We’re rapidly approaching three years since I joined FCR as Head of Quality. Upon joining, I was tasked with a couple of key objectives. The first was to gauge our quality performance across all of our programs and the second was to be a thought leader in the customer experience space — working to promote best practices in our approach to customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey results and share valuable insights with clients.
Initially, I tried my darndest to keep those two activities in their separate siloes. I’m not sure what spurned on a change, but somewhere in there I compared quality and CSAT results for our various programs. This is a fairly natural comparison given that they are both percentages. I found a number of programs where quality and CSAT were within just a few percentage points of each other and then there were others with a much larger gap. The most alarming were those with high-quality scores but low CSAT — especially if you view quality as the company’s gauge of the customer experience and CSAT as the customer’s gauge. That would mean our view of how we’re doing doesn’t necessarily align with the customer’s.
I think we can agree that CSAT (or NPS or Customer Effort) are clearly customer experience metrics because customers are responding to those surveys based on their experience. But how many would list quality assurance, a standard contact center metric, as a customer experience metric? What about average handle time, service level, or agent attrition? In the modern contact center, these ARE customer experience metrics. Let’s look at them individually, and I’ll show you why.
Average Handle Time (AHT)
I do my best to join #ICMIChat every Tuesday, and I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that a least once per week someone bangs on the idea of holding agents accountable to a specific AHT goal for phone and chat conversations. For email support, you might instead be looking at emails sent per hour if you don’t have a system to track email handle time and that’s similar enough.
Here’s the deal with AHT. If it’s too long OR too short, you may be looking at a customer experience problem. Too short and there’s a good chance agents are rushing through interactions without giving customers a complete solution, requiring that they turn right around and call support again. Too long is often an indicator of an agent who’s not fully proficient and they’re fumbling around with the tools or leaving customers on hold for inordinate amounts of time while they seek answers from others on the contact center floor.
The modern contact center always views AHT in balance with the customer experience and aims for a healthy AHT where well-trained, empowered agents are giving customers complete, thorough answers as efficiently as possible.
Service level is our commitment to customers to answer or respond in a certain amount of time. From the business standpoint, it’s tempting to manage to a support budget and scoff at the price tag associated with improving service levels. Here are some ideas for a more customer-centric approach beyond just hiring more people:
- Empower and equip existing agents to be more efficient and escalate fewer issues. Use AI to augment agent performance as it makes sense.
- Emphasize doing what it takes to solve customer issues on the first contact to minimize repeat contacts.
- Boost self-help opportunities, so less customers have to contact support in the first place. Most customers don’t want to call anyway. It’s OK to explore artificial intelligence, especially when it uses machine learning to help customers find the right answer faster.
- Use the native queue callback feature in your phone system or a third-party system to improve the wait experience for customers and even out spikes in call volume.
The modern contact center no longer sees service level merely as a staffing issue but instead takes a holistic approach to improving the customer’s experience with self-help, adding efficiencies when customers do speak with agents, and if necessary, improving the wait experience.
While my wife is really supportive of my life as a contact center geek, I was still taken aback when she recently messaged me this Richard Branson quote on Facebook:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.”
I think we’ve all heard variations of this quote from different business leaders. It’s funny, and a little sad, that this is mind-blowing advice for the traditional contact center — but it is. How often do we look for an easy fix for attrition like adding incentives or games? And how often do we resign ourselves to simply hiring enough agents to outpace the attrition? We can do so much better.
What if we look at some of the following when it comes to agent attrition?
- Rather than constantly ratcheting up agent occupancy rate (percentage of time busy working), we seek a balance.
- Let’s focus one-on-one conversations not just on whether or not our agents hit their numbers, but let’s also show them we care about them as humans and think about their continued development.
- Ask agents what frustrates them most about the customer experience and really listen to what they say. Perhaps they have a billion windows open on their computer and supporting one customer is more complex than it needs to be. Or maybe they are dealing with the same customer issue over and over again, and they’re tired of getting yelled at by customers. Listen to agent feedback and make improvements to their experience and the customer experience at the same time.
The modern contact center approaches attrition by focusing on the development and engagement of their agents, listening to their concerns, and consistently making improvements.
I touched on quality in the beginning but let’s come back to it for a moment. The traditional contact center has a quality form that’s a checklist of everything agents need to accomplish on every customer interaction. It’s often tempting for agents to focus on hitting all of their objectives rather than making rich connections with customers and little thought is given to the customer’s perception of the process.
Let’s instead try the following with our quality process:
- Add customer satisfaction to your quality forms. Ask your quality auditors to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and evaluate whether or not they would have been satisfied with the experience. If the agent did everything right and the customer was still dissatisfied, the form might not be measuring the right things, and/or there’s a policy or product issue that needs to be addressed.
- Step back and compare quality scores to customer satisfaction scores. If they aren’t both consistently high and continuously improving, dig deeper to find out why not.
- Consider paring your 30 question form down to the 10 MOST important questions with the focus on allowing your auditors to review more interactions and spend more time coaching and developing agents.
The modern contact center understands that the purpose of quality is not just to measure compliance. It’s also to constantly ensure that the behaviors we’re tracking align with a great customer experience and promote the coaching and development of agents.
The modern contact center understands that many, if not all, metrics are customer experience metrics — or at least they should be viewed through the lens of the customer experience. My challenge to you as a modern contact center leader is to pick a metric, any metric, and think about how you can manage it to improve your customer experience.