The call center as the frontline in the Customer Experience battleground.

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I can remember visiting a new client I had just signed to a project a few years ago. They are a national florist headquartered in the New York area. Specifically, I remember visiting their call center when their COO toured me around the office once our contracts were signed so I could meet and greet some of the other key line management. What struck me in that visit to the call center was a large, almost stadium-sized digital scoreboard hung on a large wall in the back of the room showing crucial caller stats and queue management information.

At first i was impressed with the degree of precision that everything was measured and put up on the board. When I asked about which statistics were the most important measures I was pointed to two: Average Handle Time (AHT) and Average Wait Time (AWT). I was immediately struck with the impression that speed was good in that call center and indeed it was rewarded, but as our relationship deepened I began realizing that such measures came at a dear price to the company. 



There’s a cliche in various business circles saying, “You can expect what you inspect”, meaning, people will naturally gravitate their performance around areas they are measured by at the expense of almost all others. It’s similar to a salesman who brings sales bias around which widgets in his toolbox pay the greatest commission. 

In this case speed in the client call center came at the direct expense of building a culture of solving the customer problem. Instead, it was all about pushing callers off the phone as fast as possible. Often, in those days customers would need to call a company multiple times before a problem was truly handled to satisfaction, thus, while a specific agent’s AHT numbers may have been extraordinary, their first call resolution (FCR) numbers lagged dramatically. Now, I’m not saying this client continues to operationally score their agents in this manner to this day, but back then it was obvious they were headed for a problem.

More modern thinking about call centers like the one I visited with this client is that the value of satisfying a customer on their first call, completely resolving the issue or capturing the order will reduce reason for customer frustration and complaint and the cost of additional agent and telephone minutes, assuming adequate staffing in the centers is possible to handle the call load is far less than the cost of losing that customer and having him defect competitively.



Measuring customer call centers with FCR is quickly becoming “old school”, too, however. Recent technological advancements have made it possible to begin addressing customer complaints BEFORE they call, effectively creating a “zero call resolution” goal. Imagine yourself a customer with a complaint and the satisfaction you’d feel knowing the problem was cleared up before you went to the trouble of calling in about it. This technology, using different analytical techniques is able to model issues that other customers behaviorally and attitudinally similar to you have experienced and can predict the likelihood you’ll have a similar problem with reasonably high accuracy, even going so far as to open a trouble ticket for you and engaging different corporate resources in solving the problem proactively.

In my experience instilling a zero call resolution mentality is truly best in class thinking in 2010. If we need to take the call however, parallel experience shows us that time-based metrics will detract from building a positive customer experience when successful resolution is not equally considered. Rushing customers off the phone, even to the point of disconnecting them mid-call only stands to build a fictional victory in operationally tuning the call center. Properly balancing the two, however, speed and precision, with a high likelihood of successful resolution at or before the first customer contact is the surest way to success.



While the call center is only one of a myriad of customer touch points in a given corporation that need to be aligned and tuned to create a truly optimized customer experience, we can’t ignore that the folks in the center often represent the infantry in our customer experience army and they, out there on the front lines often make some of the most lasting and impactful impressions on customers. The degree to which they are empowered to make customer centered decisions, muster resources from elsewhere in the company when needed, and truly Wow! the customer will only stand to make that customer loyal long into the future.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Seth Brickner | Trainer & Developer, Impact Learning Systems International
    [email protected]
    http://www.impactlearning.com/blog/author/sethbrickner/

    GREAT article Marc! Call centers, listen up: Marc is helping you understand a very important point about metrics! As with all things in life, the key to using metrics likes AHT, AWT and FCR is balance. Faster isn’t always better, particularly if there’s a tradeoff between speed and resolution or customer satisfaction.

    I prefer to emphasize “Least Contact Resolution” (LCR) over FCR to include those organizations/departments for which multiple contacts are often necessary to resolve an issue. I see a few advantages to LCR:

    – Note that “call” is replaced with “contact” to include the growing number of customer interactions taking place by e-mail, web portal, chat or social media channels.

    – LCR incorporates the possibility of zero call resolution, an exciting trend that you point out in your article.

    – The goal of LCR is the same as FCR which is to take care of customer issues as efficiently as possible. LCR better lends itself to the support environment where research may need to be done, code rewritten, patches released and other solutions which can’t take place during the span on an initial call.

    Thanks for providing this “voice of reason” Marc! I hope many, many call centers heed your suggestions.

  2. i work ina call center in the philippines and i do agree that a lot of emphasis is put on AHT and AWT. a lot of times calls are intentionally dropped just to meet the call center’s AHT goal. this is not customer service!!!
    i also agree with you seth… balance is key with regards to metrics…

    awesome post…

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