Really Understand Why Your Customers Are Contacting You

man scratching head

In the first part of our Contact Centre Manifesto series, we explain how a deeper understanding of your customers can improve your contact centre.

The problem

Contact centres survive on “crisis to crisis” mode

Many contact centres think that they know why customers are contacting them, but often fail to identify what is really driving customer contact.

They survive on “crisis to crisis” mode, repeatedly failing to look at the bigger picture and address key issues that could improve both the customer and advisor experience.

Not all organisations have access to analytics tools

Gathering data from call recordings is most effective using analytics tools and expertise, as it can analyse thousands of interactions quickly and accurately.

However, not all organisations have access to these tools and instead need to make time to gather information manually. In a highly pressured working environment, this is easier said than done.

How to resolve it

Follow industry-approved methods

The following methods have been discussed with leading experts in the contact centre industry, and are approved by Call Centre Helper and the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) as the best methods for understanding why customers are calling you.

Jean Crisp

Jean Crisp

“This article is particularly helpful for less experienced managers. That said, there are some ‘back to basics’ reminders for old hands!” said Jean Crisp, Member of the CCMA. “The support document links are really helpful and give more depth for those who want to explore the issue in more detail. The downloadable form is also a great addition for getting started.”

Choose a method which aligns with your immediate needs

There are 5 key methods that can help you get to the heart of why your customers are calling you – without the use of analytics tools.

While all of these methods are valid, they produce varying degrees of insight. For example, a call-listening exercise (method 1) will only enable you to analyse a small sample of calls, but will give you first-hand insight into the conversations your company is having with your customers, whereas collecting reason codes in your CRM (method 3) will capture insight on 100% of calls.

METHOD 1: Listen to calls from your customers


Personally taking the time to listen to calls will help you to gather first-hand information about why your customers are calling. It will also help you to personally capture the emotion of a call, which can help you prioritise what needs to be fixed first.

Here is a step-by-step approach for a successful call-listening exercise:

Step 1: Put time in the diary

You don’t want to get off to a false start by promising time that you don’t really have or know will be interrupted.

You need to think realistically about how much time you can set aside each week for call-listening activity – and who else you can bring onto the project – and then put these sessions firmly in the diary.

You should initially plan to listen to around 10 to 20 hours of call recordings to gather a reasonable overview of some of the call drivers.

Jordana Murray

Jordana Murray

“We listened to an average of 700 calls per month over 3 months – which equates to around 80 hours of call listening each month,” said Jordana Murray, Head of Glasgow Customer Service Centre at Tesco Bank – General Insurance. “That is a considerable resource commitment. However, the value taken from this exercise helped to identify capability gaps, knowledge gaps, process barriers and, of course, inappropriate logging, so the value derived made it worthwhile.”

You should also make sure to listen to current call recordings, from the last week if possible, to gather an accurate picture of what is affecting your customers right now. Even better, listen in on live calls.

Step 2: Stick to your schedule

Once you have scheduled time for your call-listening sessions, you need to make sure you stick to your plans and don’t get sidetracked with other activities.

  • Look at your upcoming commitments (e.g. team briefs and performance reviews) and plan your sessions around them
  • Communicate your schedule in advance to your resource planning team and fellow managers so they can plan additional meetings and events around when you are available
  • Use your daily or weekly briefing sessions to remind everyone of the time you have scheduled for call-listening activity
  • Try and sit somewhere away from your own team, so that there is less chance of you being interrupted. This will also help your own concentration, without the distractions of being among your team members

Step 3: Make clear notes you can easily feed back to your team

There is little point in going to the effort of listening to all of these calls if you do not capture clear findings that you can feed back to the business.

You need to be capturing the reasons behind each call, as well as tallying the number of times you come across the same problem.

You should also be very specific in the reasons you write down, capturing “my delivery was late” and “my delivery never arrived” as 2 separate issues, rather than just “delivery problem”.

Other key areas to note down include:

  • The emotion of the caller
  • Is this a first or repeat call?
  • Is this call driven by the failure of another department?

These different levels of insight should help you to identify the key problems affecting your customers and the order in which they need to be resolved.

Download and print out our handy “call listening” form to get you started

METHOD 2: Ask your advisors why customers are calling you


If you don’t have the management resource to gather customer insight, or want to increase the amount of data you are collecting, you can also ask your advisors about why your customers are calling.

There are 2 key ways to collect the voice of the advisor:

Surface-level data “straight from the horse’s mouth”

Your advisors talk to your customers all day, every day, and will easily be able to tell you what issues they are having the most conversations about.

