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.

The killer customer service or loyalty metric does not exist

metricsHappy with your Customer Satisfaction score? Don’t be! Here’s why:

Cash is King – Profit an Opinion

Even the one metric (profit) that we all acknowledge gets challenged. This quote reached me through Twitter, from a person following a Financial Management for Non Financials-course at that time. It is as much a true statement as a false one. Having a bundle of cash but no activities to work with it does not make business sense. On the other hand Profit actually is an opinion, since the annual profit-statement depends on a few rules that we set to calculate profits. If we change the rules (or go to another country) with the same revenue and costs you can have different Profit. Hence my opinion that the quote above is as much true as it is not true.

The same goes for metrics that try capture Customer Satisfaction or Loyalty. Any metric you choose can be true or false. And one thing is for sure: The killer metric does not exist! Let me explain:

CSAT nor NPS are exclusively “right”

In my experience lots of companies have very decent to even good Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores (in The Netherlands for example scoring 7,8 , on a scale of 10, is considered a good score). Nevertheless also companies with little to no growth or even little to no profit score as high as this or higher. The conclusion can be that these CSAT-scores do not provide any insights to improve your business performance. I am inclined to go with that conclusion. Are you?

A similar discussion is still going on in respect of the NetPromoterScore (NPS) that tries to capture Customer Loyalty. I will not dive into that discussion here. If you are interested just hit this link.

Changing the rules of the game

Back to CSAT: I experienced in my carreer great improvements through measurement (and acting upon) CSAT:

When I was working for Center Parcs as a Management Trainee, almost 15 years ago, this company had a long history of great CSAT scores. Even for the Dutch the scores were high: high eighties where no exception. Still “we” experienced a decline in bookings and (F&B) spend during that time (and it where the growing years), so something had to happen.

Center Parcs introduced a new CSAT metric that focussed on Top Box scores. They spend some time investigating what customers really cared about and came up with a new CSAT form on which customers where no longer asked to score on a scale of ten. Per question the customer only got 4 options: “-/-” or “-” or “+” or “+/+” and they told “us” they would be measuring on percentage of Top Box (the “+/+”).

Without changing your play

As nobody in the company really thought improving service was possible, little changed in the beginning. Of course management started a program to explain and drive what they where looking for (I’ll get back to that later), but most people where convinced that service was already at the highest possible level. Until the first results came in: week after week a dramatic under-performance compared to target (I really do not know the exact scores anymore, but I remember the turmoil).

Now it became clear to everyone that something needed to happen, that “management” was not just saying somethings about creating great and new experiences (Center Parcs did not invent experience management, but the became quite good at it already sometime ago), they actually meant it. And then it happened: sparked by the Leadership-team and local management, all employees got involved in the process of creating new experiences. Simple low-cost experiences as well as high-value investments, throughout the company. Experiences that did not only surprise the customer, but also generated increase in bookings, on-site revenues and profits.

What gets measured gets done

My conclusion: CSAT (or any other metric you choose) will not work as a killer metric if you remain satisfied with mediocre or even good scores compared to competition (or common understanding). When you’re stuck at that ceiling, be creative, challenge everything you already know and take it from a different angle. Re-invent the metric that works best for the situation you’re in.

It may well be (and it is likely to be so) that Center Parcs at any time has hit the ceiling of this new “killer metric” too. And this will happen to you too, or has happened to you already. Don’t just sit around and wait untill you are hit by revenue declining and/or customers leaving or staying away. Dive in and create a follow-up metric that will work for you there and then.

Killer metrics do not exist, they are company specific and should evolve with it!

Where are you at?

Productivity in Contact Centers – The dirty word –

small arrow green upThe mainstream discussion on the best way to reduce costs of customer services seems almost entirely focused on topics like Social Media, WOCAS, Voice of the Customer, Customer Experience and The best service is no Service. Nowhere in the discussion around quality up & costs down (which is the basic philosophy of any of the themes mentioned) driving productivity increase is mentioned in a positive way. Stronger even: quite often we see the argument that one should focus on the effectiveness of Customer Care processes and not on the productivity of the transaction. One could say that Productivity is The Dirty Word of today’s word of mouth around Customer Care & Customer Contact.

I would like to argue here that productivity management is as much a tool for quality management as is quality monitoring. If executed in the right way productivity management can contribute as much to decreasing volume as self-service-robots. I even dare to state that productivity management is the cheapest and fastest way to get better results on First Contact Resolution, Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience.

Why? In my blog “How do I understand Why” I stated: “CEM (Customer Experience Management) is about taking it back to where it all starts: The Customer places a Call.….And ask yourself: WHY?” The same applies here:

Productivity is about taking it back to where it all starts: The Customer places a Call…. And ask yourself: WHY does it take so long (on average, because that is what we contact center professionals look at) ?

