Next-Issue Avoidance – Techniques to Avoid Getting Repeat Calls


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In this article Paul Weald, Customer Service Innovator, outlines several techniques to avoid getting repeat calls.

When considering what improvements to prioritize, it’s popular for a contact centre manager to focus on self-serve, the latest innovations in AI and/or giving agents the right tools to resolve as many calls as possible first time.

These are all laudable aims; however, the risk is that you could become blind-spotted to how much true value-adding demand is actually being generated.

Do customers really want to contact you to find out why a delivery hasn’t arrived, or a refund hasn’t been received or the bins haven’t been collected on refuse-collection day?

Thumbnail image of Paul Weald
Paul Weald

Probably not, with the point being that these are all examples of failure demand, which have arisen because of organizational mistakes or poor communications. The common factor across all these scenarios is that the contact could have been avoided.

And for you as contact centre managers, it is important to remember not to treat all demand as a given.

The smart approach is to identify the root causes that generate repeat contact and then work across the organization to continuously improve those processes, so that they don’t happen again in the future.

The Relative Importance of Next-Issue Avoidance

Paul Weald Next Issue Avoidance

If you look at the way that you treat contact as being steps in a funnel, then the first thing to do is actually try to eradicate demand at the ‘point of failure’.

This could be through eliminating those organizational mistakes that are the catalyst for contact, as well as proactively managing ongoing workflow cases to reduce the probability of a follow-up progress-chasing enquiry.

Neither of these scenarios is value adding, and they are both candidates for improvement. If you are effective in achieving next-issue avoidance, then you should expect overall demand to reduce, leaving you with a core of enquiries that either add value to customer or add value to the organization.

This is where the downstream activities of self-serve make sense for processes that are high value for the customer (but low value to the organization) as well as all those assisted service scenarios which are handled by agents (regardless of whether those resources are insourced, outsourced or crowd-sourced through customers helping customers).

How Do You Tackle Next-Issue Avoidance?

As a consultant, I often say to clients that if these issues were easy to solve then you wouldn’t need our help. And this is very true for understanding those factors that cause failure demand and repeat calls, as well as then having robust procedures in place to act upon this insight to actually eliminate the root causes of unwanted demand.

So to illustrate the steps required, I’ll take you through the elements of a recent client project.

This project was with a telco client who had invested heavily in AI-enabled self-service, providing their customers with an increasingly sophisticated set of online and app-based digital tools to manage the most frequently occurring intents across billing, upgrading and account servicing customer journeys.

What they have achieved in these areas is very impressive, and has certainly reduced the propensity for contact. But what their frontline contact centre agents are left with is an increasingly complex set of issues, not all of which can be resolved as First Contact Resolutions.

Our ‘exam question’ was to look at the operation of a Resolution Hub team. The call routing was clever enough to determine the last time a customer called – based on recognizing the caller’s mobile number – and then directing all enquiries where the customer had called multiple times in the previous seven days to the resolution hub team rather than frontline agents.

The hypothesis was that this would separate out the complex ‘hard to resolve’ issues and ring fence them as the enquiries requiring additional support.

The Resolution Hub team were empowered to take 100% ownership of the issue, providing proactive follow-up where they had to investigate the issue internally.

The aim was to eliminate further calls from these customers regarding the same issue, and they tracked the occurrence of repeat Resolution Hub calls within seven days as a KPI to determine whether this objective was being met.

Understanding the Root Cause

So far so good, and not really something the client needed consulting help with. But the clever part was to set up a ‘close the loop’ squad – involving stakeholders across the organization – to understand the frequency of issues that were causing repeat contact to the frontline.

The squad used insight from the Quality and CX teams – using speech analytics – to classify not only the specific intent but also to discuss and agree on the failure scenario that was the catalyst for contact.

One example they found was that existing customers who were looking to upgrade their mobile handset were calling back multiple times when the phone that they wanted was out of stock.

Problems and root cause analysis concept.

The current online process just returned stock availability results at that moment in time, with no ability for the user to request a notification when the item that they were interested in became available.

The unintended consequence was that customers looked for alternative sources of information, and that was to call the contact centre.

It was a legitimate reason for the enquiry – given that the customer wanted to renew their contract – but was not something the contact centre agent could resolve, as the information they had on stock levels was exactly the same as the user was seeing online. It ticked that CX box of being a ‘digital-first’ strategy, but was the root cause of avoidable contact.

What the ‘close the loop’ squad determined was that the long-term solution for this particular issue was to set up a notification process – available through the app – to alert the customer when the phone they want to buy is going to be in stock.

What this will do is manage user expectations around lead times – which is the classic ‘use case’ for eliminating progress-chasing calls.

What the team did next was to extrapolate the frequency of frontline contact arising from the ‘out of stock’ scenario in order to determine the priority for making this digital change.

It ranked highly from a continuous improvement perspective to not only reduce operational cost (by eliminating demand) but also by having positive commercial outcomes (by increasing customer spend).

For the best ways to establish the root cause of a problem, read our article: Contact Centre Problem-Solving: 7 Steps to Improve Root-Cause Analysis

Re-imagining the Continuous Improvement (CI) Process

So how could you create the equivalent of a resolution squad in your organization, in order to identify the root causes of avoidable contact? To do this requires a combination of the right talent plus the right tools, across the following three steps:

  • Understand those intents that cause repeat contact – for example using case management MI to identify the recurring reasons for repeat contact and QA team analysis (ideally with speech analytics) to get inside these interactions and understand the customer issue.
  • Act upon the insight – there’s also a role for the CI and Change teams to play, as it’s one thing to know what is going wrong but another to fix it at source. You will need to tap into a range of stakeholders across the organization, and use your data-driven insights to influence their roadmap for change
  • Measure the impact when the process is amended – remembering that you can only realize the benefits when the change has played through and customer behaviour has changed. There should be a discernible decrease in demand that you can attribute to repeat calls having been eliminated.

As contact centre managers, if you put all these items together then you will have a self-sustaining approach to consciously scan the drivers of demand and categorize them not only in terms of value but also in terms of identifying and managing next-issue avoidance.

It’s not easy to achieve, but it will make your organization more effortless and effective for customers when you succeed. Best of luck.

Thanks to Paul Weald, Contact Centre Innovator, for this insightful article.

For more great articles and insights from Paul, have a look at these next:

Published On: 24th Aug 2022 - Last modified: 30th Aug 2022
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , ,


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