Simply asking the question “what have you had the most calls about today?” can give you a rough idea of the issues that are clogging up your call queue.

Ask advisors to take additional notes at the end of each call

You can also ask your advisors to participate in the same call-listening exercise as detailed above. The main difference being that advisors will capture this data at the end of each live call, instead of setting aside time to listen to a batch of call recordings.

Download and print out our handy “call listening” form to get you started

If you are currently understaffed or wary of extending the wrap-up time on every call, try dedicating just a handful of advisors to this exercise, or only running the exercise over the course of a single day or week.

METHOD 3: Collect reason codes in your CRM or internal systems


If you already have a rough idea of why your customers are calling, reason codes can help to quantify the data.

You can then use this information to build business cases and to drive accountability back into the business.

(If you aren’t confident that your reason codes accurately reflect your customers’ queries, exercises 1. and 2. [listed above] can help to clarify this.)

How do I use reason codes?

Here are some tips to help you get the best data from your reason codes:

  • Use the language that the customer uses, with examples for your advisors to reference
  • Use numbers for reason codes and not just drop-downs. (This is especially useful if you currently have multiple drop-down options). After a while, most advisors will be able to memorise around 20 codes.
  • Don’t use too many codes. Having too many gives you increased insight, but it also tends to deter an advisor from selecting the most accurate reason code.
  • Allow advisors to add more than one code to each call.
  • Give advisors the ability to add in their own code or comment for those that are not easily categorised. This will stop advisors from logging calls in the wrong category and distorting your data.
  • It can also be valuable to capture customer emotions. Try experimenting with additional reason codes that give an idea of how the customer was feeling on the call.

If your team are experienced and engaged, then ask for more detailed data capture. For example, stage of customer journey, what the topic of the contact was, what prompted the contact, how it was resolved, and what goodwill gesture (if any) was issued.

METHOD 4: Look at feedback from customer surveys and complaints


Another good way to understand why your customers are contacting you is to look at the feedback from your customer surveys. The verbatim comments are particularly useful.

A combination of yes/no questions and open questions will help you to capture the most valuable insight.

Here are some examples:

Yes/no questions

  • “Was this the first time you’ve had to get in touch about this problem?” – This question can help you identify reoccurring issues with First Contact Resolution (FCR).
  • “Were you happy with the speed your call was answered?” – This question can help you know how your customers feel about their overall experience and highlight a need for more staff/ additional channels/ self-service options.
  • “Would you be happy to use a self-service option to resolve this query in future?” – This questions can help assess demand for quick-fix features such as checking an account balance or checking up on an order status.

Open questions

  • Overall, were you satisfied with your experience with us today?
  • Do you have any comments that you would like to add?
  • Would you change anything about the service you have received today?

Also remember to keep your surveys “short and sweet” to encourage the maximum number of customers to give you their feedback.

An example of doing so, would be to conduct a “CEO for the day” scheme, which simply asks one question. Here is some more information on the scheme:

Chief Executive for the day

This “CEO for the day” scheme is a great method in which to gather information from your customers.

It involves getting customers talking in front of a camera and asking them “if you were meeting the CEO today, what would you say to them?”

Ian Williams, Director of Jericho consulting, who have employed the exercise, believes that it helps to provoke a “culture change” more than anything else. This is because, the scheme gives you the capability to present relevant feedback, in video form, to the actual CEO, which can alert him to certain situations they he may have been previously unaware of.

The exercise has been so enlightening for some CEO’s, Ian claims that he has “seen grown men cry when they watch the response that they are getting from customers.”

Take feedback from partners in the customer end-to-end journey

It can also be a valuable exercise to take feedback from partners in the customer end-to-end journey.

For example, if you use a carriage partner, what feedback are your customers giving to them? What are the contact drivers for your customers in to them?

You may not have the cost, but the feedback can be extremely enlightening.

How do I drive positive change with all this insight?


Even with a deep understanding as to why your customers are calling you, it can be hard to make good use of the data.

Here is some guidance on how to improve your contact centre with your newly gathered insights:

Step One: Work out what is most important to your customers

A good starting point for any business strategy is prioritise the things that are going to make the most difference to your customers.

Peter Massey’s system of value/irritant analysis can help establish the areas that offer the most value to both your customers and the company.

It can also help to clarify the difference between an automation and an elimination opportunity, stopping you from wasting time and money on automating things that are of no value to the customer.

How do I conduct value/irritant analysis in my contact centre?

