Don’t take your Customer’s word for it!

This week I had a conversation in which a friend said: “Bad results begin with bad assumptions”. We scrabbled around with the theme and got from “Assumptive Bias” to  “BIASsumptions” (which is not an actual word unfortunately). A fun to have conversation, but I believe underlying is a serious matter that brought me to write this post.

Let me start by saying that some form of guessing or interpreting facts is inevitable when you are embarking upon new roads, trying out stuff, experimenting or analyzing e.g. process failures and their consequences. ” Assumptions” are not the problem. It is how we treat assumptions and what we believe are good assumptions that worries me. My 3 main worries about assumptions are:

  1. Assumptions are often built upon “common knowledge or understanding” that are presented as facts
  2. When used for building business cases assumptions are hardly ever checked in hindsight
  3. Attempts to validate assumptions lead to “biased”  research aimed only to prove one’s assumption is correct

Assumptions based on Common Knowledge or Understanding, not supported by facts

I wrote about one of the most sticky assumptions, which is regarded knowledge in the Customer Services arena, before: Why keep chasing the wrong Goose? The assumption I’m talking about: One should pick-up the phone within (on average) 20 to 30 seconds to keep customers satisfied. As this might be true for a specific company, it is most likely not to be true for all companies. It actually doesn’t matter if it is true or not in general. What does matter is if it is true for you, or better, if you can change it to: what is customer waiting time tolerance for your company? For a good example on how one could prove what’s true for your company, take a look at this post by McKinsey. Research based on the facts & data of your company is the best you can get. You have it, why don’t you use it? As the example shows: a lot of waste can be prevented.

Assumptions are hardly ever checked in hindsight

Much attention gets paid to the assumptions in preparing a business case. It therefor has always surprised me how little time is taken to review afterwards, whether the business case came through or not. In both cases this is missed opportunity. First of all you can learn from the validation of your assumptions. It might be your assumption came through, but the result of your business case didn’t, or the other way around. There is always a great learning potential by checking in hindsight. Best case: you have proved your assumption for this business case. Now you know it is a better assumption for your next business case. But never forget: even if it came through 2 times or more, you need to check every time. Don’t miss-out on the opportunity to learn.

Biased research

The first two are about failing to check, my last one is about poor validation. The issue here is that most people tend to look only for the positive proof of the assumptions they made. We often disregard completely the proof against the assumptions. It is not only scientifically better to make a real effort to not prove your assumptions, it also makes your assumption (much) less of an assumption if it comes out as true (or highly correlated at best actually). True validation is about checking both sides of the coin.  It will provide you with great (personal) satisfaction if you do, even if your assumption proved false. At the same time you might have saved your company from adding more waste to the bottom line.

Bad results begin with hypotheses poorly validated

The best way to take the turn away from Assumptions in your business cases, plans or analysis, is to change from Assumptions to Hypotheses. As discussed above, assumptions are regarded truths without the facts supporting it, are poorly checked and often a result of bias. Hypotheses are not about that. Hypotheses are screaming to be challenged. Change your assumptions to hypotheses the next time you need one and dig in the facts.

And, if you get any of those facts from Customer Surveys, don’t take your Customer’s word for it: you have another Hypothesis in your hand..

What do you say?: will you start working with hypotheses and walk away from assumptions?

Which Goose should you chase? – Invitation to co-create next generation customer service dashboard 2.0 –

A few weeks ago I posted a blog with the title: Why keep chasing the wrong Goose? At the end of that post I promised to come back to you with a more in depth post on what you should be chasing, or in other words: Which metrics should you put in place in the Customer Services environment to get “it” right?

I truly believe our “profession” is in need of a new dashboard. Current metrics have brought our customers and our companies too little. Most of the times when a company gets bad press it is about the bad service that has been provided through customer services. The existence of TV-watch-dog shows depends on this, and the number of shows is only increasing. Thus: we need to re-invent ourselves. We need to re-invent the way we do, act, live, breath and measure (the value contribution to the customer and the company of) Customer Services.

