Warren Buckley, BT: How measuring customer effort saved our service operations

11th Oct 2012

How does a huge company like BT bounce back from a repuational crisis? BT's MD of customer service talks to about revolutionising service through customer effort scores.

BT isn’t the first company that springs to mind when you think of excellent customer service case studies. In fact, the telecoms company has struggled to recover from a reputation of poor service and frustrated customers after a number of structural changes left many of its 12 million customers reeling in anger.

Warren Buckley, BT’s MD of customer service, doesn't shy away from this fact, and he explains that the problems stemmed from the need for the business to separate the network side of the business, which serves telecoms operators such as Sky and Talk Talk, from the customer-facing front side, totally changing the company’s established working practices as a result.

“We underestimated how big a change that was," he concedes. "The end result was that we went through a nine-month period where we let down many customers, our reputation dropped and we responded by putting in a lot more staff who weren't well enough trained. So we responded to a crisis and in some ways we then made that crisis worse.

“At the end of a 16 month period our reputation had dropped significantly overnight and we were in a situation where we didn't have clear direction. It was a really dark period, particularly for the advisors who had inevitably been under a lot of pressure during that period.”

BT had no other option that to go back to basics. The company re-evaluated the performance of their 7,000 service agents, located onshore and in Indian call centres, as well as introduce a tool to measure their performance end-to-end. The company began using a ‘one contact resolution’ (OCR) approach to examine how many times a customer was forced to call the service department before their issue was resolved.

However, whilst OCR helped the company set clear customer service goals, it became apparent that that for some journeys or experiences OCR wasn’t the right answer. “For example, somebody might call us, we might deal with it all on the phone and we might deal with it really well but it might take 40 minutes. The customer will say 'You did it, but that wasn't an easy experience. I expected it to take five minutes’,” says Buckley.

Customer effort

Instead, BT began focusing on the easiness of the customer experience, the amount of effort each customer exerts before their service issue is fully resolved. Evolving out of Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Customer Effort Score (CES) has recently emerged as the new favourite measurement tool, tracing the link between customer service and loyalty. BT’s use of CES, or ‘Neteasy’ as they call it, seeks to determine customer loyalty by asking: “Overall, how easy was it to get the help you wanted from BT today?” BT implemented the measurement across its entire contact channels and with every change made – shortening the journey, removing options, adding natural language – examines if this makes the journey easier or harder.

However, Buckley explains that implementing Neteasy isn’t necessarily a case of replacing BT’s use of NPS or CSAT. He explains: “NPS captures a whole range of different views from customers, between the price, the product, brand and marketing, as well as the experience that they actually have dealing with you from a service point of view.

“It’s a really good indicator of how we're doing, and we have seen our NPS improve as we’ve been driving changes but we felt there was something missing in what was actual. I don't want to have to keep waiting for the NPS score, I want to know now how that's doing. To us, it's about having a complementary measure, one that is orientated towards customer service but complements NPS; it isn't a replacement for it. “

Since its introduction, research has conclusively proved the link between customer effort and loyalty, says Buckley. BT found not only that churning customers tend to have experienced most difficulty but also that customer effort was the number one driver of advocacy among BT’s customers, topping brand warmth, reaction to billing, value for money and reliability.

Multichannel approach

Additionally, using the customer effort measurement was found to show strong gains across all of BT’s customer service channels, including its two biggest channels – voice and company website. BT is present on a number of channels, including social media, email live chat, and due to its wide-ranging customer base, still receives half a million letters a year.

Buckley says: “We respect he channel that the customer chooses. We measure the easiness of each of those channels, but we will promote certain channels if we think they're better, not just for us but for the customer as well. Over time, online will be the biggest channel. Then increasingly customers will go to your website or your smart app environment, whether that's a full application or a web app environment.

“The key for us is you've got to connect all those together. Where the service industry is now is we've gone from single channel to multiple channel, the next step is to go to multichannel.  To actually make sure that the customer can start on their smartphone, then use their laptop, then call us, then tweet us, and that we know that journey.”

BT has focused on investment and streamlining its operational model to deliver a seamless multichannel approach. Buckley explains that from a technology perspective, the firm has ploughed funding into real-time monitoring and management, call routing, skill-based routing, workforce management, learning management systems and customer identification.

“But you can't do all of that and then have a really complex operating model,” he explains. “If you want to give the customer a simple experience then you need to reduce the number of numbers they might deal, the number of websites they might go to whislt internally you need to understand how to cross-train people so that you can guide calls to people where they're able to answer more of the queries on that basis.

“So there's stuff you need to do on the operating model, the technology and the other big piece is really understanding what the customer wants and tracking the customer journey to where the customer wants to go. That’s the key for me going forward,” he concludes.

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