Again this question is rarely easily answered. At best there is some form of skill-based routing (do not overdo that) and few fully multi-skilled agents. This enables the organisation to assess what type of contacts (and processes/customer experiences driving these contacts) are complex, take more time to handle and would require improvement first (on experience, quality and productivity). Also most contact centers do not have fully multi-channel CTI-connected and integrated systems which would enable full contact type productivity analysis on an individual level.

To cut it short: In main-stream contact center-life there is very little insight in the reasons why AHT/productivity is what it is. The result of which is that contact centers managers continuously have to explain why it has gone up over that week, month etc etc. And of course they hardly ever have good founded answers and start tracking ICT-problems and other department failures and alike to cover their [Dirty Word Here].  That’s part of the reason why productivity management is the pain in the [DWH] of today’s customer care and contact center business. Other reasons are: Productivity management is not sexy & Productivity management is not making you popular and liked.

Why is Productivity Management the cheapest and fastest way to increasing quality?

In my humble opinion and experience there is a clear relation between customer satisfaction and the average length of a call. In my past experience as Business Unit Manager of a Contact Center Outsourcing Service Provider I was, among other Clients, responsible for a part of the first and second line tech support for one of the world’s leading Game consoles. I say part, because this business is multi-vendor outsourced as well as multi-regional executed within my former company.  There was a very clear focus from the Client on Customer Satisfaction (top 2 Box on a scale of 9) and First Contact Resolution (measured by customer feedback). Because of the multi-regional set-up there was intensive (healthy) competition and best practice sharing between the sites. In the last year I worked for this company my location showed best (above target) CSAT (and almost on target FCR)  results throughout the entire year worldwide. At the same time our AHT was lowest within the company I worked for.

This “proof” brought me to dig into the details and I discovered that not only AHT was lower on overall average, but at the same time the variance in AHT between the different agents was much smaller compared to the other projects running on “my” site. When I asked the responsible manager(s) to explain to me what, in their opinion, made the difference it became clear to me: Productivity management is not about managing AHT, it is (again) about managing the way the agent approaches the call and guides the customer through the process of problem/question resolution. If you know what makes a good call (and really it is not about mentioning the customers name three or more times and also not about 6 critical errors out of 12 error opportunities) and you have the ability to teach and coach your agents how that is done, and you empower your agent with the right systems (access) and authority, you will get the shortest contact possible with the least risk of repeat calling This will also be the call with high customer satisfaction and good to great customer experience. Although the latter might be because others are not doing that well in general ;-)

A practical approach to improving productivity and increasing quality at the same time

To conclude what you could do to make quick and cheap results on quality and productivity with one and the same measure:

  1. Get a list of all employees and their respective AHT and define the agents that have AHT > 15 % above overall AHT (do not be surprised if this is more than 30 % of you agent population)
  2. If possible cross-check (and correlate) with quality monitoring results (and you will establish the correlation yourself)
  3. If monitoring results are not available start monitoring these agents and establish any gaps in knowledge or behaviour they have adopted that does not aid to delivering the best for your customer in a call
  4. Develop an awareness, training & coaching program focusedon How do I approach a call for this group only (at first, to keep it cheap and quick) and train on any knowledge gap if applicable.
  5. Train – Monitor+Coach – Monitor+Coach – Monitor+Coach – Train – Monitor+Coach with high intensity for several weeks to a few months and you will see:  quality monitoring results will go up and AHT (for the respective agent and overall) will start dropping significantly. At the same time you should be able to track a drop in repeat traffic (if the agent group you are attacking is of a significant size and takes a significant number of calls of course).

What you should keep in mind:

  1. Do not make this program about AHT reduction for the agents involved (not even for the coaches/teamleads involved). Make it about improving their ability to help the customer in a pleasant, effective and efficient way and make it about customer satisfaction. 
  2. Your second step should not be about repeating the first, but about the agents with AHT more than 15 % below the overall average. You will definitely find some rotten apples in there that you need to get out too.
  3. When you do individual productivity analysis make sure to also keep track of hold-time. Excessive hold-time is a clear indicator that there is a lot of feedback asked from others (or time spend waiting for others to help) or that too much time is spend on performing analysis. In all cases there is a gap of knowledge you need to close.
  4. There will be hopeless cases: empower and support your team managers to get the best out of everyone, but you should also be willing and able to empower to lay-off someone (which might be legally easy outside Europe, but not in most countries inside Europe) even if this will cost you some.

To conclude: you can start with this today, do not spend lot’s of money on (selecting) new systems, but focus on the customer experience that counts: The Call with the Customer.

Have fun, and please share your thoughts/experiences.