When reading lot’s of research on the link between the Customer Service Experience and Customer Loyalty, stuff on metrics like the ACSI, Customer Effort Score, NPS, ways to ask questions in customer surveys and discussing the theme on Twitter and other blog-posts, it quite dazzled me, so I let it rest for a while.

This week I came to think: why not use the power of Social Media to co-create, through collaboration, the new Customer Services Dashboard 2.0? Together we know more, we can discuss viewpoints and we can leverage experiences. I hope you share my thoughts and are willing to contribute.

A short introduction:

Before we can build the new Customer Services Dashboard 2.0 we need to have a goal (we do not measure because we want to measure, we measure because we want to improve something).

I would like to think that the main goal any Customer Services department should have, is to contribute to the company’s goal. Since I do not know all company’s goals I propose that we set as our goal:

  • Improvement of Customer Loyalty (Behavior)

Customer Loyalty behavior consists of three specific “actions” that companies aim for to boost sales and profits. These three are:

  • Buy again (i.e. extend a contract or repurchase the same product when used)
  • Buy more (i.e. buy additional products or services from the company)
  • Spread the word (i.e. tell friends and family about the great product/service and advice to buy it too)

To make it a little more easy to link this desired customer behavior to Customer Services I suggest you read some of the following:

So, I hope you are all warmed-up now. I am!

How will this continue?

First of all I need to know if you are up for the challenge? Do you also believe that our Customer Services Profession is in need of building a Customer Services Dashboard 2.0?

If yes, or no, please leave a comment below and share your views. Are you interested in contributing to build this dashboard, please connect to me through LinkedIn or Twitter, and let me know you’re interested. I’ll get back to you within a couple of days, to let you know how we are going to get this done and how you can contribute (and benefit from joining in).

Looking forward to the collaboration journey. Are your in?

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Align your metrics – It is better to all chase the same, though wrong, Goose, than to all chase different Geeze –

Goose flyingThe bottom line of my Goose Chase posts is that it is very easy to loose focus on what is really important to drive your business and to find the right metrics to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty. You can find the posts here. Today’s post is about:

Aligning your metrics – It is better to all chase the same, though wrong Goose, than to all chase different Geeze –

Most of us agree that having metrics, measurements and goals is important if you want to keep track of your performance as a business in whole and as departments or customer process-owners as part of the whole. It is as important for your business to align metrics as it is to align goals. Both aim to ensure that we all move in the same direction. True alignment of goals and metrics, unfortunately, is not the case in many companies.

I would like to illustrate this with one of many examples I encountered over the past years. This situation played within one and the same Sales & Marketing department of a triple-play Telco company:

The marketing team came to ask the direct sales team to set-up a dedicated outbound calling team for their new campaign. The first wanted to have the outbound agents to really dig into the customer conversation to find out his/her needs in order to make a good assessment of what to offer from the full mix of product/service combinations there are to offer. The direct sales department did not agree to that approach. They wanted a clear cut offer with pre-cooked sales arguments and a succinct call-script to go with that. Both started a fierce discussion on the best way to sell and to get the best result of the campaign. Both defended their own position as if their lives depended upon it. And it didn’t take long or it was explained from both sides that “politics” were involved. Who has the longest breath and who is the strongest: I’m right or you’re right and no in between possible.

The root cause of the situation?

When digging into the discussion it was discovered that the marketing team was measured by the average revenue of the contracts closed and the direct sales team was measured by the number of contracts closed. The kind of selling, requested by the marketing department, would take too much time and would result in not meeting the agreed volume of sales with the number of hours available (and in the budget). Hence the desire for easy selling offers and clean-cut scripts.

The above situation is a clear example of wrong alignment of metrics within one and the same company department, resulting in valuable time lost, loss of employee satisfaction and (further) increase of separation between two parts of one organisation, one department even. It’s a destructive practice which is widely spread within companies these days, that can be easiliy prevented: align your goose chase.

