How wide the rift: gap between expectation and service, and how to fix it


Call Centre Helper teamed up with Data Vantage Group (DVG) to publicise a study that would help service providers understand what causes the greatest damage to consumer experience. Here, Alex Coxon outlines some of the key results from the research.
Call Centre Helper worked with the consultancy DVG to put in to the public domain a survey focused on how wide the rift is between customer expectations and the actual service they receive from call centres.

The study was far-reaching. Part of a much broader research initiative, covering some seven areas – including sales, marketing, e-commerce and knowledge working – the idea behind the call centre module was to pose service providers with 40 qualitative and quantitative questions to uncover the fault lines that do greatest damage to consumer experience.

1,912 establishments were interviewed in total, 49% of which came from the contact centre industry. Of that figure, 80% came from in-house respondents, with outsourcers making up the remainder.

But what makes the research especially interesting is that DVG was able to draw on customer feedback gleaned in an earlier study. At that time, about 6.5million consumers were interviewed across the UK – each was asked what they do and don’t like about customer service. By combining the data from both pieces of work, DVG is now able to offer up some unique insights on just how extensive the breach is between expectation and actual service.

Drilling down to the facts and figures

So, what has the consultancy discovered?

Well, perhaps one of the starkest findings in this latest tranche of research is that a third (33%) of internal/in-house call centres don’t believe that their companies put the customer at the centre of operations, with a further 21% unclear as to whether their businesses do or don’t.

The figures are similarly poor when it comes to knowing “who our best customers are”. When asked this, 42% of internal/in-house call centre respondents said that they definitely don’t know who their customers actually are. A further 26% were unsure.

The statistics aren’t much better for external/outsourced call centres, either. Fair enough: only 16% of respondents in this category reckon their companies definitely do not put the customer at the centre of operations. But that total rises considerably when you add on the 46% who are ambivalent as to whether their businesses do or don’t treat the customer as king.

Similarly, only 21% of respondents from the external/outsourced community don’t believe their businesses really know who their customers are. But add to that the 29% who aren’t completely sure, and the figure soon rockets to 50% – or half – of all external/outsourced respondents.

What does this mean in real terms? According to John Orsmond, chairman at DVG, this lack of attention is one of the things that is most likely to turn customers off.

“Our previous research shows that when customers don’t feel they’re at the heart of operations, it upsets them. In fact, it’s one of the things that can cause the biggest damage to call centres,” he says.

“The point of estrangement begins to occur when the caller rings through and they’re not recognised, or when the agent on the other end of the line is unable to meet their needs because they don’t have the right information to hand about that caller.’

It’s all about segmentation

For Orsmond, the key problem is segmentation. Only 24% of all organisations have segmented their database, he says, and only half of those again can deliver the segmented view to the contact path. The rest of them use the data to generate leads, to analyse those leads, and for general customer relationship management (CRM) metrics.

In other words, much of that knowledge is lost – or rather, is only used in very narrow applications.

“The guys on the board of directors have never got on top of the worth of their data assets,” admits Orsmond. “They tend not to look at how much money they’re spending generating enquiries and leads. Most organisations are far keener to put money in to their IT platform rather than investigating and managing the data they already have.”

In fairness, there are exceptions. Based on DVG’s findings, those organisations that place value on their data assets will do things like undertaking benchmarking exercises, both internally and externally, to gauge how well they’re doing and what they could be doing better.

What’s interesting is that using segmented data in this way can actually produce positive results even outside of the field of customer satisfaction. “We’ve seen some pretty impressive additional benefits in the course of our research,” says Orsmond. “For instance, we’ve seen staff churn rates coming down from 32% to 11% in those call centres that understand what data they’ve got, how much it costs them, and how they can use it better.”

But the big boon is in customer retention. According to Orsmond, those call centres that take the trouble to segment their data and build upon it have also witnessed 40% improvements in their retention figures. How? Simply because by drilling down in to the data, they now know how best to tackle individual customers: what conversational approaches will build empathy with them and what won’t work.

The problem of inconsistency

Of course, the DVG study doesn’t simply come to the conclusion that more segmentation is needed if call centres are to bridge the gap between themselves and the consumer.

The research also reveals how important it is for call centres to maintain consistency of service.

“Inconsistency is a huge problem for the consumer,” says Orsmond. “And often it can be seen in the tiniest things, for example, in soft areas like agent manner and tone. We know that these areas can be among the most difficult to train, but they can also result in the highest levels of consumer dissatisfaction when there is inconsistency between one agent and the next.

“To give some numbers to back that up: where you get inconsistency, you get up to 85% dissatisfaction by consumers. And where you get inconsistency across different channels – for example, online – you can get that level spiking up to 91%.”

What to do next?

So, bearing in mind everything that the research has thrown up, just what can you – as a call centre operator – do to stop customer dissatisfaction and, ultimately, breach that divide between your service offering and what the customer expects?

For Paul Miller, contact centre director at outsourcer Prolog Connect, it isn’t all about throwing tonnes of money at a new knowledge management system. Rather, he believes a number of routes should be followed. Sure, some of these should be focused on customer segmentation, but beyond that, it’s about making small changes that together will make a big difference.

Here is a list of his recommendations:

  • When talking to new customers for the first time, prompt them to tell you what they want from their call centre experiences. Also, take the opportunity to let them know what the implications will be when they opt for something like interactive voice response (IVR).
  • If you’re not sure about your segmentation, don’t. There has been some excellent research undertaken by the consultancy CM Insight and Aston University on how you can improve the performance in your call centre. One of the points they made was to cut out computer telephony integration (CTI) where it doesn’t work effectively. It can be a very crude tool and can cause you to make extremely embarrassing mistakes if it’s not used properly.
  • If you’ve not already introduced first time resolution in to your key performance indications (KPIs), do. Traditional indicators such as average call length tend to be within a manager’s control; they don’t have to think too hard about it. But by measuring first time resolution, you can start to get a gauge of customer satisfaction as well as the harder metrics.
  • Start benchmarking against other call centres. I find a good way of doing this is not only by reading magazines or going online, but by taking up opportunities to visit contact centre sites. Visits like these are often organised through associations like the Professional Planning Forum (PPF), Customer Contact Association (CCA) and the Call Centre Manager’s Association (CCMA).
  • Talk to other departments of your company that have a direct impact on the call centre. Learn about how campaigns work, for example, from the marketing department, and take the opportunity to evangelise about what the contact centre can do or would like to do to support that work.
  • Consider implementing post-call satisfaction surveys. We’re doing quite a lot of work with these at the minute because they provide great qualitative feedback as well as quantitative scoring. I find it’s a great way to build the bridge back to other departments, too, because you can ask not only about the quality of a call a customer has just had, but also about a delivery they’ve recently received, or what they thought about a particular marketing campaign. At Prolog, we’re running one at the minute on how customers would rate, in terms of value for money, the products they’re buying. In other words, post-call satisfaction surveys don’t simply have to be about the call itself.
  • Finally, give your agents freedom to detect and act upon the tone of the caller. I myself have been on the receiving end of calls a number of times where I know the agent on the line will follow the script, no matter what I sound like or how my mood is, simply because they have to follow the process on screen. By simply encouraging your agents to listen to the tone of the person at the end of the line and change tack accordingly, you’ll build customer satisfaction no end.

Data Vantage’s full report will become available early 2007For more information, contact Helen Marks on +44 20 7291 4494 or email her at hmarks@datavantage.co.uk

Published On: 6th Dec 2006 - Last modified: 23rd Jun 2017
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