Value/irritant analysis allows you to organise your data to create actionable insights – using a 2-by-2 grid.

With “customers” on one axis and “company” on the other, and sub-dividing into “irritant” and “value” sections, you can work out the contacts that are irritants to both the company and customer, as well as those that add value.

For more information on using value/irritant analysis in your contact centre, read Peter Massey’s article A simple technique to improve your contact centre strategy.

Step Two: Calculate the cost of each problem

To support your case, you should also work out the cost to the organisation if you choose to do nothing and these problems continue.

It is best to attribute the consequences to the individual reason codes, as this can establish which areas are costing the business the most money.

These calculations can include factors such as “how many hours do advisors waste taking these calls?”, “what will be the long-term cost if we lose this customer?”, and “how much does it cost to replace every broken item that is delivered (including man hours, petrol, and the cost of the new item)?”

It can also be useful to calculate Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) to support your case.

Step Three: Make other areas of the business accountable for their impact

The contact centre is not the only department that has regular contact with customers. Sales, marketing, finance and product development also have a role to play in driving down your call volumes.

Once you understand where your calls are coming from, it is important to make other departments aware of their impact on the customer experience – and the cost to the business – and make them accountable for their actions.

This is critical in order to dismiss the “purely cost centre” mentality of some executives when they think of service centre operations. Inbound service operations often spend most of their time bridging core system and process gaps.

Step Four: “Close the loop” back into the contact centre

Make sure all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste by establishing clear objectives and making individuals (even those in different departments) accountable to deadlines.

This will help you to “close the loop” on resolving the problem, and motivate everyone to tackle the next issue head on.

What have other organisations done?


There are many different things you can do once you understand why your customers are calling you.

Here are some ideas we’ve picked up from other organisations:

Emerging trends can help identify proactive customer service opportunities

The ability to deliver proactive customer service is a win–win situation for the contact centre, as it “surprises” customers with important updates while offsetting a potential increase in call volume.

For example, if you notice a sudden influx of “website errors” or “failed delivery” complaints, you can email or SMS blast your customer base to let them know you are aware of a problem and are working on fixing it.

But if you don’t have a firm grasp of why your customers are calling you each day, you won’t know what they are getting upset about, and such opportunities can easily be missed.

Regularly checking for any abnormalities in your customer data and empowering advisors to alert their team leaders to emerging trends can help to address this.

Analysing buying trends can help advisors to up-sell

A deeper understanding of why your customers are contacting you can also create up-selling opportunities for your advisors.

For example, thorough analysis of your customers’ buying trends can help you to predict the next purchase they might be interested in – and give advisors warmer leads to help secure new product sales.

Many organisations are already doing this and it is often referred to as ‘Next best activity’ or NBA for short.

METHOD 5: Conducting a customer immersion program


This process involves bringing together customers, call centre agents and high-level executives into the same room, for independent customer listening sessions.

Such sessions involve customers, typically 10 per session, telling stories to the rest of the room about the last time they contacted the organisation.

This offers agents and executives the opportunity to explain the actions of their colleagues, justify them or simply accept that a mistake had been made.

Ordinarily, sessions will last for 45 minutes and will involve a number of the company’s staff. Though the sessions can be conducted in different ways. For example, one customer at a time can tell their story to all the staff at once, or a speed dating style could be implemented.

In the case of one of Europe’s largest electric utility service providers, who themselves employ the scheme, the company’s CEO posts to the customers involved. This helps to alert the CEO of the faults in the contact centre and drives change.

Also, the business’s immersion programmes are organised and lead by an independent company, so that customers do get paid for their attendance, not via the firm but through a third-party.

Another option is to involve webchats and run online “mass immersions”. In doing so, advisors in the contact centre can have their lunch in a room that broadcasts the webchat and they themselves can submit questions to the customer, which enables constant customer contact.

This article forms part of The Contact Centre Manifesto series

With thanks to Ann-Marie Stagg and the following members of the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) for their support in this project:

  • Damian Hall, Head of Customer Service at
  • Jean Crisp, General Manager at Diversity Travel
  • Amanda Swinley, Remediation Operational Lead at The Co-operative Bank plc
  • Jordana Murray, Head of Glasgow Customer Service Centre at Tesco Bank – General Insurance

Do you understand why your customers are calling you? Do you think we’ve missed any important information?

Author: Megan Jones

Published On: 22nd Jun 2016 - Last modified: 27th Nov 2023
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , , , ,

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1 Comment
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    vikas kumar pandey 23 Sep at 08:17