Customer effort is the amount of time and energy a customer must put forth to get their product or service issues resolved with a company.
Does your organization have customers with different expectations than they should? How does that happen when your company should be setting proper expectations? But, as you know, there are often gaps between what they think and what we think they should think. The gaps often yield dissatisfied customers, high customer effort and more customer complaints than you’d like to get.
Recently I had the experience of being in one of these “gaps” when I needed some pest prevention work done to my home. I jumped through several hoops, both financially (large upfront sum) and physically (items in my yard had to be removed prior to the work starting). I had prepared myself for the money and the preparation to my yard and reasonably expected the work to start promptly. I did not expect there to be further complications once the work got underway. After all, my expectations were formed by the contract we signed.
I knew I was deep into an aforementioned gap when I was met with harassing phone calls from the billing department asking for payment – yes, the payment that had been made upfront. Then, my property was damaged (they knocked the fence down completely) and the necessary repairs were to be paid by me. How is that fair? I did research, partnered with a reputable company, and specifically outlined the payment and the work order upfront only to be met with continued frustration and costs.
Your business and your products vary from this example but the impact of misaligned customer expectations is universal. Expectations are often set at the point of sale and you are left to best manage the gap between your customer and the company. The outcome is the key because negative customer sentiment only serves to damage your brand. Continue reading “Do your customers fall into the ‘expectations gap’?” »
When people find out what I do for a living they inevitably tell me about some awful customer experience they’ve had and ask if I can ‘fix that company’. From my perspective as a consumer, I can certainly empathize with their bad customer experience, but as a call center professional I understand the common missteps call centers make that unknowingly lead to these negative customer experiences.
Imagine that you want to purchase a home theater projector online. You review the choices, pick it out, put everything you need into your cart and when you try to place the order, your credit card is declined. Now you call customer service hoping to save all of the work you just invested. The big help is that declines are usually due to daily credit card spending limitations, and to call the issuing bank. After clearing up the confusion with the bank and calling customer service again to place the order, the operator tells you all the sales reps are busy, and you need to call back to process the order. When you ask the operator why she can’t place the order for you, you are told that she does not have access to the necessary screens to key in the order. Insert your screaming or crying here because we consumers can only take so much frustration. Do they win when they break our spirit?
These common problems are painful to both sides. Customer effort shoots through the roof they are forced to jump through hoop after hoop just to spend their money with you. It’s too easy to abandon the sale. You know what’s next: jilted customers voice their frustrations through social media and publicly share their negative customer experience with your brand, swaying potential customers to your competitors. On the other side, the agents are heavily rooted in siloed call center processes and are incapable of resolving simple customer issues because of lack of access to necessary knowledge or software. Guess what? The agents leave you too. Continue reading “Are your siloed call center processes increasing customer effort?” »
But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get —— a high amount customer effort and a lot of headaches. I continue to be shocked about the customer experience dysfunction I witness in my everyday life. I have no doubt that you know what I’m talking about. We see the repetitive communication and process execution breakdowns that occur during the purchase of a product or service. To the receiver, customer experience dysfunction feels like the company does not care about its customers and couldn’t care less if they develop (and keep) the relationship.
You can feel the customer experience dysfunction when I refer to a recent purchase where I was sidelined by backorders, late product deliveries, damaged goods, returns, and faulty replacements. After two months and several attempts, the company could never get my order right. I spent countless hours calling customer service, venting my issues through social CRM, rescheduling deliveries and pick-ups, only to ultimately end up back at square one, where I had to start over with a new company. Continue reading “You can’t always get the customer experience you want.” »
What are your callers thinking about when they spend minute after minute on hold to speak to an agent? Probably among the thoughts would be ‘what’s taking so long’? Studies show that up to half of all customer service calls are unnecessarily placed due to high organizational dysfunction. A communication misstep within the customer service chain inevitably triggers a customer call to figure out what has happened with their order or shipment, for example. These unnecessary calls tie up valuable agent time, run up call center operation costs, increase customer effort and create an overall negative customer experience.
I recently placed an order online but never received an order confirmation. Usually I get a prompt confirmation email that includes the order number and an estimated ship date, but this time I didn’t. Of course, my credit card was charged but without my order number or my confirmation I had to call customer service to ensure my order was actually placed. My not-so-helpful customer service agent said I had two options: wait to see if the order arrives or to reverse my credit card charges with my bank and place the order a second time. Something as simple as a missing order confirmation email had increased my customer effort score through the roof. Continue reading “Are unneccessary calls hiking up customer experience dysfunction?” »
We’ve all been there. Frustration after a poor IVR or call center agent experience makes it seem simpler to go online to see if you can solve your product or service questions yourself. Studies show that frustrated customers turn to social media channels to look for help. From swapping unregulated home fix-its or publicly venting about frustrations, more often than not customers are going online – and not to your web site.
