How well do you know your customers?

Many organisations pride themselves on how well they look after their customers. But are they really delivering the service their customers want? There's now fresh evidence to suggest organisations may not be doing quite as good a job as they think when it comes to keeping their customers satisfied.

The Aspect Contact Centre Satisfaction Index is a new industry initiative that measures the satisfaction delivered across 27 separate elements of consumers’ experience with their telephone and internet-based interactions. The Aspect Index measures both the quality of service that organisations think they are providing, and how consumers perceive the quality of service they are being given – and it identifies gaps between the two. The 2005 Aspect Index findings are based on 150 telephone and online interviews with contact centre professionals, and 1,000 telephone and online interviews with consumers across North America – focused on their interactions in the Finance/Banking/Insurance, Telecommunications and Retail sectors.

The inaugural Aspect Index study revealed that many organisations are failing to deliver quality service in the eyes of their customers. Consumers gave contact centres an overall 69% satisfaction grade (a D+ rating)*, a 72% (or C-) grade for Empathy and Advocacy, a 66% (or D) grade for efficiency and a 61% (or D-) grade for Automation. The research also revealed important insights into what consumers want. It showed that consumers want the ability to speak with a person, and not to simply forced into interacting with a machine. It revealed that consumers want delays and wait times to be minimised. And once consumers are connected to agents, the research found that consumers expect those agents to be knowledgeable and informed, pleasant and patient, and to speak clearly and be easy to understand.

The study also revealed a very clear gap between the perceptions of customers and organisations when it comes to the quality of service that’s actually being delivered. It showed that contact centre professionals often think they are performing better than consumers think they are –underestimating consumer expectations, and not keeping their customers satisfied. Figure 1 shows that 90% of contact centre managers believed that they met or exceeded consumer expectations – while only 77% of consumers felt the same way. Indeed, only 31% of consumers felt that contact centres exceeded their expectations and only 46% said that their expectations were being met.

The challenge facing organisations is to close the gap between how they perceive the quality of service that’s being delivered and how that service is being perceived. And it’s a task that must start by listening to their customers in order to gain a better understanding of the challenges involved in delivering superb customer experiences.

The Aspect Index research provides an insight into this task by delving deeper into both sides of the customer interaction. From the perspective of contact centre managers, it examines how professionals see the main challenges they face in dealing with consumers, and how they feel contact centres, both as a whole and within their specific industry segment, are dealing with these challenges. From the perspective of consumers it examines what issues are top of mind when dealing with contact centres. What factors they consider most important in evaluating their experiences. How they feel contact centres are performing. And how their contact center experiences vary based on the industry or type of service. Only through this detailed analysis can organisations hope to identify what is important to their customers, and thereby address these issues in order to deliver higher levels of satisfaction.

Technology can play a crucial role in helping to close the satisfaction gap – although the Aspect Index research warns that investment monies must be spent wisely in order to meet the technology concerns raised by customers. The research revealed that these technology concerns include: providing callers with an estimated wait time; providing IVR and web site opt out capabilities where they are needed; and providing callback options.

What is clear from the research is that organisations are not making the best use of their technology resources today. Consumers are clearly dissatisfied with contact centre automation rating it with an overall 61% (or D-) grade. And in particular, consumers are voicing a preference for multi channel systems – and a strong disapproval of totally automated systems that do not facilitate human access (rating is with a 55% (or F) grade.

This is clearly a wasted opportunity. For leading companies’ business leaders, the contact centre has emerged as an area of strategic importance – and when it comes to customer service, once viewed strictly as a cost centre, the contact centre now offers an opportunity for competitive differentiation based on improving the quality of the customer experience. As the Aspect Index shows, businesses are disappointing their customers at first point of contact. While this is an indictment, it is also an opportunity for savvy business leaders to move their companies to the top of the class and become A performers.

* Satisfaction Grades

Grades are based on an overall possible score of 100 which would represent the perfect customer interaction

A+ 98-100%
A 93-97%
A- 90-92%

B+ 88-89%
B 83-87%
B- 80-82%

C+ 78-79%
C 73-77%
C- 70-72%

D+ 68-69%
D 63-67%
D- 60-62%

F Under 60%

Figure 1

Source: Aspect Contact Centre Satisfaction Index, North America 2005

Q. Contact centre professionals were asked: Do you think the service your customers receive usually exceeds, meets or falls short of the expectations they had before making contact with your company? Q. Consumers were asked: Did the service you received exceed, meet or fall short of the expectations you had before making contact with the company?

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