empathy. Providing them scripting that allows for improvisation will enable them to quickly diffuse the situation, gather pertinent information and arrive at an approved solution.

Because no two customers are alike, it is necessary to train agents to skillfully direct unpredictable and difficult conversations. Contact centers should establish a set of protocols and best practices for addressing escalating complaints when necessary.

Agents also need to feel engaged with their company. One approach is to balance accountability with rewards. Automakers should help agents feel like they have skin in the game by establishing reasonable metrics that provide insight into their overall goals.

For example, automakers could measure and reward contact centers based on how well they perform warm transfers to dealers to schedule recall repairs. Regular feedback, especially positive responses from callers, will also help keep employees motivated and establish a high morale among agents.

Addressing the challenges

With any recall, there are many moving parts, some of which may simultaneously happen. Dealers, parts manufacturers and other partners may all factor into the recall interaction; therefore, it is crucial for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing.

If one party handles notifications to customers while another manages the influx of calls, it is more likely the message will be inconsistent. Even worse, it is likely to take longer for discrepancies in the message to be discovered and corrected.

Good data is another concern for contact centers. Accurate owner information is what drives every step in the auto-recall process. With good data, contact centers can ensure the right customers are notified, repairs can be appropriately tracked and compliance and regulatory reporting are met.

Additionally, it is crucial for automakers to invest in data-management practices to give contact centers the ability to reach the right customers and remove VINs that have been scrapped, stolen or exported.

Large automotive recalls are episodic and unpredictable. Automakers know another recall is inevitable; they just don’t know when.

This unpredictability creates a serious burden for internal teams and makes it nearly impossible for automakers to be prepared to ramp up to handle a surge in calls once a recall is announced, then ramp back down when the calls become less frequent. They can’t afford to keep hundreds of extra agents on staff full-time to handle part-time crises.

For all these reasons, automakers may choose to outsource their contact center needs to a recall partner. A recall specialist also solves the challenge of managing multiple partners and updating vehicle-owner data. Consolidating data from various sources is painstaking and takes time. Recall specialists know how to handle the form and frequency of notifications in order to increase repair rates. This data advantage enables automakers to better execute the recall, ensure compliance and report to the relevant regulatory bodies.

In the end, an effective recall experience, thanks to an effective call center, will foster the goodwill needed to maintain strong brand affinity. It’s not the recall itself that differentiates a brand, but rather how well it is handled.

Wayne Mitchell is director-Automotive Solutions for Stericycle and a member of the Society of Consumer Affair Professionals and Specialty Equipment Market Assn.