This past week, I attended the Contact Center Week conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. This is one in a series of events they put on throughout the year, with their largest, flagship event occurring in Las Vegas in June.
The conference had a variety of attendees. I spoke with people from many industries, including high tech, government, manufacturing, and healthcare, to name a few. Attendees’ titles also ranged from frontline agents to executives. As I interacted with my fellow attendees, one thing I asked everyone was what they hoped to leave the conference with. A common theme emerged.
“I’m just looking for a good chatbot.” “My company needs a knowledge management solution.” “We’re trying to understand how we might use self-service.”
These and similar comments were quite common in conversations. These are all valid reasons to attend a conference to perform research to improve customer service. Customers would rather go online to solve a problem themselves over speaking with a customer service agent, and capabilities like machine learning powering chatbots and case assignment, reusing common solutions with a knowledge base, and offering self-service are now table stakes.
Digging deeper, goals for such solutions were also common: reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, or to make agents more productive. Again, all valid and important concerns to address. The problem is that these responses all center around improving the HOW of addressing customers’ issues but fail to improve the greater customer experience (or the reasons WHY they are contacting customer service). Let me explain.
Addressing The How
Customers simply want their products and service to work. A problem becomes a disruption to the experience, and when it occurs, the customer is forced to find a solution. Charlie Herrin, Executive Vice President of Customer Experience at Comcast, stated it best: “Customer service is what happens when the experience breaks.” How true!
When a customer requires assistance, this is where having the appropriate channels that they expect comes into play. As previously mentioned, most customers prefer to begin their search for a solution online. Hopefully, the answer is easy to find; if not, depending upon the urgency of their need, it might be necessary for them to contact customer service directly via a live interaction channel such as chat or telephone.
For this reason, I understand why Customer Contact Week attendees might be looking for new customer service options: to fill a missing channel or to upgrade it, and to do so in a manner that is efficient and cost-effective for the company while providing a faster and improved response to the customer. This might be a real pressing need for a customer service center if customers are frustrated by slow response times or lack of certain channels. The problem is it falls short of making an even more substantial impact on a company’s bottom line and truly improving the overall customer experience because it doesn’t affect the WHY.
Attacking the Why
Instead of focusing on the cost-savings of a new channel, companies need to consider more efficient means of addressing the reasons customers are seeking service. Consider this example: a contact center receives a total of 300 calls, emails, and chats on a particular issue each day. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume across those various channels, the cost of responding to that one issue costs the business $2,500 daily. Now, while it does make sense to try to reduce that cost by adding new, lower-cost and higher efficiency channels, those 300 requests for assistance are still coming in each day. That’s over $50,000 per month for one issue! Even if 10% or 20% can be saved from new efficiencies, still the company is taking service requests on this same issue and customers are still suffering. As the company sells more products and services, that number will only go up. This quickly becomes unsustainable.
A new approach is needed. By identifying the root cause of the issue and working cooperatively with the team that can address it–be it manufacturing, engineering, finance, field service, or others–a permanent solution to this one problem could save the company over $600,000 per year. Now let that sink in. This is significant savings that can be invested by the company in other ways.
On top of that, the customer experience improves. Future customers will never encounter this issue. They will not be forced to go online to find the problem or to contact customer service. As a result, their perception of the company’s quality will be higher. The actual value generated through this act will vary by company, but as cited by the Harvard Business Review increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95% (as well as reducing costs, since it’s 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than retaining an existing one).
How is this connected approach to customer service possible? Two things are necessary: first, there must be agreement company-wide that customer service is important and that teams work cooperatively with customer service. Only by every team recognizing this importance will this succeed.
Second, a service management approach is required. With the agreement in place to work together on customer issues, customer service works with other teams to identify, assign, and address the reasons customers are calling. Workflow is used to keeping the issues visible, progress ongoing, and teams accountable.
A Better Experience Makes for Better Business
Getting solutions quickly to customers in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible is the base problem facing customer service teams every day. Conferences such as Contact Center Week exist to allow seasoned experts to share their ideas and successes with fellow customer service practitioners. But more is at stake than just faster answers at a lower expense.
With every problem customers encounter, their experience erodes. That erosion ends up costing a company more in lost revenues and new customer acquisition costs. It’s time for companies to focus not simply on better ways to address the influx of inquiries, but to unite their company and to use service management to identify and address the underlying reason customers are contacting them. Only then will the customer experience truly be improved.