Today’s competitive pressures challenge you to rethink the relationship between you and your customers. The contact center is no longer a cost center. It’s a key driver of competitive advantage. In order to compete, you must stop managing your contact center for speed of service and start managing for a truly superior customer experience - not by your own standards, but from your customers’ point of view.

As Fred Reichheld pointed out in his book “The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth,” a recent Bain study showed that 80 percent of businesses believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only eight percent of their customers agree.It’s the customer service 80/8 gap. Most companies assume their service is not detracting from customer loyalty, but few of their customers have the same opinion. In today’s tough market, companies need to do more to understand how customers rate their customer experience and take action to improve it.

So, what is a great customer experience? It is an experience that turns customers into loyal advocates for your company. Superior customer service creates referrals, retention and profitable growth. Patrons are not just satisfied customers, they are loyal promoters.

The importance of providing a superior customer experience is hard to deny, however, the typical contact center is an exercise in paradox. At many companies, the center is the only direct contact most customers have with the company, and that contact only occurs a handful of times a year. Yet, the emphasis in most contact centers is to keep that contact as short as possible to reduce costs, instead of using it as an opportunity to affirm, improve and increase the value of the customer relationship. Top-rated companies have adjusted to this changing environment by turning their contact centers into a strategic competitive advantage, and they are achieving impressive results. These include visibly higher customer loyalty rates and significantly lower operating costs..

With more customer-facing channels to manage, growing customer expectations and increasing competitive pressures, overcoming this paradox is more daunting and more crucial to delivering quality customer service than ever.

The Gap Between Your View and Your Customers’ View

The reason most companies fall into the 80/8 gap is that their business appears healthy by traditional, inward-looking measures. They have good managers who digest lots of data from the many reports delivered by multiple customer-facing applications, such as call tracking and CRM systems, automatic call distributors and voice response units, Web and email logs and customer surveys. Their executives and directors marshal their troops to focus on improving traditional metrics such as service levels, handle times and abandonment rates.

All of this is good, but it is no longer good enough. Top-level feedback - from customers, C-level executives and other functional groups - continues to show a gap with expectations. These contact centers must start looking at their business from their customers’ perspective.

This is easier said than done. There’s the constant pressure to balance high-quality service with decreasing operational budgets. On the front lines, this translates into limited visibility into customer experience metrics and seemingly conflicted goals. Agents are compensated for efficiency and lack the training and mentoring to switch focus from keeping costs down to enhancing the value of customer interactions.

Similarly, managers don’t have the tools to find the root causes of poor customer experiences at an actionable level. They are unable to close the performance gap between top-performing agents and average performers because they can’t identify which individual agents need coaching on which specific issues. Worse yet, customers have very different experiences not only from agent to agent, but from channel to channel.

Closing this 80/8 gap means understanding your customers’ perspective on the quality and effectiveness of your service and making changes in the way you interact with them. Being able to anticipate customer needs marks the difference between merely good service and a truly superior customer experience.

Five Characteristics of Strategic Contact Centers

Best-in-class customer service operations have successfully made the leap from emphasizing cost reduction to capitalizing on each and every customer interaction. They’ve done this by adopting new, customer-centric metrics that provide everyone in the organization with visibility into the service experience from the customer’s perspective. New measures are only half the battle, though. These contact centers have achieved the most significant benefits by providing their agents with more context, targeted training and the mandate to make the most of their time on the phone with each customer.

Organizations that have adjusted to competitive pressures and adopted a customer-centric approach to service share these five characteristics:.

  • Top down commitment. Senior management, including the CEO, CFO and vice presidents responsible for marketing, sales and product development, adopt a single definition and common measurements for customer experience across all departments. They also recognize that marginally higher contact center budgets can result in significantly higher customer value.
  • Culture change. Contact center managers and supervisors foster a workplace culture in which agents are encouraged and empowered to initiate dialogues and listen to customers rather than just answer questions.
  • Skills change. Agents are trained to empathize with customers, resolve issues quickly and anticipate future needs. This type of training is reinforced frequently with facts-based coaching to strengthen customer-centric behaviors while increasing efficiency.
  • Performance rating change. Agents are rated on a balanced scorecard that recognizes different average handling time targets, for example, for different types of customer issues. Also, new customer-centric metrics are introduced to the scorecard to track issue resolution from the customer’s perspective.
  • Financial commitment. Senior management recognizes that training, longer AHT and other changes cost money. They accept this as the cost of increasing customer value in both the short and long run, and they commit the necessary financial resources.

In the process, they have embraced customer-oriented metrics, such as “first contact resolution rate,” (first call resolution is no longer enough) “contacts per customer,” and “channel preference per contact reason.” The combination of a fresh, customer-centric management approach with the right enabling technology has allowed these best-in-class contact centers to effectively manage increasingly diverse and complex service operations and produce a better customer experience and higher margins.

