Most Call Centers Are Too Efficient to Be Effective


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From the customer’s point of view, what is the perfect support call experience?

When I’m the customer, I believe my call should be picked up by a customer service representative—yes, a human being, not interactive voice response (IVR)—in a few seconds. He or she must have a nice voice and a warm attitude and must greet me in person and offer personalized service. The agent should speak to me in my preferred language with professional knowledge and solve my problem on the spot, with no wait time and no escalation. And the whole thing should take just a couple of minutes.

Wouldn’t that be good? Of course it would. But, unfortunately, I’ve never had such a calling experience in my entire life as a customer.

The fact is, no company can deliver such a perfect experience, given limited resources, a diversity of customer needs and the complexity of issues. Instead, most companies aim for trying to satisfy customers as much as possible while trying to stay ahead of the competition. Are they efficient? Probably. Service levels are being raised continuously. But are they effective? Probably not. More resources are being expended to deliver more homogeneous (non-branded) experiences.

Let me ask an old and boring question: Why CxM? (By CxM, I mean customer relationship management, customer experience management or simply customer management). Simply put, you turn to customer management to make your customers “feel good.” (No matter that you want to acquire, retain, and grow them into loyal customers or build profitable relationships) Feeling good (or bad) is the emotion generated at the touch-point. It doesn’t do your company any good if your customers can’t remember or recall positive feelings they’ve had with it, no matter how many resources you’ve expended. An experience is not effective unless it is remembered.

Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that people remember only two things during an experience: how they feel at the peak (the best or worst point in the process) and how they feel at the end. I apply that “Peak-End Rule” in Figure 1 by mapping the level of emotional feelings on each subprocess in a natural-time sequence into an “emotion curve.”

Figure 1. Emotion Curves

The emotion curve in red represents the conventional approaches aimed at making all aspects of an experience ideal. The emotion curve in blue reflects a new way to reallocate resources, to focus on the peak and the end, while leaving the performance of the remaining subprocesses below average standards. The less efficient one (the blue emotion curve) generates a more effective experience (a higher level of positive emotions and memories at the peak and the end) than the more efficient one (the red emotion curve), while it consumes the same or even a lower amount of resources.

To illustrate this with a real-world example, I use the recent research findings from call center customer experience survey in Mainland China jointly conducted by Sidney, Australia-based and Global CEM.

Figure 2. Emotion Curve: China Mobile Versus China Telecom

Based on 2,010 valid responses, we found, of 13 surveyed industries, telecommunications to have the highest percentages of loved (43.3 percent) and hated (29.5 percent) in-bound calling experiences. And we found the “mostly loved” and “mostly hated” in-bound calling experiences to be with China Mobile and China Telecom, the two telecom giants in Mainland China.

Figure 2 shows the emotion curves that match the emotional feelings at the 18 subprocesses of the entire in-bound call experience of China Mobile’s “love” emotion curve and China Telecom’s “hate” emotion curve. (Note that we display only the “love” curve of China Mobile and the “hate” curve of China Telecom for this illustration.) The subprocesses of an in-bound call experience are listed as follows:

S1 Organization’s brand image S10 Professional knowledge
S2 Easy-to-remember phone # S11 Problem understanding
S3 Effective IVR system S12 Problem escalating time
S4 Waiting time in queue S13 Problem escalating procedure
S5 Options given while on hold S14 Problem solving time
S6 Positive attitude of CSR S15 Problem solving effectiveness
S7 Personal level of service S16 Overall duration of call
S8 Option in preferred language S17 Follow-up actively
S9 Showing empathy by CSR S18 Follow-up timely

Comparing these two emotion curves, you will notice that China Mobile (the blue emotion curve) is far more efficient and effective (in an absolute sense) over all the subprocesses than China Telecom (the red emotion curve) is. This may explain why most survey respondents characterized their call experience with China Mobile’s as “mostly love.” But in a relative sense, China Mobile is no more effective than China Telecom. Neither of them optimizes resource effectiveness; their emotion curves are too gentle. What I mean by that is they are performing “too well” (or badly) and “too average” in all aspects of a call experience; they are not delivering target brand values and memorable pleasures at the peak and the end; and China Mobile is not creating enough pain (yes, pain!).

I imagine, by now, that, although you may find my idea interesting, you have some questions. How do you select and verify the right peaks? How do you deliver target brand values and branded experience? Where—and to what extent—are you wasting and/or not allocating adequate resources? How do you create the optimal threshold of pain?

You can address these concerns in systematic and quantifiable ways through branded CEM. That’s the relatively easy part: the “hands,” if you will, to evaluate, design and implement a branded experience with the assistance of the branded CEM models. The harder part is the “head.” Imagine that a call-center executive proposes creating more pain for customers by, say, increasing the queue waiting time or reducing the level of personal service way below the industry standards. In that way, the spared resources would be reallocated to create a higher level of pleasure at the peak (say, at problem solving) and, as a result, deliver a more effective (memorable) and differentiated (branded) call experience. Well, you could figure what kind of response (resistance) that executive would face. It takes a paradigm shift from “efficient” to “effective”!


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