Last week we mentioned the need for consistent service and how invaluable it is to maintain it. However when striving to reach consistent service we must be wary of creating a situation where process is valued more than the customer. Can you imagine going to a shop to buy a movie and the assistant informs you that the film you want is out of stock. When you spot a copy of the title on display and ask if you can purchase it, you are told that it is for demonstration purposes only and it is against company policy to sell it to you. Perhaps you have suffered a similar frustration or can you at least imagine it? Yet this is not far off from day to day scenarios you can experience within a contact centre. For example, customers calling in and failing ID+A (Identity and Authorization) despite knowing other private details of their account, staff without the power to shut down an account because it is policy to refer it to a retentions team and many more similar situations.
The famous American poet and philosopher once suggested:
“Any fool can make a rule, and every fool to mind it.”
Henry David Thoraeu, Journal
Business is no different from writing, life and politics. If you constrain yourself to playing deaf, blind and dumb to reality, it can be at the expense of the customer experience and ultimately to your own detriment. Lets explore the example where a customer might want to shut down their account. They phone the company concerned and although it is obvious that the customer never uses the service, the company process still dictates that the agent transfer the customer to the retentions team who endeavour to save the account. This can cause undue stress for the customer particularly if the retentions team have not been trained effectively; At worst it can lead to a breach of the customer’s right to cancellation. If you want to see a disastrous example from the Telecommunications industry of not allowing the customer to can cancel their account –
Of course, the key to success as with all things in business is balance. It goes without saying that rules and processes exist for a reason; To protect your business where possible process should be followed however we should be wary in assuming that all customer situations can be resolved by business process planning. Perhaps it is a human fallacy to believe that you can provide a solution for every customer situation. Nazim Taleb calls a situation which we cannot predict a ‘Black Swan Event’. Typically this will cause a significant effect on our business and can only be rationalised after the event. Within the world of call centres, as illustrated by the film clip above, we know we cannot predict when what we consider a small upset can be blown up into a much larger scale problem. It is for this reason we should seek to find a balance between autonomy and following process, consistent service with applied common sense and managing costs with going the extra mile to exceed customer expectations
In most cases, if you are a contact centre manager you probably take a pragmatic, make it work view on issues as they arise; If your organisation has a competency framework in place, has taken pride in the people you recruit and trained them well then you can guarantee the majority can adapt and act flexibly. The obstacle to applied common sense can come in the form of over adherence to company process and metrics. As we have discussed, contact centres are heavily monitored with everything from AHT (Average Handling Time) to ART (Average Response Time) being measured. For the most part your staff will want to stick to the rules and process as this will not only keep them out of trouble but also save on their AHT. Unfortunately, agent focus on AHT can lead to customers being simply ‘fobbed off’ without a full answer to their enquiry. What can be done in these situations is relax our emphasis on agents AHT highlighting instead the resolution and quality of service provided. If we listen back to our agents calls as part of a quality structure and coaching mechanism we should ask:
- Did the agent resolve the query for the customer?
- Did they go the extra mile in order to resolve it?
- Did the customer sound happy on the closure of the call?
Focusing on these outcomes will change the aim of each for your agents from ‘how can I end the call as quickly as possible?’ to ‘ how can I make the customer happy?’
Flexible common sense based customer service is extremely dependent on effective training and the quality of your staff; In times of austerity as we have been enduring recently, business owners typically look to reduce costs. Call and contact centres are highly labour intensive operations which have seen cuts to recruitment and training budgets. But it is foolish to assume that we can cut back on these areas indefinitely. The business should be seen as one organism and in maintaining customer service provision it is vital that the Human Resource department pick the best candidates possible and train them.
This has two main benefits:
- Understanding that you have picked the best candidates for your role helps you as a manager to trust your work force.
- Secondly as mentioned, the Black Swan Event and the impossibility of predicting everything – hence the importance of selecting candidates that are flexible – knowing when to stick to policy and when to break the rules.
Consistency is of course important to brand image but one should not be so caught up in consistency to believe that we can control every aspect of our business. Famous martial artist Bruce Lee was fond of saying –
The key to success is, as we have said at the start, in having balance but also in being flexible.