How to improve customer experience
The call centre is many customers’ only point of contact with a company, so how they’re treated is an essential part of the company’s brand and its market differentiation…
Being the main point of contact for many customers puts increased focus on contact centre performance, and a perpetual key challenge for organisations of all sizes is to consider how their contact centres – and the technology inside and around them – can actively enhance the customer experience. This is particularly challenging for the many organisations who at the same time are trying to control their overall contact centre costs, and are maybe even considering offshore outsourcing as an alternative approach.
Technology clearly has a key role to play here, but it’s important for organisations to look more broadly when they consider the overall customer experience. There are three distinct areas that need considering here: the initial customer experience, customer satisfaction, and – underpinning all these issues – customer loyalty. This article aims to examine how technology and processes can be used to support each of these areas, and looks in more detail at how the important concept of ‘service as a strategy’ can be deployed to help deliver a higher quality customer experience.
Getting the customer experience right
For many companies, one of the main ways of establishing a contact centre’s success has been to measure how quickly agents answer calls. A typical measure might be for 90 per cent of calls to be answered within 10 or 20 seconds. While this provides a nice, easy set of numbers, basic wallboards and ACD statistics don’t give all the answers. Just because there are no calls waiting in the queue and all the agents are on the phone, doesn’t mean that customers are happy. Similarly, trying to ensure that all calls are kept to less than two minutes might make the call volumes look good, but what about actually solving the customer’s query?
Not surprisingly, smarter organisations are now starting to realise that there’s more to customer service than simply hitting lowest common denominator measurements. Of course you can answer more calls if you limit their length or if you only provide a basic level of service. However, in a market where many organisations have already been there and done that with the more obvious cost cutting measures, perhaps it’s time for all of us to recognise that customer service is an essential strategic issue.
From a technology perspective the key to improving the customer experience must be invisibility. When it comes to the simple task of answering the call, for example, organisations have a lot of choices. Do you automate the process and go for an IVR based solution? Or do you actually make the investment in approaches such as Workforce Management, Training and Quality Monitoring to make sure you actually have the right number and right calibre of agents in the right place at the right time to actually answer and handle the calls?
Customer satisfaction is all about resolution
The initial customer experience might be positive if their call gets answered by an appropriately-skilled agent, but the key to customer satisfaction has to be all about resolution, and technology has a key role to play here. We would always recommend that call centre managers zero in on resolution to help enhance the customer experience – probably at the expense of all other projects. It’s no good building the most impressive multi-channel integration solutions if you’re not solving basic customer queries quickly. So critical areas for investigation here should include optimising CRM systems, effective training for agents and fast access to essential knowledge bases.
Consumers are getting smarter
Companies such as Churchill in the UK invest significantly to get this right, but customer loyalty is always the more intangible part of the overall customer experience. By focusing on specific customer touchpoints such as annual insurance renewal, summer holidays or typical car replacement cycles, companies can position themselves to keep producing positive experiences for their customers. An insurance company for example should be pre-empting the customer’s call asking for a more competitive renewal quote. A customer who receives a call with a cheaper offer before he’s even considered switching is far more likely to remain loyal.
It’s never been easier for consumers to switch service providers – whether it’s insurance, credit cards, mobile phones, Internet connections or roadside recovery – and loyalty is an increasingly rare commodity. Organisations need to concentrate on customer lifecycle management to address this challenge, and that will require increasingly close call centre integration with CRM and retail intelligence systems. It probably also requires the sales and marketing function to be much more plugged into what actually goes on in the contact centre. When was the last time you saw a marketing person in your call centre?
Increasingly the companies that are winning – the smarter organisations – are the ones that understand how contact centre business processes and their supporting technologies can be combined to allow for a more holistic customer experience. Currently many of the different technology and process components – WFM, IVR, quality monitoring, eLearning, CRM integration and analytical tools – that can support the goal of a more integrated customer experience are only available as standalone systems, with just basic links between the different components. To enable effective customer lifecycle management requires deep expertise in the integration and interoperability of all these different solutions – it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible – and it’s worth getting right.