Now here you are tracking, monitoring and responding to social media attacks. Where is all of this negative sentiment coming from that is making you chase smoke? Few companies take an inside-out approach about the customer experience and social media so they get the negative social media chatter to chase. Your dial-to-disconnect call analytics should be telling you what is causing the failed IVR experiences or the failed interactions with your agents so you can deal with these internal issues (like being wrongfully disconnected, routed to an agent ill-equipped to answer the questions, unable to trouble shoot, etc.). Social media venting is not a customer-focused service channel.
We talk a lot about dial-to-disconnect call analytics as an effective means to proactively direct an organization and that is even more important now. Pay attention to how you will handle the trend that has emerged – when callers fail to get the answers needed through the IVR or the call center, they go online. And, when using social media as a self-service channel the result is often erroneous information that lands them further down the rabbit hole of customer dissatisfaction.
Where do you think these customers went next? Twitter? Facebook?
“I don’t understand the point of speaking my selections to your automated service if it gets me nowhere but disconnected. Twice I dialed your service line, spoke my selections and was met with, ‘Thank you, good-bye’. What a waste of time.”
“I called my car insurance agent directly to speak to him about my pending claim only to be continually re-routed back to the main customer service line. Not sure what the point of having a ‘dedicated agent’ is, if I can never reach them.”
“You have an apparent problem with your dryers overheating and burning clothing, as stated by many forums on the internet. I will never buy your product again and I will spend more time reading reviews online before I buy anything over $200”.
“I was simply trying to return an item I purchased online but every time I called to get information on where to send it back to, I could never reach a live agent and was continually disconnected by your automated service. I finally went online to do a search for my nearest store location and had to return it in person.”
Last week I told you about my alarm vs. phone company customer experience drama and raised the question of what part of each dollar spent on your products and services is needed to fund your company’s dysfunction. I bet it’s more than you thought.
To last week’s point, I just received my phone bill. I usually skim my bills and just pay what’s required. This time my paranoia of dysfunction got the best of me and I started reading the bill line by line. The bill was littered with this fee and that fee. Hard line fee? Gross receipts surcharge? Fees that I’m now convinced are disguised to cover the phone company’s dysfunction because they cannot just raise the base monthly cost without everyone noticing. Then I study the alarm monitoring company’s invoice and try to calculate what the monthly fee SHOULD be – I think I have to pay the fully loaded dysfunction fee of $39 when it should be more like $29 without the dysfunction subsidy.
Is your company so heavily process-reliant that you’ve squashed common sense? Common sense that’s needed to solve simple customer issues? Is one department setting up another to fail because of lack of communication or information that then leads to bouncing your call-in customers around without a clear path to call resolution? Are your analysts running around creating reports that no one is reading when they should be reviewing the company’s speech analytics to uncover the real customer pain? Continue reading “Just how much customer experience dysfunction am I paying for here?” »
Services for homeowners are intertwined. I need a phone line for my alarm system to be monitored properly. What happens when the alarm system cannot connect to the phone and neither the phone service company nor the alarm company will cop to the issue or help me resolve it? The alarm company says it’s a phone issue, the phone company says it’s an alarm issue and the result is one frustrated customer with nowhere to turn for resolution. We are all paying for your dysfunction. What part of each dollar for your product or service is needed to fund your company’s dysfunction? This is a serious question that I am asking you!
The alarm company’s call center agent didn’t have access to the needed data, or the skills to help me troubleshoot the problem. I am paying toward the existence of the call center but there isn’t a process in place to help the agents in a situation like this. And while the phone company was able to connect me to a tech over the phone to help me troubleshoot the problem, it took over an hour before he asked to call me on my home phone line to test to see if the line was working. Geez, how much did that cost because no one asked that question in the beginning? Cha-ching to the Dysfunction Index money because the highly scripted agent didn’t use common sense to simply place a call to the phone line to check it. Continue reading “How high is your Dysfunction Index?” »
Guidelines and talking points sound different to customers than do call-controlling scripts. A call center agent who sounds like an advocate or advisor because they naturally converse (what they are told to say), deliver a better customer experience. With your effort to help agents connect with the caller or to control the content of the call, your scripts easily become a cause of poor customer experiences.
You know that being a call center agent is extremely difficult. Were you aware that multitasking is close to impossible for human beings to do? Did you know that with each additional task added to the basic task of listening, efficiency and effectiveness degrade? Add the need to say specific things during the call to the list of tasks that have already decimated the ability to perform and what do you get? Well, you get call center agents who sound like idiots (and robots) because they resort to reading the script and not one who is thinking about what the caller is saying. As far as your customers are concerned, you have engineered intelligence, common sense, and human emotion right out the door.
