By that, we really mean great customer service is hard. Customer relationships can be expensive to establish and maintain, but are critical, especially for a commodity product or service where customer service is the only differentiator or cost to serve is a big component of price.
Complexity grows with the number of channels offered to a customer and an organisation needs to balance the desire to encourage customers into lower-cost channels with a customer’s individual channel preference. Self-service really works for some customers, but others just want to talk to someone.
Where customers want personal service, this function needs to be scaled (with people) to meet customer demand. You can’t have customers waiting for extended periods in telephony or webchat queues if you want to deliver a great experience, retain customer loyalty, and have them advocate for your brand. In complex operations, this presents a capacity planning challenge that needs to consider (amongst other things), channel options, average handling time, rate of resolution on first contact, breadth of services offered, skills of the customer service advisor population, routing and handoffs, training time, and seasonal fluctuations in demand.
Complexity, cost to serve, and customer satisfaction are intimately linked. Both a customer’s and a customer service advisor’s time are precious – a swift and successful conclusion to a conversation is in everyone’s interest, especially if it includes an appropriate cross or upsell. That this conversation with an advisor could be happening on multiple channels including voice, webchat, messaging or email adds to the complexity.
The complexity of the tools and technology landscape for advisors is worth specific consideration. An advisor working in an environment where they are required to “learn” the applications, interfaces, screens, forms, and fields required to meet a customer’s need will spend a significant portion of any interaction focusing on navigation and recall of the steps required to complete a process or journey. This will often require the support of a separate conversation guide and some sectors will have important compliance rules and procedures layered on top.
Organisations best endeavors to operationalise regulation and compliance often results in a number of tools that an advisor is responsible for combining in one conversation – knowing the process, the system, and the regulations takes a toll on the advisor and generates a fear of getting it wrong in QA. Often this results in a trade-off an advisor might make between data quality and speed (do they search for exactly the right category for this complaint in the 3-level hierarchy multi-value pick list, or pick the first one that looks reasonably close?)
The role of advisor should be focused on the human elements of customer service: empathy, emotion, understanding, patience, humor. In many cases, advisors are simply acting as Human APIs to the systems that do the thing the customer needs. “The systems” have been designed in a way that needs to be trained and remembered and requires the advisor to lead the customer through a rigid process that often struggles to handle the subtleties of a real conversation – human conversations aren’t always linear – and advisors are often in the position of trying to complete a process or journey before being able to handle the new piece of information or request as it occurs to the customer.
It’s no great leap to suggest that the more advisors need to be trained in, and have their interactions governed by “the system” and its complexities, the less human and therefore less satisfying the work will be. This in turn leads to greater rates of churn in the operation and a corresponding detriment to productivity as new advisors are trained in the system.
The systems and operational landscape is often complicated by a legacy of multiple applications being required to serve the needs of the customer in an organisation offering multiple complimentary services. Each of these applications needs to be trained and learnt, and the overheads on the operation mean that not all advisors are trained in all services and a need for skills-based routing and handoffs is often the result. This can be magnified by transformation projects looking to add new services, or re platform applications or to simply upgrade to maintain support.
The technical implementation of the system also has a role to play in the efficiency of an interaction. Common architectural practice means that many systems, in the absence of any awareness of the specific customer’s need, pre-fetch lots of information just in case it is required. This makes the system very sensitive to performance fluctuation and demand spikes and often leads to the classic “I’m just waiting for my screen to load”. Throwing more capacity and money at the system isn’t necessarily going to solve this problem.