Customer-Centric Metrics of Superior Customer Service

Traditional call center metrics, while still valuable for many purposes, describe operational performance from an aggregated, channel-centric point of view. However, to understand the customer perspective, contact centers must track and analyze customer experience across service channels and over time. In addition, each of these new metrics must be analyzed by product line, major customer segment or contact reason, with special attention given to the largest and/or most valuable groups.

The information required to produce these new metrics is usually stored in multiple systems. In the past, this made it virtually impossible to classify and understand each individual customer’s service experience for each individual problem at a meaningful level. Today, there are advanced analytics tools that make it possible to quantify these metrics, sequence interactions and then systematically drill into detailed information. With these advanced new technologies, the right customer-centric metrics can be measured - and leveraged to optimize the customer experience.

“Real” First Contact Resolution

First contact resolution is still the most valuable metric for measuring the effectiveness of service delivery.This means moving beyond FCR for agent-handled calls to a cross-channel view of the many customer service options to understand how they intersect in resolving customer issues.However, to get a true picture of contact center performance, it should be complemented by other customer-centric metrics. Using today’s technologies to intelligently combine data from multiple customer-facing systems, leading companies now look closely at three key FCR rates.

  • Overall first contact resolution rate (FCR-overall). This metric measures the percentage of customer problems that are resolved during the first attempt, regardless of the channel through which this first interaction takes place. It is an important measure of the overall quality of service delivered across all customer-facing channels.
  • First contact resolution rate (FCR-agent handled). This is the percentage of customer problems that are resolved successfully during the first contact requiring a customer service agent. FCR is a measure of how effectively customer service agents are truly resolving customer issues.
  • Self-service first contact resolution rate (FCR-SS). This measures the percentage of customer problems that are successfully resolved with neither human contact nor any associated follow-up contact from the customer. FCR-SS is a measure of how effectively self-service and automated channels are solving problems.

Each of these first contact resolution metrics is critical to customer quality, and executives and managers should focus consistent attention and prioritized resources to drive these metrics up. And, as with contact per customer metrics, it is critical that managers are equipped with technology that allows them to appropriately measure and manage these FCR rates by contact reason or customer segment, not as aggregate averages.

Contacts Per Customer

From the customer’s perspective, the service experience begins when she identifies that she has a need for assistance. Therefore, it is important to get an accurate representation of problem frequency by customer. Contacts per customer (CPC) is a metric calculated by looking at all unique problems experienced by customers across all service channels and dividing them by the total size of the relevant customer base. Note that to calculate this properly, you must be able to characterize every interaction as being related to a new customer issue or a continuation of an ongoing problem.

CPC is a measure of the intensity of customer demand for service. By breaking this metric down by customer segment, customer lifecycle stage, product, account billing status, etc., a company can quickly identify the contexts that drive customers to contact them.This customer experience analysis, starting with the customer events that caused a contact, will review new insights into how to improve the end-to-end customer experience or even eliminate the need for a contact.

Customer Channel Preference

Every company providing customer service today has discovered the value of self-support and automated response. In most cases, there are significant benefits - both increased customer satisfaction and decreased operational costs - to having more customer first contacts through delivery channels that do not require human resources, such as Web database queries, VRU messages and automated email responses.

The customer preference for self-service automated (CP-SS) rate is the percentage of unique customer problems for which self-service or automation is used as a percentage of overall unique customer problem cycles. This is a measure of the likelihood that customers will attempt to solve problems with self-service resources instead of (or at least before) utilizing human assistance. In most service organizations, this metric is critical to cost-effectiveness, traffic management and, ultimately, to customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The CP-SS metric is driven by customer awareness of self-service resources, as well as the actual and perceived ability of these to solve the problems that customers are experiencing. Resources should be invested to systematically drive the CP-SS metric up by appropriate customer segments and issue type.

A Great Customer Experience is Based on Customer-Centric Service

Companies can transform their service operations from cost centers to strategic business partners by exhibiting top-down commitment, culture change, skills change, performance rating change, financial commitment - and by changing their focus from measuring traditional metrics to emphasizing customer-centric metrics.

Although the challenges of delivering customer-centric service seem daunting, there are a number of ways to overcome them. By adopting a customer-centric approach, focusing on individual agent performance and delivering targeted coaching, companies can be successful in turning every contact into a mutually rewarding experience. Companies can now use their contact centers to gain significant advantages over their competition. With growing customer mobility and rising customer frustration, the norm rather than the exception in today’s marketplace, companies that fail to understand and improve on their customers’ experience do so at their own peril.

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