Recent findings on the quality of service provided by UK mobile operators, broadband, landline and TV providers reveal that more than one in three call centre or email support interactions leave customers either indifferent or unhappy with the experience.
If we stick our necks out and factor in contact frequencies over the course of a year and gross up to represent the UK adult population, this equates to somewhere around 30 million missed opportunities to create closer bonds with customers. Disappointing customer service is often highlighted as a key driver of customer churn, so the billions (yes, billions!) these customers spend each year with their telecoms providers represent a nice little carrot for those providers who most effectively address this problem.
Few company decision makers would question the ongoing need to invest heavily in customer acquisition even if this often means subsidising early life stages via e.g. ‘free’ or discounted routers, mobiles, set-top boxes or introductory discounts at huge expense. Yet, on the customer retention side, the battle between controlling the cost of customer service and securing the continued loyalty of customers often seems to divide opinions. It is a struggle with valid arguments on both sides. On the one hand, providing exceptional customer service is far from cheap and both sides have to acknowledge this. However, compare this to the even higher cost of acquiring new customers and even the bean counters tend to listen. Investments in customer service pays.
Call centres still take the lion’s share of responsibility for retention efforts. They represent the front line, where the daily battle to meet high customer expectations take place. Make no mistake about it – this is not an easy place to be. I recently watched a hilarious comedy which brings to life the strains and stresses advisers in call centres are under. In one scene, we see a highly experienced customer service agent begin a call with the outmost courtesy. He then switches to mute, hurls 10 seconds of ‘colourful’ abuse down the muted line, before going off mute and continuing in the exemplary manner expected of him. (Needless to say, when the new joiner next to him (Ben Stiller) tries to repeat this therapeutic way of handing the pressure, he is less proficient in using the mute button.)
How can telco providers best support this front line of hardworking advisers? Speed of answering phones or the number of transfers are often amongst the key measures used to set Service Level Agreements with call centre providers. However, although these clearly form part of the experience, we see again and again that what really matters is quite simply: Problem resolution!
Call centre advisers need all the help they can get in delivering on this crucial aspect.
Depending on the issue behind the customer contact, around one in three customer issues are never fully resolved even after multiple contacts. Should you experience a fault with your broadband, brace yourself for a rough ride. 48% of broadband faults are never fully resolved in the eyes of the customer. If you happen to have sight of call centre provider resolution statistics, try to compare them to such numbers for a reality check. The difference between what gets flagged as ‘resolved’ in CRM systems and what customers see as resolved is often truly staggering. Surely things are getting better though? Not really, perceived resolution rates have not shifted since Ofcom first measured them back in 2009.
To be fair, in recent years, most telco providers have seen their product footprints grow. Single-play providers of a few years ago are now double/triple or quad-plays. With this growing product portfolio and its associated interdependencies comes greatly increased complexity of customer service provision. In the years ahead, financial services, new content and a string of other new products and services will be added to the list. This will further shape the need to rethink how we handle our most important customer touch point.
To date, huge industry efforts have gone into providing systems and protocols which ensure a standardised service which can be used effectively with minimum amounts of training. Automated systems that (in theory) route calls to experts, easily searchable diagnostic databases with step-by-step procedures and clearly defined escalation procedures are amongst these. These do support the advisers’ ability to provide a degree of problem resolution, but as the stats have shown, something is not quite right.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that part of the problem is that these well defined procedures become straightjackets that restrain rather than support the advisers.
“Maybe 70% of broadband problems can be resolved by resetting the router, but if I’ve already told you I’ve tried this, don’t make me do it again. Let’s agree to skip screen 1.”
I think what is needed is for us to truly acknowledge this: Working in a call centre is not a low skill job. Call centre advisers are hugely experienced in dealing with the issues customers bring to them. Let us listen to them, let us use their expertise to shape the support systems, but first and foremost, let us empower our most experienced call centre advisers to deal with customers without quite so many rigid scripts and protocols.
Call centre advisers, wherever you are, we salute you! Let us keep working together to reduce the number of missed opportunities to delight.
 Ofcom Quality of Service 2011
 For more on the importance of problem resolution, see the Peak end rule: the overall rating of any experience is disproportionately impacted by its peak moments and its end moments (http://www.gfktechtalk.com/2012/04/05/experience-or-memory-which-influences-the-way-we-think-about-brands-3/)