Your customer experience and/or speech analytics can help to identify agents who are desensitized due to over scripting. If you are only doing traditional quality monitoring then you are not actually listening what your customers are saying. Here are some examples of what you could hear: Continue reading “Do your call scripts make call center agents better or dumb?” »
How did we get to the point where the Federal Government plans a hostile takeover of one-sixth of the American economy? Consumers abused their benefits and the providers pushed back to control costs and now insurance providers have secured their very own circle in Hell alongside stock brokers, bankers, ambulance-chasers and telemarketing lawyers. The clues of what was coming were there and we all should have seen it coming.
According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2006, only 18% of Americans are satisfied with the total cost of healthcare and only 44% of Americans are satisfied with the quality of healthcare in America. Another study conducted by Gallup between 2006 and 2008 found that “the United States maintains the third-highest GDP per capita ($48,000) of all OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. However, the relative wealth of the U.S. economy does not necessarily translate into confidence in national healthcare systems. ”
So consumers are unhappy and providers take up the “us versus them” stance and don’t pay attention to the customer experience and resulting satisfaction. And when I say do not pay attention, I mean that it’s not effectively quantified and if it is, the management TO the feedback is flawed. And now we have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 to address the NOISE in the marketplace. Do you remember how satisfied the Bell Telephone customers were prior to the government stepping in (and breaking up Ma and Pa)? Lily Tomlin as an telephone operator said, “We don’t care! We don’t have to! We’re the phone company!” Do you remember how much noise was heard from customers about their utility? How’s that de-regulation working out? It doesn’t work to be arrogant and not listen to customers with the hope that the noise will not bring negative attention. Continue reading “Healthcare costs set to skyrocket because of call centers, unless…” »
What’s the big secret? You sold me. Someone wanted to buy me, so there! Now that you have me, why are you trying to hide from me? Why would you put customer relationships at risk; not to mention the immense pressure on your call center agents to field the angry customer calls when we figure it out?
My home alarm company practices the avoidance principle as a customer service strategy by burying their customer service numbers so deep that no one can find them. When I got around to updating my billing information with my home security system, I went to their web site to find the customer service number. The home security section on the site had vanished without explanation. My auto-payments are still being debited and my alarm system still appears to be monitored. What gives?
After an hour of searching the internet, I discover that a competitor has taken over their home security division. I finally found the customer service number on the competitor’s (er, my new service company) web site, and by the time I made it to a live customer service agent I was told they couldn’t find my information because the data merge had not been completed. They did give me an alternate number to call, but it’s too little too late. I was never told about the merge, never given a new service number to call, never told how the merge might affect my service or the contract I had with my former company. You can imagine the conversation with the contact center agent. Continue reading “Emerging customer retention model: hide your contact center information.” »
I recently ordered two wall hangings for my child’s room and they showed up damaged. I was undecided about the picture situation, but since I bought them so cheaply on clearance ($5!) I decided against the hassle to return them. The store’s customer service rep told me I would have to the store in person, bring a driver’s license and I couldn’t get my money back, only store credit. So I tossed my damaged pictures in the trash because ultimately I felt my time was more valuable in the end. This experience will not affect future purchases from this store. They had a return policy which they were enforcing which I was aware of (albeit in the fine print on their web site). I chose to forgo the policy. It had little to do with how I was treated on the phone by their customer service agent, she was perfectly nice. My decision had more to do with how I valued the purchase and what I was willing to go through to make it right. Does your company weigh the risk versus reward for your return policy and analyze how the good will extended beyond the policy ultimately affects the bottom line, including the customer experience and satisfaction?
“I had to fill out four forms, come down to your store twice and spent countless hours on the phone with your contact center agents to get my damaged TV replaced. You’re practically doing everything you can to avoid returns and that does not feel right to me.”
“To my surprise you took back my kitchen appliance with zero hassle. It was my fault the lid broke but you took it back without any issue – talk about customer satisfaction. You have me for life!”
“I was so upset when my bookcase arrived with a huge scratch down the side. It took a bit of complaining to your call center agents (and their supervisors) but I got a full refund.”
Self-service is perceived to lower operating costs in contact centers, but many experience an increase in call volumes after implementing self-service solutions. Hopefully these insights will help you implement your own best practices.
Not so long ago in a land not too far away (Pennsylvania), people got completely swept up by the corporate culture of Green Mountain Energy. It was the late 90s and people were doing all sorts of crazy things, like choosing their own energy provider!
Pennsylvania had just been deregulated, New Jersey was well on its way and Green Mountain was working hard to become the incumbent of choice. They were out in force, sponsoring concerts and festivals, buying massive amounts of radio airtime, working with charities and grassroots organizations within the community – in short, actively interacting with and engaging their customers. What a concept!
