The Customer Experience and the Call Center

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2013

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Like culture, all companies deliver a Customer Experience. Also like culture, it isn’t always what the company intended. It is often a poor customer experience.

Does your company deliver the promised customer experience? Do you have a document outlining what the Customer Experience is supposed to be?, No, Thats not surprising, few companies do. And all of us who don’t have a Customer Experience model in place are in good company. According to a recent Forresters’ report while 90% of executives said that the customer experience was very important or critical, only 11% consider themselves to be very disciplined in their approach to customer experience.
Let’s look at an interaction with a call center from the customers’ perspective

As you can see from the above illustration the customer expectations and emotions rise and fall as the call progresses. All of us who have listened, monitored or taken live calls know this to be true. What are the ‘pain points’ on the call we looked at earlier?
• Service Level – waiting too long to get the call answered,
• “Unexpectedly high call volume” – unexpected volume or poor forecasting/scheduling,
• Policies etc.

At all of the key points during the call the agent has an opportunity to support the brand messages and to meet the customer expectations or not. Of course it is far simple to suggest that the agent could have done x or y. The truth of the matter is that it is the company that makes the decisions that impact the service delivery.

The agent can really only work within the parameters the company sets out. It is the company that determines the grade of service that they want the call center to meet. It is the company through the center management that forecasts the calls and contact volumes and sets the schedules for the number of agents on shift. It is the company that establishes policies and procedures that the agents must adhere too.

Now let’s not place on the blame on the call center and its management solely. It is the marketing group that creates and sends the messages that create the customer expectations which leads the customer to place calls into the call center with these expectations.

So how can we ensure that your customers receive the experience we would like them to have? An experience that builds loyalty; An experience that supports repurchase; An experience that reduces customer churn and attrition.
Before starting to architect the Customer Experience, let’s start by defining it
The key elements of any Customer Experience related to the contact center has to include:

1. The ease of access – to information, to purchase, to inquire, to complain or to fix a problem,
2. The speed of access – Service level, hoops customers have to jump through – how many times do they have to enter their account number etc. time to return an email or resolve a trouble ticket?
3. The quality of interaction- Where they able to get done what they wanted too? Was it easy, was it efficient, logical?
Customer Experience is the experience that a customer has when interacting with a company. This includes how they chose to interact with us and how easy it is for them to complete the interaction.

IBM defines Customer Experience as “The designed interaction between a customer and your organization”. The key element of this definition is the design element. The message here is regardless what your customer experience is and regardless whether it is good or bad, it is what you have designed through your actions, processes and procedures.

Before starting to architect the Customer Experience, let’s start by defining it
The key elements of any Customer Experience related to the contact center has to include:

1. The ease of access – to information, to purchase, to inquire, to complain or to fix a problem,
2. The speed of access – Service level, hoops customers have to jump through – how many times do they have to enter their account number etc. time to return an email or resolve a trouble ticket?
3. The quality of interaction- Where they able to get done what they wanted too? Was it easy, was it efficient, logical?
Customer Experience is the experience that a customer has when interacting with a company. This includes how they chose to interact with us and how easy it is for them to complete the interaction.

IBM defines Customer Experience as “The designed interaction between a customer and your organization”. The key element of this definition is the design element. The message here is regardless what your customer experience is and regardless whether it is good or bad, it is what you have designed through your actions, processes and procedures.
With this definition in hand can now look at how we can design our desired customer experience.

To do this we need to start at the beginning. Few companies today are looking at the customer experience holistically. For those that do consider the question of Customer Experience, it is often only a marketing concept…how should our stores, marketing and advertising look and feel to support the brand.
The call centre is generally not connected organizationally to Marketing and most often resides under Operations or Sales. This distance between silos can mean that the Marketing group has little understanding of what takes place in the call center. This despite the fact that centers are the single most common communications channel an organization can have with its customers. Purdue University found that 92% of customers judge an organization based upon the interactions they have with a company’s call center.

So how can we as call center executives join the dots between the desired customer experience and customer satisfaction to deliver the result through our call centers? Like with any travel, once you have a destination in mind you can then develop a roadmap to get you to where you are going.
But we have a few challenges in developing a roadmap…For one thing we do not know where we are starting from.
We know that most companies have not defined and documented their customer experience. So how can we expect to know where we are at now and how we are doing?

The first step in our process is to assess and determine where we are now; we need to understand what the customer experience is today.

First, we need an inventory of the channels, methods and touch-points through which our customers interact with us: phone, email, chat, mail, in-store etc. Do all of the touch-points end in a common single CRM that tracks each ‘touch’ the company has with their customers? What about marketing initiatives: email blasts, SMS, print media, daily specials, white mail, etc.
Second, we need to analyze the customer satisfaction metrics (CSAT) and reports we have in place for each of these channels. You are not alone if you don’t have metrics to report on all of these channels; – this is the first step you will need to complete! On what channels do you measure CSAT, and where is it not measured?