Whether the marketing department is right or the direct sales department is right does not really matter for the bottom line of this story. I even dare to say:

it is more important that you align your metrics than having your metrics absolutely right:

– it is better to all chase the same, though wrong, goose, than to all chase different Geeze –

When you think of the above and think of your own working environment, what do you think? Do you have aligned metrics? Can you now imagine why that “other” department is acting so “political”? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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How to (not) end up chasing more Geeze

goose-headThe Goose represents the Goals that we pursue in our lives dedicated to excellent customer service experiences. I’ve written about chasing the Same Goose and chasing the Wrong Goose. If you want to follow the Goose Chase please hit the rss-feed button on the top right corner of my blog.

How to (not) end up chasing more Geeze  – will Social Media or Social CRM add value for Customer Services or not?

Unfortunately most companies do not have a well thought-through Customer Interaction Strategy. You will probably recognize from your own experience that companies jump on the next new wagon that passes because everybody is doing it. I wrote about this copy-cat behaviour before. Because there is no true strategy behind these choices, companies tend to follow the “benchmark” metrics to see if they are successful. They take too little time to do research in what their customers really want and expect. As a result they end up being mediocre companies, with mildly satisfied, mostly indifferent and disloyal customers, who will jump on the next best competition-wagon that passes by.

Now we have the next Goose flying in the air: Social Media & Social CRM. Highly recognized analysts from companies such as Forrester advice you to jump onto the wagon as quickly as possible. Some even say it’s time now to forget whatever you are doing or measuring now in Customer Service (or other areas) as a consequence of jumping onto the high-speed train.

The question is: do you, from a Customer Services perspective, need to jump? do you need to chase this Goose?

Honestly, I do not know. What I do know: if you fly out to chase the Goose without a map, a compass and jump the plane without a parachute, you will end up feeling pretty bad. If you do not have a clear goal and strategy defined with clear stepping stones and possible scenario’s worked out, you do not have a clue what you will encounter. If you do not have the metrics in place that give you a good idea of your position (how am I doing compared to my goals) you do not know whether the initiative is worth continuing. If you do not pilot or test in a small environment, with little risk involved, you will not know if your assumptions (that you based your strategy on) are true (or likely to be true). As a consequence, if you did not do all your homework, the likelihood that you will fall out of the sky and get injured seriously or even drop dead, is significantly increasing:

The probability that a service interaction will drive disloyalty is approximately four times greater than the chance it will create any positive loyalty impression

So, when jumping onto the Social Media wagon, the risk of getting hurt is huge, much bigger than the chance you will emerge out of the slopes.  This is not a law but a fact. It shows that we human beings in general are not that good in providing customer services experiences that matter positively. The vast majority just does not get it, and we know it. (I hit the . on the keyboard really hard there… some frustration coming out ;-)

Before you decide to step in or jump on you should ask yourself one important question: How am I doing today?

Can you honestly say that you have your customer services under control, that you are actually contributing positively to the value your company is providing to your customer? If so, you probably have a good chance of making it in the Social Media place too. (But hey, do not forget: what’s the purpose, the value for you and your customers?).

If you think you are doing ok today, take a break, rethink, research and know how you are doing today.

If you know you are not doing well today I suggest: fix that first. We all have limited resources and they are best spend where they add value to your customers and your business. We know that Customer Services can make a difference in the Customer Experience, and we know that Customer Experiences matter. So your first job is to fix that.

Tapping into the Twitter-stream or any other Social Media place will not fix it for you. It will just give you more Geeze to chase.

If your company is doing well and if you can honestly say that customer services is adding value in the total value bucket, implementing a social media or social CRM strategy will have great opportunity to contribute more value even (if you did your homework). If this is not the case, you will be overwhelmed with a completely new, not yet to be seen, volume stream of interactions you do not know how to handle or manage. Workloads will increase, staff who started out enthusiastically will be disappointed (they still cannot solve the customer issue) and then the worst of all things happens: Social Media starts doing its work, Bad word of mouth is out, and spreads faster than Mexican Flu (was supposed to ;-).

