The Contact Center Balancing Act: Efficiency vs. Customer Experience


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Effectively communicating with customers is one of the biggest challenges for any company – it’s hard to get your message heard when consumers are bombarded with more and more messages each day. The more the volume goes up, the more customers tune out – until they need help. And then, the inbound calls flood the contact center. Regardless of why customers are calling a contact center, processing inbound calls is expensive and costs range from $8 to $25 per call. Although many of these calls are routine, they have the potential to divert agents from things like focusing on revenue generation or customer satisfaction.

To create effective customer communication, it’s all about optimization. Usually this means having the right agent in the right seat at the right time. And, while that basic principle hasn’t changed, consumer expectations and communication technologies have, often with substantial ROI. In fact, by adding SMS to their outbound contact strategy, some companies have cut costs per right party contact by more than 25 percent and increased their reach rates by 15 percent. As consumers rethink and reprioritize the ways they want to be communicated with, companies need to be able to adjust.

Companies are always looking for ways to communicate more effectively with fewer resources, but they also have customer satisfaction metrics to meet. It’s incredibly tough to strike the right balance between optimizing your contact center for efficiency and delivering a highly positive customer experience, especially when the unexpected hits. Under extreme circumstances like a flu outbreak or natural disaster, how can you meet your various efficiency metrics and still deliver a good customer experience?

  • Coordinate your messages across departments.

    Your customer sees no distinction between customer service and marketing. If messages aren’t coordinated, it’s irritating and can damage your brand. For example, what impression does it leave if a customer is talking with an agent about problems they’re having with a recently purchased product and then receives a cross-sell offer for a related product? By integrating your efforts across the company, you can eliminate unnecessary communications from other departments when the customer is already engaged with a customer service agent.

  • Turn your contact center into a powerful set of eyes and ears.

    Your contact center captures intelligence that can and should be used by every part of the organization. The customer shares the most valuable information during a customer service call, and if you leverage it appropriately, it can have a measurable impact on your bottom line. For instance, a major U.S. wireless carrier leveraged its customer data to qualify leads for a promotion prior to transferring to an agent. Rather than adhere to standard telemarketing practices using just agents and dialers, this company increased its profitability by 143 percent, simply by taking a look at the data it already had.

    In addition to getting critical data about their overall customer experience, you can glean specific insights into when, how and what to communicate to generate the desired response from each individual, as long as you have the right technology in place to capture the information.

    Make sure you share and use this data appropriately. You want to avoid over-communicating and always take each customer’s explicit and implicit preferences into account. In this era of ever-increasing customer expectations, personalization is the key.

  • Focus on customer-centric metrics.

    The contact center should be an extension of sales and marketing efforts, with customer satisfaction as the No. 1 priority. Your contact center is your company’s front line for generating revenue and goodwill among your customer base. But if you don’t put strong customer-centric metrics in place to measure how well you’re doing, you’re leaving your company’s reputation to chance. By shifting the focus from operational contact center metrics to customer-centric metrics, companies can enable memorable experiences that turn customers into raving fans.

    Think about it: If you’re measuring the number of calls an agent can handle per hour, you’re actually incenting them to get off the phone as quickly as possible, regardless of whether they actually resolved the customer’s issue. But you don’t want your agents spending all their time on routine inquiries, either. One solution is to use a simple automated welcome call to customers. A major wireless carrier did so, and found that 68 percent of customers listened to the entire welcome message, which also included an overview of service plans and features. This increased agent productivity by allowing 50 agents to focus higher-value activities instead. And, it allowed the remaining agents to focus on actually resolving customer service issues.

  • Use proactive communications to shape inbound call volume.

    Waiting for customers to call you adds uncertainty to your operation and puts you in a reactive mode. By proactively notifying affected customers in advance of situations like backorders or billing insert errors, you can deflect a massive amount of inbound calls and be on better footing to deal with other issues that arise. The added bonus? Freeing up your agents to work on more complex issues that truly require human intervention.

  • Give your customers options.

    Increasingly, customers prefer self-service to other forms of interaction. And that’s a good thing. Self-serve options not only provide more convenience to your customers, but they also reduce costs for you. For example, one company in the healthcare industry realized a 15 to 30 percent increase in patient revenue after using a solution to automatically contact patients and provide self-service payment options.

    Self-service is just one aspect of customer control. If you enable your customers to select how and when you communicate with them, you’ll get a better response. Allow them to choose communication windows and channels. While some consumers will answer any call on their mobile phones, many won’t pick up unless they know who it is. Consider sending a text message to alert them you’ll be calling in two minutes.

Contact center optimization and customer experience goals do not need to conflict. By thinking strategically about the contact center’s role, adopting customer-focused metrics and making use of appropriate technology, you can strike the right balance.

Mary Cook
Mary Cook, Director of Contact Center Solutions for Varolii Corporation, provides companies with operational, contact center and CRM consulting services. Prior to Varolii, she was a principal at The Call Center Intelligence Agency, providing expertise and interim management services for worldwide contact center operations for clients within the entertainment, communications, financial services, consumer product and service provider industries. Prior to that, she spent 10 years managing contact center operations for iQor, AFNI, Kuehne + Nagel and FTD.


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