Let’s examine the channels where no CSAT measurement is taking place. Is this because a conscious decision has been made not to measure it? Have we determined that we can’t measure it? Has it been determined to be unimportant or has the idea of measuring CSAT on this channel not been considered? Remember that old management tenet, “you can manage what you can’t measure’.
With your CSAT data in-hand, ask yourself is the data comparable? Are you asking the same question for each channel or do you ask different or somewhat different questions? If you are asking about satisfaction with the company or brand on one survey and asking if they were satisfied with their last call center interaction or agent, you are asking two separate and distinct questions. Unless the questions are the same you can’t aggregate the results. So if you are not asking the same questions then you have your second take away.

With comparable data you can chart the CSAT across all communication channels. Look at the results and what do you see…If you are like the majority of organizations you see a much lower level of satisfaction than we would like to see… almost two thirds of 15 verticals surveyed had a customer experience average scores of 70% or less.

The CSAT score is the customers’ opinion of the service interaction quality for the interaction they have just completed. In the same way our internal quality assessment scores are our satisfaction with our agents being able to address all of the elements that we think should be important to both the customer and the company. In the vast majority of organizations these two assessments measure two distinct elements. They are not the same.

Sad or not the scores that our customers have given us are their opinions of the service we provide. This is the customer experience we have now. This is the result of the service model we have designed and put into place.

The last step in defining the current customer experience is to look at what messages we are providing to our customers and prospects. To gain an understanding of what these messages are look at the company Mission Statement and Company Values…are you speaking of ‘World Class Customer Service’ or ‘Committed to quality’ or satisfaction or customers are a priority etc.
Keep in mind that it has been said that the accuracy of a Mission Statement is inversely proportional to its length. That is to say that the longer the mission statement the less likely it is to be true, or realised to be true. It has also been said that “If the mission statement doesn’t fit on a T shirt, it’s too long.”

Next meet with the Marketing people and review their current marketing campaigns and messages…do the company mission/value/vision statement and the marketing messages match the customer experience we are delivering?

It is important that when examining the marketing and brand messages that we see the emotional aspect to most messages. People make decisions on emotion – then rationalize with intellect. What this means is how the messages make them feel has a great deal to do with how a customer will feel about a brand, a product or a service interaction. In call and contact centers we often focus narrowly on what can and can’t be said. Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This can be a two edged sword. If our advertising and marketing make them feel warm and fuzzy about our brand and products. This is good and will be remembered. Many centers employ scripts or provide little latitude to empower the agents to make decisions to satisfy customers. Customers are also likely to remember how angry, frustrated, stressed and unhappy interacting with the call center made them feel. In too many organizations the Marketing department and the call center are working in opposite directions even though the success of the company is their shared objective.

In the diagram above we can see the shift from the promise that Marketing makes to product delivery and the service supported by the call center. When considered in terms of how a customer perception is shaped the excitement or anticipation starts high and often degrades with the reality of delivery and after sales service.

Let’s look at a hypothetical organization with the following Mission Statement;
“To deliver World Class Customer Service to our Customers, by providing access to our products and services the way our customers want them, when they want them, while providing a positive, enjoyable and productive environment to our employees and delivering superior returns to our Shareholders”

From this Mission Statement we can see what the company values:
• World Class Customer Service,
• Unfettered access to products/services- based on time and based on channel,
• A productive, enjoyable and positive environment for staff,
• Superior returns for Shareholders

As we continue down the process we have set out a few minutes ago we would then meet with Marketing to discover the attributes of the Brand. The following is a reasonable set of attributes associated with our hypothetical brand;
Accessible,
Cares about Customers,
Daring,
Different,
Energy,
Fun,
Glamorous,
Stylish,
Trendy,
Youthful,

By looking again at the original emotional call flow we reviewed earlier we can now match the experience to the desired Brand attributes

With the ‘current state’ of our Customer Experience picture in hand, we can next look to the experience we wish to create.
Do the Mission/Vision/Value and Marketing messages support the Customer Experience we want to create?

What descriptions and phases would we use to define this experience?

What descriptions would our customers use to define this experience?

Now describe how we want a customer to feel following an interaction?

The answers to these questions become the starting point of aligning the contact center with the brand message.
We are now equipped with a number of building blocks that we will need to develop our customer experience roadmap.
Look at complaints. Map the processes required to support delivery of desire customer experiences. Identify policies and procedures that are in opposition to the identified customer experience descriptors? Identify all processes, policies and procedures that are not aligned with the desired Customer Experience and raise these with management for discussion, review and revision.

To summarize the steps in designing a Customer Experience Roadmap are as follows;
1. Know what the current experience is,
2. Know how you are measuring the experience,
3. Understand your policies, processes and any negative customer impacts,
4. Plan changes and tests,
5. Measure improvements/reductions as a result of tests,
6. Roll out positive changes and continue other tests,
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Colin Taylor
Ever since answering his first customer call more than 40 years ago Colin has blazed a trail of innovation and success through the Customer Interaction industry. Colin has assisted many Fortune 500 and global brands to improve their customer-facing organizations. Today more than 15,000 agent positions globally operate employing Taylor Reach designed Contact Center operational models. Colin has received 30 Awards on two continents for excellence in Contact Center Management. Acknowledged as a leader and influencer on the topics of Call/Contact Centers, customer service and customer experience.

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