Among certain groups, affinity for Green Mountain and their message of renewable energy was nearly maniacal. How many of you in the utility industry can say that you have a maniacal following among your customers? Do you think Green Mountain Energy could have achieved the same result by pushing their customers to an automated IVR or website to self-educate about deregulation, renewable energy, electricity generation, transmission, distribution costs, etc.? Not likely.
Green Mountain knowingly avoided such cost-controlled methods of dispensing information because they understood that their survival depended not on offering cheaper electricity, but on building a unique experience. Green Mountain Energy is hardly unique in that.
Creating such a long-lasting, loyalty-generating experience is what many organizations strive to do everyday. But you become maniacal about cutting costs encouraging your customers to self-serve and are actually distancing yourself from your own customer-base.
Can self-service equal self-termination?
A self-service model may very well save you money upfront. According to a DMG Consulting benchmarking study of enterprise, contact center and IT priorities, a self-serve initiative that is “… planned, designed, and rolled out properly can reduce the volume of calls to live agents by 20-to-90 percent, over time, depending on the purpose of the contact center and the tasks programmed into the (self-serve) solution .” That just might be software vendor hogwash. While these figures may seem compelling at face value, absent is the long-term risk to the relationship that begins the moment organizations stop conversing with their customers.
Research conducted by Customer Relationship Metrics within the utility industry and in others has shown that while customers are using self-service options for a wide variety of activities, they are also using those options to varying degrees. The old adage of “build it and they will come” is simply not proving true.
Utilities have spent time and money to allow customers to initiate, manage, and disconnect their own service. Currently the data clearly shows that customers are not initiating their own service. They are not micro-managing their electricity usage from Wi-Fi hotspots using SmartPhones as everyone predicted. And perhaps thankfully, they are also not terminating their own service. Here is the reminder that customer experience research should serve as a guide for implementation, since building self-service capabilities can require a significant upfront investment and effort.
Other self-service implementations introduce risk to the relationship not through waste, but through the loss of customer retention opportunities. The self-service portal offered by my cell phone carrier that allows me to manage my minutes, upgrade my rate plan and phone, also allows me to cancel service without ever speaking to a live human being. What a phenomenally bad idea. How many people might have been persuaded to stay with that carrier by a knowledgeable and savvy (trained) contact center agent? Some activities should never be offered as a self-serve option because of the potential amount of financial risk.
The Risk of Satisfaction with Self-service
Beyond the risks of wasted time and lost customers, the single largest risk of self-service models is to future revenues. Customers who self-serve report a lower likelihood to continue service with an organization. Customers who use self-service also perceive less flexibility in resolving problems.
Within the utility industry the issue of customer attrition may not be as big a concern as it is in other verticals. As of 2003, only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) had moved ahead with electric deregulation. Since then, the appeal of electric de-regulation has waned, but with changing economic climates, the fervor for electric de-regulation may return.
What’s more likely is that power companies will want to take advantage of the new smart-grid infrastructure they’ve built to offer customers internet, cable and/or telephone services. According to a CNNMoney.com study, the average digital cable customer pays almost $75 a month for service, with many customers paying nearly $100 a month . As a remote employee, I happily (maybe not so much) hand-over $90 to my local communications company each month for unlimited long distance phone service and internet. The point is, cable, internet and phone services generate A LOT of revenue. And if the investment has already been made in infrastructure that makes offering these services possible, why not take advantage of the revenue-generation opportunity?
This is where a disengaged, self-servicing customer-base becomes a problem. While these customers may not be dissatisfied with their utility provider, they also feel no loyalty towards the organization. It’s that (missing) feeling of loyalty that makes customers abandon their current cable, internet and telephone service providers in favor of an organization that has served them well in other capacities. Customer loyalty is earned through one-on-one interactions between delegates of an organization and its customers; it’s earned through problem-solving and collaboration – none of which can occur when an organization’s primary mission is to relegate customers to a cost-reductive self-help system.
This post is not intended to suggest that you shouldn’t pursue self-service solutions. The fact is that there is just as much risk (if not more) to being perceived as technologically archaic by your customers. But in order for self-service to ultimately benefit your organization, an implementation must focus on activities that are simple (high likelihood of a successful outcome) and activities that your customers are likely to want to conduct on their own. Most importantly, self-service should never be viewed as a way to avoid talking to your customers. The most successful self-service models invite customers to conduct the transactions they are comfortable doing on their own through a variety of different channels while providing live support each step of the way. Finding the right balance is your quest and customer loyalty is the holy grail you seek.
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1. DMG Consulting LLC – Self-Service: Putting Customers First Makes You a Winner (Whitepaper), April 13, 2009 – Donna Fluss, Founder and President of DMG Consulting LLC