Honestly, do you want to end up with hundredthousands Geeze to chase?

Why keep chasing the wrong Goose?

This is the 2nd article on Goose-chasing in Customer Services. The Goose represents The Goals that we pursue in our lives dedicated to excellent customer service experiences. As Goals are usually defined in metrics and targets that we aim for, that’s what this blog sequence is (mostly) about. If you want to follow the Goose-chase, please hit the RSS-feed button in the right column of this blog.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article : Why are we chasing the same goose? In essence this article is about the copy-paste-without-thinking-behaviour that is common in Business life. Copy-paste of tools and metrics that then become goals instead of means to create value for customer and company.

In this blog I will focus on one “most wanted” Goose in Customer Service Contact Centers: accessibility of the call center measured in percentage of calls picked up within X seconds (most referred to as SLA, which is technically a wrong term, but for understanding I will use it here too).

The consequences of the choice for Call-SLA as a primary customer service metric is that the company focus is on achieving just that. Anything else is of less importance. This is a big waste of money and scarce resources and is destroying the Customer Service Experience.

Allow me to illustrate with a scenario:

TV-consumer-watch-dog program hits hard on company: product sucks, service sucks, nobody can reach customer service and company does not meet own promises! Broadcast with a studio full of complaining customers. The next morning tabloids take over the story, featuring other complaining customers. From thereon it escalates within the company. Even the Executive Board comes in and wants to see results. The first qustion asked: what are the KPI’s used? And Call Center Management comes up with Accessibility, AHT, Quality Monitoring Results, Customer Satisfaction (and probably First Time Right / First Contact Resolution, but with the remark that corect measurement is difficult). All show rather poor results.

One can predict what follows: The company starts with fixing these “old” KPI’s. This is what they know and understand. And this is what they can explain to the outside world. Call SLA comes first (the easiest one). Worst case: they start making call-back appointments to meet a certain SLA (to show to the outside world). These call-back can never be met and the problems starts getting biger and bigger.

After a few months Call SLA’s are much better, but still Customer Satisfaction has not increased, maybe even a small decline is seen. AHT might have increased due to an influx of new Service Respresentatives. Quality Monitoring needs to be picked up again, because resources have been tied up in training of new CSR’s. First Contact Resolution actually showes no change. Why is this?:

High call SLA’s do not correlate to high customer satisfaction or loyalty. “Effectiveness” and “Ease of use” in Customer service do.

There is only a very limited relation between high call SLA’s and customer satisfaction and even smaller (to none probably) relation with Loyalty. We know this actually, but still the vast majority of contact centers follow the Call SLA daily as their primary metric. This has some consequences:

  1. Far more resources are working on Forecasting, Workforcemanagement & Traffic management compared to resources working on Analytics to find out about the Voice of the Customer (VOC) and how to reduce volume: Whole tribes of specialists are at work every day to do whatever they can to come as close to a guarantee to deliver the SLA all the time. Some even focus on SLA-consistency (get it right in every 30-minute interval). These resources are usualy hard to find and quite expensive, because they have one great asset: they can analyze numbers. These resources are well equiped to perform VOC-analysis, that can result in true optimization of your efforts. If the resource is scarce, where would you put it?
  2. Recruitment is focused on bringing numbers, not human beings that deliver great customer experiences: If we are under pressure to meet SLA’s (because of a crisis or just an increase in volume) it is likely that recruitment will not be done in a proper way, that you know you get the right people in. If the target is set to hire 100 new Service Representatives in the shortest possible timeframe, that’s what you’ll get. (If you would have added the requirement: that meet our job-description requirements, it could be different). As a consequence you have hired a lot of new people that will pick up the phone, but will not like speaking with your customer and solving their problems. So, what do you get?: more dissapointed customers and service representatives that will leave you in the short term.
  3. Training & Coaching resources are wasted: With the entire focus on meeting SLA, training departments are overloaded with training and coaching of new resources and later on the replacement of these new resources. There is little to no time to focus on improving quality, reducing 2nd line questions etc.  

