In recessionary times, when budgets are tight and performance scrutinised to the nth degree, there’s little room for error – and no excuse for failure. Steve Norman explores how to improve first-call resolution and drive call elimination.In customer service departments up and down the country, goals such as improved service quality and enhanced customer satisfaction are rapidly taking on new significance – with performance-related service goals such as ‘First-Call Resolution’ and ‘Customer Saves’, rather than being nice-to-achieve, becoming mission-critical.
The economic climate has also created a focus on Call Elimination strategies. Aka ‘Failure Demand’ strategies, these are designed to decrease the need for customers to make contact in order to complain, fix a problem, or ask for information.
Here are a few tips to consider:
1. Understand customer motivations
What are people looking to achieve by buying your products/services – and by calling your customer service department? By fully understanding your customers’ purpose, you stand a better chance of eliminating unnecessary interactions and failures in customer delivery processes.
2. Measure the right things
Measures such as ‘average handling time’ and ‘time to answer’ have a place but they should not be your only measures of success. Look to measure ‘customer value’ in as many ways as practicable. Not just by measuring customer satisfaction but by looking at first-call resolution and at the value created by providing customers with additional products and services. An increase in average call handling time isn’t necessarily bad news if it results in fewer repeat calls.
3. Turn advisors into customer advocates
Empowering front-line teams to analyse and resolve problems more effectively can have a dramatic impact on repeat calls – as well as on service levels, motivation and attrition. A customer advocacy programme should be focused on creating customer service champions who can handle customer queries quickly and efficiently, follow the right processes at all times, and ensure that customers always get the right advice. By the end of a call, customers should be both satisfied with the way they’ve been treated, and fully aware of the products and services that could help them.
4. Provide more than just on-the-job training
Being a customer advocate is more than about just having the basic skills to do the job. It’s about being given the skills and knowledge to do the job well and about being motivated to succeed personally and as part of a team. We skill our people in the art of customer advocacy through comprehensive coaching and people development programmes from day one; providing on-going skills, product and management training as they develop their careers.
5. Technology-enable the front line
When an advisor answers a call, it’s important that they know exactly who they are talking to. If the caller is an existing customer, they need to be aware of what that customer has bought before – and what issues they’ve had in the past. And if a caller gives details to one advisor, they shouldn’t have to repeat them if they speak to a specialist in another department. This calls for unified technology solutions that link data and voice systems and ensure that only the most relevant data is presented to advisors to assist with customer contacts. This may include customer history data, and real-time marketing information on appropriate product promotions and additional products/services.
6. Take advantage of real-time data analytics
There’s a wealth of information contained within customer contacts that says a lot about the relationships between your organisation and its customers. Information that, if mined and used appropriately, can assist in better understanding customer needs, improving call scripts and advisor training, resolving problems and enhancing business processes.
To take advantage of this opportunity, organisations need to bring together information from as many sources as possible (e.g. call and email handling systems, workforce and performance management systems, call recording and quality management systems, etc.), analyse that data, share knowledge, create actions and then deliver those actions in a timely manner. Data analytics technology is improving all the time and the latest generation of speech analytics solutions represents a giant step forward – giving quality managers an automated method of analysing thousands of calls in near real time to spot trends, identify events and produce insights to improve future contact handling.
7. Manage the customer lifecycle
Customer issues can often be identified and nipped in the bud before they ever become problems. It’s all about proactive customer lifecycle management. Through effective data analysis, organisations can often identify common trends such as customers calling with a particular query, and customers churning – and then proactively manage those customers at particular points of the customer lifecycle through new customer welcome calls, promotional offers, and loyalty incentives.
Driving high first-call resolution is nearly always a key goal of call elimination. If a query is resolved first time, there’s usually no need to make contact again over the same matter. However, that’s not the whole story. There’s also the question of why that customer called in the first place. An installation problem? A product fault? An invoice problem? According to Stephen Parry, an organisational transformation and business improvement consultant, as much as 50-70 per cent of incoming customer contacts may be generated by a failure within systems and products. To eliminate these, organisations must work backwards to correct the root causes of problems and develop methods to overcome them.
That’s why any focus on call elimination must start with an examination of processes that occur well before a customer makes contact with a customer service department. In fact, in many cases, at the point an individual or organisation first becomes a customer.
The goals of a call elimination strategy – and factors that need to be taken into account when devising that strategy – will clearly depend on the unique nature and business practices of each organisation. In the public sector, the spirit of ‘call elimination’ is embodied by the recently introduced NI 14 ‘avoidable contact’ measure.
Devising and implementing a comprehensive call elimination strategy is far from easy. Personnel at all levels within your organisation – from board directors to managers and advisors – must be involved and buy into the approach. And every aspect of your customer service operation – people, processes and technology – must be considered. However, the rewards to be gained from getting it right are potentially huge – not just in terms of bottom-line numbers but in terms of employee motivation and satisfaction, and superior customer service delivery.
Steve Norman is the Business Development Director at Garlands Call Centres
Steve, great article highlighting the topic. My colleagues’ book “The Best Service Is No Service” gives lots of examples and provides a great educational tool for management teams to get why contact avoidance should be a main strategy for any operation.
A key point is that this is a way of working, not a project to hit contact rates.