First call resolution and CRM: Slaying customer service's sacred cowsby
5th Nov 2012
Paul White explores what is stopping brands from delivering great customer service - and busts some popular myths.
We all know the old adage about it being vastly more expensive to win a new customer than to retain an existing one, and few will have been surprised to learn recently that on average satisfied customers cost 25% less to serve and can generate 30% more revenue than dissatisfied ones.
So, if we are all persuaded of the importance of customer retention, and are so keen to deliver great customer service, what is it that stops us; why is is that nearly two out of three people switched at least one of their service providers in the last year because of poor customer service; and most importantly, what can we in the frontline of customer service, do about this?
The myth of first call resolution
In the past, organisations persuaded themselves that great customer service was simply a function of low call answering time and hold time. A few years of rushed conversations and unresolved queries dispelled that myth and most companies now focus instead on first call resolution (FCR).
Yet, there are significant problems with FCR, not least of which is how to measure it. In theory it should be possible to use caller line identification to track repeat calls from the same number, but this assumes a customer will always call from the same number, and that when they call back they want to discuss the same issue.
So, some contact centres ask agents to hit a ‘call outcome button’, at end of the call, but this is a subjective measure. Call analytics are expensive and still subjective, and customer satisfaction surveys only gather the views of those who complete them.
Customer satisfaction professionals spend a great deal of time trying to find a solution to this problem, when in many ways it is a distraction. FCR is really no more than a hygiene measure alongside call answering time and hold time. Of far greater importance is the customer experience, and this is determined in most cases by whether or not the agent had all the information at hand to understand and deal with the problem quickly and effectively.
Too much of everything
This sounds easy to achieve, but in reality is extremely difficult. Surprisingly few contact centres are able to give their agents the information they need to deal with customer queries quickly and effectively. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they cannot keep up with the rate of proliferation of channels through which they feel they ought to engage with customers.
Secondly, they have too many applications and systems to juggle, with little continuity between departments. Call Centre Helper’s recent poll of 200 call centres found that at more than half of contact centres agents have to juggle five or more applications; at 23% they have to cope with ten or more.
In brief, they are faced with too much of everything, and the problem is getting worse: Gartner has predicted that by 2014, refusing to communicate with customers via social channels will be as harmful to customer relationships as ignoring their emails or phone calls is today.
So, what can be done? CRM systems promised to provide agents with a single view of customers across departments, and it is true that they do so. Yet, they also tend to be cumbersome and slow to operate so agents have to spend time opening and closing databases, searching for the required information, while customers wait on the end of the line wondering if they could get better service elsewhere.
Multichannel into single view
Many contact centres are discovering that a far better solution is an application that is tailored for them, that sits on top of, rather than replaces, existing systems, and which gives agents the information they need as and when they need it.
The first step towards this for many companies is to blend multiple channels into one queue, so that agents are alerted to customer contact whether it is through phone, email or social media, and they have in front of them the history of all previous interactions across those media.
The team at FordRetailOnline.co.uk recently took this step. Although customers begin by going onto the site to view the available cars, they might then contact the company through the site, by phone, by email, or even, as they become more interested in a purchase, via video conference.
So FordRetailOnline deployed a multichannel contact system, to queue phone calls, emails and web enquiries and route them to an appropriate agent, based on the time of day and how busy the agents are.
Business process management
That alone was an important step forward for FordRetailOnline, and is for many contact centres. But there is much more that can be done. The next step is to give agents a single view of applications from different departments. Often called business process management, this sounds complex but is in fact a fairly simple process that can reap significant rewards.
For example, Gamestec provides games machines to pubs and clubs up and down the country, and it recently introduced a solution which allows its contact centre agents to know progress on a service issue, the location of field service workers and the necessary parts, the entire history of a customer relationship, and even the individual service level agreement with that customer. Most importantly, the field service workers also have this information on their mobile devices so it is continually updated in real time.
Gamestec had this to say about the project: “It had multiple benefits both to the organisation and to our clients. We are able to respond more quickly and accurately to customer changes, giving our customers greater visibility and the option to update and prioritise emergency tasks. We have also been able to bring together our systems and processes into a single user interface to ensure we are getting the most from our administration, management and field service staff.”
The final step is to introduce an adaptive system that gives agents enhanced scripts based on what customers have said to them. This intelligent scripting was an important part of the system Babcock International recently introduced. A comprehensive database generates screen pops at suitable times in the conversation, giving agents the customer information they need at the precise time they need it.
The introduction of this new system has been transformative for Babcock International. Simon Barber, Operations Manager, says: “The desktop solution from mplsystems integrates our existing system and gives our agents the client information they need when they need it. As a result of introducing it our success rate has increased by 30-40%.”
Overcoming the barriers
There are then many barriers to delivering great customer service - but they can be overcome. We must first understand what customers want from their experience, and then we need to put in place the systems that allow our agents to provide that.
The final piece of good news is that few companies take these actions. Some don’t care about customer experience, others don’t understand how to improve it, and many are still smarting from expensive unsuccessful investments in CRM. All are missing out on straightforward, affordable solutions that can transform their businesses. You simply need to ensure you are not amongst them.
Paul White is CEO of mplsystems.