When was the last time you enjoyed calling customer service? Were you pleased with the outcome of the conversation? Was your issue resolved through that phone call?
I would venture to say that for most customers, their experience with a customer service agent varies between memorable to not pleasant. As a leader in charge of a contact center, what are the forces driving these perceptions and what you can do to change them?
Everyone would agree that a good conversation has positive effects, like an improved mood, for example. When people have fun, their muscles relax and different parts of their brain react. However, more conversations are moving to digital channels and people are slowly forgetting how to have real conversations. At the same time, I believe we’re starting to see that people long to have meaningful dialogue and connect with other humans.
Over recent years, technology advancements in the service arena have been improving self-service mechanisms within the customer service paradigm. Examples include Self-Service Portals, troubleshooting flows, Self-learning Answer Search, Virtual Assistants, Knowledge, Intelligent Advice, Communities and so forth. These have become a fixed staple of a savvy customer service strategy. Furthermore, new concepts such as predictive and pre-emptive service through the IoT have been added to the mix, driving self-service and automation even further.
What does this mean for contact centers?
Predictions about the demise of contact centers have been made for 15-20 years now. Nonetheless, many leaders have come to realize that contact centers are not going anywhere. In fact, live customer service is making a comeback although frankly, it never went away. The customer channel mix has broadened with new communication channels picking up momentum. But, customers will still continue to rely on people to solve their issues and get advice.
As self-service and automation have accelerated over the last two decades, the contact center has gone through ruthless cycles of efficiency improvements. ‘Efficiency’ used to be the only factor taken into account when running a contact center. The metric ‘average handling time’ was the golden KPI. Entire consulting industries were invented to help contact centers become shining beacons of efficiency.
The CRM software world followed suit and invested heavily in making everything as efficient as possible. Computer Telephony Integration, Scripting, Desktop Automation, Workflow, the 360˚ view, context from web interactions, handling multiple live chat interactions in parallel, call analysis, hot keys and so forth. All of these advancements have made the jobs of agents tremendously more efficient. Shaving off a second or two here and there over a long time has made everything more efficient.
However, there comes a point when a human agent can’t become ever more efficient in picking up the phone and solving a problem for the customer. This is where cracks in the efficiency mantra become visible. When agents have an ambitious average handling time target and corresponding incentives to adhere to, that’s the moment conversations become judged as ‘too long.’ Therefore, these conversations tend to be wrapped in a hurry. A likely result is the problem isn’t solved and the customer needs to call back another time. That subsequent call is a lost opportunity for a ‘first call resolution’, especially when pressured agents start connecting the customer to non-existent departments and the customer hears the dreaded "One moment please, I’m going to transfer you to the appropriate department" … beep-beep-click. The relentless drive to pursue more efficiency has created a world where very few customers can recall the last time they enjoyed calling customer service!
We can do better!
As customer service leaders, we need to aim higher! Let’s try to get our customers to actually enjoy the conversation when they call customer service. Imagine what happens when two people have a conversation they enjoy! Trust is created. Then imagine the improvements to the perception of your brand! Just think about the conversations you have with your friends. You listen and demonstrate the mutual respect and willingness to hear the other out. Wouldn’t it be great if we can do something that will increase the trust between your customers and your organization? A simple thing that helps build that trust is to encourage conversation and eliminate metrics that restrict conversations, like the average handling time measurement.