Effort Series (Part II of II): How to Make Things Easier for Customers … Today

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In case you missed it …

Over the past several weeks, we’ve covered:

GRAPHIC -effort II blog

Today, we end our series with five ways you can use the concept of effort to improve service delivery and enterprise success.

We often find that organizations quickly ‘get’ why effort matters, yet still struggle with where to focus their first initiatives. Below are several guiding principles to help inspire you to embrace effort as a customer service focus area.

Principle #1: Know the Difference Between Where Customers Go … and Where They Want to Go
There’s little question that customers have a strong understanding of contact channel (800#, .COM, chat, app, retail, email, IVR) nuances. In the search for quick resolution, most know when and where to go for it – even among non-preferred options. Unfortunately, the service side of most companies still lags in delivery against customer expectations, particularly in digital self-service. Consequently? Channel shortcomings drive high-effort experiences, eroding satisfaction and increasing service costs.

Little is known about the implications of forcing a customer into a non-preferred channel; how much is at risk? To explore the issue, our team took a deeper look at the role of channel preferences in re-defining CX strategy. Interestingly, we found that customers make an educated and deliberate decision to use one service channel over another, and they gravitate to the channel of least resistance (i.e., the easiest) depending on what they’re trying to do. What does easy mean? Whichever channel has the highest likelihood of resolving their question quickly.

More than half of those that reported using multiple channels stated they first attempted online self-service but failed. From there most went straight to the phone … increasing both effort and cost.

When we contrasted channel preference against issue resolution, an interesting pattern emerged: Channel matching does not make a good experience better or poor experience worse. What is foremost in customers’ minds is whether the issue was resolved … regardless of where or how they asked the question. So again, resolution trumps everything.

Principle #2: Take A(nother) Look at Your IVR
We know industries spend billions on improving self-service interactions, yet Convergys’ 2014 Scorecard Research Study showed no corresponding improvement in Effort scores. Not surprisingly, the lowest performers were IVR platforms still ranking among the most difficult and least-preferred channels to use. Given that millions of callers interface with IVR systems each day, this is a risky place to be. So what can IVR teams do differently? We found that by applying a customer-centric approach to root-cause identification and process improvement, companies are reaping big rewards in end-to-end interactions.

Take the example of one of our clients (an insurance provider). When the company learned that customers often failed inside the IVR, it implemented a cross-functional team of consultants and IVR specialists to map the existing ecosystem across segments. The team was tasked with isolating failure points, synching design with customer requirements and developing specific recommendations to improve CX and reduce cost. The team launched multiple initiatives that addressed menu structures, missing authentication, inconsistent personae, non-working features and agent-initiated customer education. Within three months, transfers dropped 2-8%, containment increased 56% and the company saved $3 million.

Principle #3 Keep Climbing Even If You Hit the Ceiling
It’s not unusual for a high-performing company to hit a metric “ceiling,” meaning it’s very difficult to move the needle upward once a certain threshold is passed. We saw this happen for one healthcare company that had previously relied on managing to agent satisfaction scores. When agent scores climbed above the mid-90’s, the company still wanted to improve. With product enhancements that required a lengthy cycle time, a more responsive lever was needed to continue optimizing performance scores. When the company moved to an Effort Index, it saw an immediate boost across the board: Effort dropped 39%, repeat calls fell and overall experiences scores hit a record high.

Principle #4: Use Journey Maps to Help Your Company Help Itself
Make sure you know which experience points across the lifecycle matter most. Where are your moments of truth? To truly impact customer retention, you have to take an honest look at every siloed business process and broken hand-off … and fix them. To figure out where those are happening, conduct a current-state journey map.

When one of our clients (a technology hardware company) wanted to re-model customer care to reduce effort and lower case cycle time, they looked across the customer journey to identify pain points. Using an “inside out” lens, they conducted focus groups with internal subject matter experts and reviewed detailed program documentation. They then added an “outside in” perspective through detailed customer interviews used to create journey maps for two distinct customer profiles. The initiative identified 30 customer pain points and 15 recommendations which, when fully implemented, are projected to yield 12% fewer cases, 15% increased flexibility in staff coverage, 7% lower case cycle time and 13% lower case backlog.

Principle #5: Make Concrete Changes to Agent Behaviors
Companies that successfully embrace effort as a performance metric are training and coaching agents differently. They’re focusing on ways to reduce effort-inducing behaviors which typically fall into hard skills (accuracy, completeness) and soft skills (confidence, listening).

We conducted a national study to understand what really drives customer perceptions of contact center agents. Results provide direct guidance on things any call center team can do today:

  • Get to the Point: Customers find unneeded pleasantries and other fillers (“How’s your weather, Mrs. Smith?”) annoying; they don’t want to spend the extra time. Skip idle chit-chat and use clear, easy-to-understand lingo focused on resolving the issue. Update scripts with non-technical content and make your point quickly.
  • Embrace Holds and Transfers: When done right, holds and transfers are an aid … just don’t over-use. Realizing quickly when an issue requires a transfer is 4X more important than whether or not the customer was transferred on the call. In some situations, the use of a transfer or hold decreases customer effort. Ask for permission first, then explain what you’re doing and why it’s necessary. Be clear and sincere.
  • Re-Think Adherence: You’re not saving as much money as you think you are. Quality assurance and script adherence are outdated. Today’s centers need a culture shift to free agents to engage with customers and make their own decisions. Enter the age of agent empowerment, the best way to avoid customer aggravation and prevent future callbacks.
  • Find the Inner Superhero: Customers only want one thing – fix their issue. Agents should express urgency and ask questions to demonstrate confidence and ability. If they can’t fix it, set expectations on next steps including timing. Those with more call control are today’s biggest service superheroes.

Image source: Thinkstock

John Georgesen, Ph.D.
John Georgesen, Ph.D., is Senior Director, Analytics at Concentrix. He specializes in designing customer experience (CX) programs that drive tangible improvements. With 20 years of applied experience, John is a recognized innovator in the field of customer experience management.

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