Think of the total costs of ownership of the choice to have Call SLA as the primary metric: HR, recruitment agencies, advertising companies, trainers, ICT, system engineers, call center manager, assistants to call center managers, planning, supervisor etc etc.. They all have been working (at best together) on getting these new people in and meeting the SLA. People that did not add any value to your company nor the company-customer relationship. And that for a metric that does not add value to consumer and business too.
Most of you who read this will say: Yes, I knew that already. Yet, still we see most companies chase the wrong goose, in normal times, but specifically in difficult or crisis times. As an example for how important we still think the call SLA is: please see the Dutch Accessibility Research-report (Sorry: Dutch only). This is published every year. No Call Center Manager really wants it. I bet that most companies with below average scores on accesability will put great effort not being in the lower half of the list next year.

I just wish they do not do it the “easy” but the “effective” way. So what should they do?:

Next week I will write on What Geeze you should be chasing? A more in depth article on what truely matters to customers in Customer Services. Until that time, please leave a comment or question if you want. Let’s get the discussion going.

AHT as call center management evaluation metric

arrow green upMy article on Productivity resulted in quite some good comments. AHT as a metric is also discussed on other blogs. In this blog I further detail my arguments why I believe AHT is still a powerfull metric to track in Contact Center environments.

Focus on AHT can kill the Customer Experience

In general CSR’s behave as their bosses want them to behave. Meaning: If management’s sole focus is AHT you will see CSR’s do just that. And nothing more than that. You get what you deserve and it kills the Customer Experience.

I believe it is quite “dumb” to ask each and every CSR to have exactly the same AHT. This does not do right to the differences there are between human beings and converstations. Even dumber is to ask from agents that each call takes the same (short) time.

These are all examples and consequences of bad usage of a powerfull metric.

AHT used in context can be a powerful tool

Still I’m pro AHT as a good measurement tool in contact center environments, if used in the right context and with care.

My line of thinking in bullets:

  • High quality means a high consistency in quality (high likelyhood that each call shows same (high) level of service experience
  • If you want to be consistent in high level customer service experience you need to know exactly what you (through your CSR’s) need to deliver and how. You need to have a clear methodology.
  • You get this consistency through intense training and coaching of your CSR’s on the methodology (before that: make sure systems and authorisations are in place to deliver what you want delivered) and guard it through quality monitoring
  • The result is consistency in quality, execution (methodology) and therefore consistency in AHT
  • High AHT and Low AHT of an individual CSR is an indicator of poor quality delivery. Either knowledge or structure in conversation is bad, or CSR is rude and “cuts” calls. Both do not stick to the methodology and will not deliver the service experience you need.

Either way: both (groups of) CSR’s need attention. Not on AHT, but on Quality.

I ensure you: perform a correlation analysis between QM-results and AHT on all CSR data, and you will see what I saw: the correlation is (very) high.

Too many outliers says something about management too

High AHT-variance or -spread proves a lack of management capability to:

  • know what you need to deliver and how to do this most effectively
  • develop a clear methodology for flawless delivery of the desired service experience
  • explain, train and coach CSR’s in understanding and executing the methodology consistently

As an example I include two graphs to show what I mean. These graphs show on the X-ax: AHT-slots from lowest to highest. On the Y-ax: number of CSR’s that “perform” within a certain AHT-slot. The result: you get a nice view on how the spread of AHT is within your Contact Center. In both cases AHT is 285 seconds. You tell me which Contact Center is more likely to deliver consistent quality in service experience:


Bottom line 1: AHT-variance or spread metric is therefor also a management evaluation tool.

Bottom line 2: AHT can never be the #1 or only metric you use. Use it in the right context.