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Flip Customer Service from Inside-Out to Outside-In

Given the constant flux in the business landscape, customer experience is very much about managing for and adapting to change. The contact center is probably where the greatest number of direct customer interactions comes into play. But, most contact centers were built as cost centers which makes switching the focus from company needs to customer needs a major change initiative.

Balancing what the company needs from customer service to what your customers want in return is influenced by current processes, technology evolution, feedback and the knowledgebase you choose to work from. The challenge is that the customer atmosphere has become dynamic, yet the operation of the contact center has most likely remained static.

Change for the sake of change doesn’t make good business sense. Change must have a payoff that brings value to the company. This isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem. What many believe to be components of better service are not seen that way by customers. Companies that want happier customers often think that spending time with them is what they want. They decide to take the hit on the cost of average handle time (AHT) to allow agents to spend more time in conversation with customers to build better relationships. Most customers don’t want or need that. What they really want is to call without hassle, get their issue resolved quickly and competently and get on with their lives.

When flipping customer service to focus on what the customer experience from the customer’s perspective is like, technology, data and confidence must be considered.

Use Technology for Customers

From the interactive voice response (IVR) system to the applications on the agent’s desktop, technology has a big influence on the customer experience. No one likes to call for support and have to struggle through six levels in an IVR to get to an answer or a live agent. Even worse is getting to the agent and being asked for all the information you painstakingly provided to the IVR all over again.

This use of technology is lazy on the part of the company. It’s generally a result of trying to manage call flows to agent availability. In other words, to buy time the company needs, not for any benefit to the customer. This is a pure example of using technology for company needs, not customer experience.

Similarly, the numbers of applications or screens an agent must traverse to not only enter customer information, but to access what they need to know to help the customer can be many. Agents that must spend their time trying to build empathy from the customer by saying things such as “my system is slow today” to cover the time it takes to navigate from place to place, only cause further frustration for the customer. Customers should never have to see you sweat, as the saying goes. And the direction for empathy should be going from the agent to the customer. Expecting it to work the other way around is not in your best favor.

Go for Small Data Instead of Big

Big Data is all the rage these days. Analytics are touted to be the end game for building better customer experiences. Customer feedback and call drivers and issues submitted for resolution are indeed the source of great insights. But the reason data doesn’t get used to advantage is usually because companies are trying to boil the ocean, rather than to work with data incrementally.

The first thing to consider about data is that it must be able to provide insight that allows you to take or validate a course of action. A contact center gathers a lot of data. Instead of trying to process all of it, pick a focus, gather a small but representative sample in answer to a premise or query and use that information to take a next step. Improving processes and workflows through iteration will allow you faster access to feedback and faster wins for customers.

As an example, let’s say that you notice the AHT for a specific call type becoming longer. By analyzing the calls, you may uncover areas of the issue where agents were uncertain of the best next action, putting the customer on hold to search for information. With this insight, you can improve agent training or coach those agents for what they need to know to help them become more efficient when solving for that issue. Once the fix is in place, you can monitor that call type for improvement. With first contact resolution (FCR) increasing and AHT stabilized, the related results should include higher satisfaction scores, as well as reduced cost per call.

Loosen the Reins and Trust Your Agents

Your agents are on the front lines with customers more than anyone else in the company. Arguably they see them not always at their best. But, even without data analytics, they can provide input about what customers want and what they’re frustrated most about with your products and services. Agent feedback can quickly help you to identify the processes they struggle with or where they may need more training. These insights are often opportunities for quick wins that require only a small investment.

Additionally, most agents truly want to help your customers. It’s rewarding to them when customers begin a call frustrated and end up happy. When processes are too restrictive, leaving agents in a position where they are unable to truly “own” a call, the customer experience suffers. What companies fail to understand is that the risk exposure is likely much lower than it’s thought to be.

However, this concept can be hard to embrace because what companies don’t often do well is train agents to handle situations that are not the norm. By helping them to gain a better understanding of all the different ways things can go wrong with guidance about corrective action, agents can be trusted to make the best choices and truly provide game-changing, enjoyable experiences for your customers.

Flipping the customer experience from what the company needs to what the customer wants can be done efficiently and cost-effectively. It’s a matter of identifying opportunities for change and then determining how well taking action will pay off for both the company and its customers.