High-Value Customers: Serve Them First?


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Scoring your call center queue means playing with fire. Photograph by myuibe.

Scoring your call center queue means playing with fire. Photograph by myuibe.

When I call AT&T customer service about an issue with my iPhone, should I get preferential treatment? Consider that I easily spend $500 or $600 per month with AT&T, because I travel internationally. (With luck, Skype for iPhone will someday change that.) Yet, when I call AT&T, I’m in the same phone queue as someone who spends $30 per month. Now, there’s no reason why technology can’t be applied to optimize the queue, and resolve problems with high-value customers—such as myself—more quickly, even if it means that lower-paying customers must wait longer.

Airlines do it all the time. They have different toll-free numbers for every different frequent-flier level, even though most of their incoming calls go to the same call centers. Of course, for airlines, this makes good business sense because a business-class customer earns them much more money than a coach-class customer.

But should AT&T—or companies at large—use scoring to promote or prioritize people in the call center queue? This is a controversial topic. Such moves probably wouldn’t fit Apple’s egalitarian image. And furthermore, using scoring to promote people in the phone queue faces two challenges: one ethical, the other practical.

The Practice of Customer Scoring

Ethically, most service professionals view their mission as enhancing customer satisfaction, not revenue. Oftentimes, they view service from a customer-centric perspective: You (the customer) called first, we’re here to help, and so we’re going to help whoever called first. End of story.

The second problem is practical. Interestingly it has nothing to do with technology. Using an Avaya or Genesis Systems switch, you can pull CRM data and revenue information on each customer in the call queue, score them, and know who to speak with first.

But the practical issue with scoring is, should you base response times on:

  • people who could pay more, or
  • customers who already pay more?

For example, say you’re a customer of U.S. cable television provider Comcast, spending over $100 per month on a “triple-play” (cable television, land-line telephone, and Internet access) subscription, as well as movies on demand. In other words, you’re a relatively high-value customer. Meanwhile, your brother only buys basic cable for $25/month.  Now, when you separately both call Comcast to resolve a problem, which one of you should get the faster service: the high-value customer (you), or the customer with the greatest potential (”wallet share”) to purchase additional services (aka your brother)?

While there’s no consensus on which answer is correct, I’d estimate that the vast majority of customer service professionals will default every time to customer satisfaction, not revenue enhancement. Furthermore, even if you create incentives for customer service people to focus on revenue enhancement, how you put that into effect remains unclear.

The Customer Service Manager Who Played With Fire

Of course, companies may try to score their call center queues. But if you really want to score your customers to determine who you should speak with first, know that you’re playing with customer service dynamite, and have a potential customer service relationship nightmare on your hands. But if you must proceed, ensure that you heavily test any approach before putting it into practice.

That disclaimer aside, when it comes to slicing and dicing the call center queue based on customer value, our message is clear: Don’t do it. Even with trying push for every possible dollar in a difficult economy, and even if your organization is prioritizing business efficiency over customer service, nine out of 10 times, you should avoid using call scoring to resolve customer service issues. Why is that? Because you’ll be mixing your messages, operating on the wrong side of the fairness equation, harming the customer experience, and creating much too much potential for customer service fallout.

Service Manifesto for AT&T iPhones

Now, if I were advising AT&T about whether or not it should use call scoring, first I’d want to look at the bell curve of their customers. My suspicion is that even though there may be hundreds or even thousands of customers paying $600 per month or more, there are millions of customers paying $50 per month. Accordingly, it’s not prudent for AT&T to avoid angering millions of customers for the benefit of its top 5,000 customers.

In other words, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to AT&T’s iPhone customer service, it’s back to the “first come, first served” call center queue for me, and rightly so.

Learn More

In a down economy, the pendulum between focusing on improved customer service and prioritizing business efficiency often swings quite far to the efficiency side. Even so, don’t abandon customer experience for efficiency. You really can have both.  In fact, the most forward-looking companies proactively use their service departments to retain customers, not just to reduce their cost per call.

If you do go down the call center scoring path, as with any customer-facing endeavor, ensure that you thoroughly test your theories before putting them into practice—or else.

Finally, it also pays to treat all of your call center channels equally, whether it’s phone, email, live chat, or even Facebook or Twitter.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


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