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Cost Containment Co-exists With High Customer Satisfaction

When you call a company for support, it’s logical to want them to answer the phone as quickly as possible.  Nobody wants to wait for very long to get a phone call answered.  So how long is too long to wait on the phone?  And what’s more important from a customer service perspective- – how quickly an agent picks up the phone, or how well your question or issue gets resolved during the call?

In a perfect world, you would answer the phone quickly and resolve customer’s issues at lightning speed.  But at what cost?  We found the perfect opportunity to test the balance between faster answer times, customer satisfaction, and cost when one of our clients – – a well-known consumer goods manufacturer, needed to reduce call center costs and agent headcount without compromising customer satisfaction.

Diagnosing Root Cause

After analyzing call recordings, we isolated the major source of caller dissatisfaction, which in this case was a recurring product issue. We formed a dedicated team in the call center and trained them in all the ways to tackle the product issue. Then we routed all related calls to a special queue staffed with our resolution experts.  In tandem with this, we adjusted the service level specification of wait time as a tradeoff for problem resolution and, ultimately, cost reduction.

Previously, the call center spec for service level was that 80 percent of calls would be answered in 60 seconds – a tough standard when the average call is complex, lasting 17 minutes.

With the client’s support we changed the wait time spec to 80 percent of calls being answered in 180 seconds — triple the wait time.  Although this could have been risky, outcomes were expected to outweigh the risk.

The Strategy Paid Off

  • Overall customer satisfaction actually improved and remained high.
  • Call abandonment rates did not change and staffing was reduced by 15 percent.

And in terms of answering the question “how long is too long to wait on the phone,” the standard for wait time for this product line is now seven minutes — still without decreases in customer satisfaction or increases in call abandonment rates.  So even after 7 minutes of wait time, we still have not seen the outer limit for how long is too long.

The Lesson Learned

The total customer experience including issue resolution is more important than the single factor of wait time.  We conclude that there is little or no correlation between service level and customer satisfaction; and that by a continuous evaluation of the balance between service level and cost, clients can strike the service/cost balance that makes the most sense for their business.