Managing customer expectations is important, but in this economic environment, exceeding them is critical. Success or failure is often in the hands—or rather the voice—of the contact center agent. The phone communication the agent has with a customer during a service-related call presents a loyalty-building opportunity for positive interaction. Managing the customer’s expectations at this time is vital. The right interaction will get the outcomes desired and more. A wrong call can damage and destroy the customer relationship.
There are obviously a number of factors that impact customer loyalty and retention, but research we recently conducted demonstrates the undeniable relationship between a positive customer service experience and loyalty—and the resulting impact to the bottom line.
Our analysis confirmed a strong correlation. In those months where customer service satisfaction was lower, the percentage of customers who left the following month was higher. Conversely, when satisfaction was high, more customers stayed.
To put some numbers to this: for each 1 percent improvement in customer service satisfaction, there was a 0.125 percent increase in customer retention and loyalty. On a customer base of four million customers, each 1 percent improvement equated to 5,000 saved customers. When you factor in the saved revenue from this many customers, you can make a very strong case for ensuring a positive customer experience.
So how can you deliver this positive customer experience? We believe that there are five key ingredients that make up the recipe for a successful customer experience during customer service calls.
- Aim for first contact resolution
First Contact Resolution (FCR) is the most powerful and influential performance metric for contact centers. No other metric has as much impact on overall center performance as FCR because, in a single metric, it allows you to focus on improving quality, reducing costs, improving customer and staff satisfaction, and increasing sales and customer loyalty—all at the same time.
With regards to customer satisfaction and loyalty, industry research conducted by Service Quality Measurement Group, Inc. shows that if a customer’s query is not resolved on the first contact, there is a 34 percent probability that the customer will consider moving to a competitor. This decreases to two percent for customers whose query is resolved first time.
In our business, we often see customers prepared to wait longer before a call is answered if it is then dealt with by skilled and empowered agents, backed by robust processes that can deliver a “one and done” experience.
There are, of course, hurdles to overcome before this can be introduced across the board. The most significant perhaps being company policies or processes that prevent agents from accessing sufficient information to allow them to resolve an issue on first contact. If you ask agents where the “pinch points” are they will typically already have a good idea and may have practical suggestions to overcome them.
While a large percentage of repeat contacts are driven by process and policy issues, there are sizable numbers driven by agent behaviors. It’s not about pointing the finger and blaming agents, but rather about measuring each individual’s performance and investing in the necessary coaching and development to ensure they are progressing towards FCR.
We have developed a performance management metric that allows us to measure FCR at the agent level to ensure that we can identify high performing agents, share best practices and focus coaching where it will have the biggest impact. This found that almost 90 percent of repeat contacts driven specifically by agent actions (e.g., providing inaccurate information or not setting clear expectations on next steps and timeframes) occur within seven days of the initiating contact. By capturing this performance metric for each agent on a weekly basis, it is possible to support an operational culture where agents can be managed and coached to maximize FCR.
- Support agents to explain company policy in an appropriate manner
Companies can unwittingly generate some amazingly bad experiences by implementing business policies without an adequate understanding of their impact on customer satisfaction. On top of the lost revenue from low customer loyalty, customer experiences driven by flawed decisions can result in large volumes of complaints and repeat contacts, both of which can have a dramatic impact on operational costs.
For example, a global bank implemented a customer identification and verification process that was so customer unfriendly, its implementation led to a 20 percent increase in complaints from customers. Often, these complaints cited onerous procedures that led many customers to feel that they were perceived as potential criminals if they couldn’t remember their PIN number. Over the same period, average call handling time increased, and there was a significant reduction in FCR.
While customer security is extremely important, organizations need to understand how to design and implement regulatory and risk compliance in a way that protects customers and themselves and, at the same time, ensures that customers are treated with respect.
Whatever the company policy, it is critical to develop scripts and coach agents to explain it in a way that empowers and enables them to handle specific difficult situations while treating customers considerately.
- Create greater empathy with the customer during all interactions
Understanding and responding to everyday customer concerns can be more subtle than rewriting company policies. Creating greater empathy between the agent and customer across all interactions is not something that can be established instantly, but with the right coaching and robust knowledge management tools, agents can be trained and coached to better support and manage customer calls.
This investment in training for agents must be tailored to cater to different styles of learning—for example, blending visual material with sound clips from great calls as well as putting theory into practice using role-play are effective ways of ensuring that coaching is focused on “how” rather than “what.” At the same time, encouraging agents to share their own tips on how to deal with specific scenarios is a fantastic way of sharing best practices and empowering agents to deliver an enhanced customer experience.
If an agent understands how to respond to customers in an empathetic and professional manner, then they are halfway there to managing customer expectations.
We are also seeing the introduction of very powerful empathy matching software that links an inbound inquiry to the most appropriate agent using an artificial intelligence technology system that looks at gender, age, various other demographics and psychometric variables. This might see a caller held slightly longer until a particular agent is free, but it will result in a better match and therefore will improve the chance of resolving the call and creating a satisfying customer service experience.
- Practice smart use of technology
Many organizations see technology as the sole answer to the business challenges that they face. However, the implementation of technology on top of flawed processes and policies can sometimes result in modified processes that are simply more efficiently flawed. For example, the implementation of call recording and playback, enhanced with innovative reporting and analysis capabilities, is only effective when it is combined with best practice coaching frameworks and a strong culture of leadership focused on performance management and learning.
Before undertaking a “band-aid” IT solution, ask yourself what issue it is designed to solve and what the tangible business outcomes are likely to be. Scrutinize and then scrutinize again.
- Leverage speech analytics
Capturing interactions between the agents and customers is vital, but it’s not just knowledge management systems that can help contact center agents respond to frequently asked questions; greater insight can be gained by using tools such as speech analytics. By analyzing the frequency of specific words on a call, it is possible to identify the drivers of interactions and to establish patterns that can be addressed, in some cases removing the need for that contact altogether.
Using analytics, we categorize all interactions according to key contact-types. At this level of detail, an analysis of internal efficiency metrics such as Average Handling Time as well as customer-driven metrics such as emotion and customer satisfaction are more powerful because they allow us to focus improvement activity on the call types that are causing clients and customers the most pain.
Clearly, this is a simplified overview of a number of separate initiatives. Some are complex, and some are a simple case of streamlining best practices. The import thing to remember is that combined, they all contribute to an enhanced experience and, as we’ve seen, this is the difference between a happy and loyal customer and one who is more likely to take their business elsewhere.