Customer service management: It’s time for a new direction

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With the growing importance of customer experience (CX) not slowing down, there are surprisingly still many organisations that aren’t placing it at the core of their culture. Contact centres still see advisors incentivised on Average Handle Time (AHT) and speed, rather than on the CX, which can be damaging when it comes to building loyalty and driving sales.

Speed and quality don’t go hand in hand when it comes to customer service, so companies have to make a choice. Dino Forte, CEO, Ventrica, insists, that it is time to leave the outdated focus on AHT in 2018, and make this year about building a culture which embeds quality, satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy metrics within contact centre performance.

Quality always wins the race

As a measurement which has governed contact centres for decades, AHT is finally on the decline. In the past, customer service was based on speed and productivity, rather than experience, which commonly resulted in both low cost, and low value service delivery. This way of working won’t be enough for customers in 2019. In the ever advancing digital age, customer experience differentiation has become a critical mass, whether it be via social media or email, phone or web chat.

The question is, why are companies concentrating on the metrics, and buying contact centre services based on AHT, despite wanting to supply the best customer experience? Advisors cannot give the customer the desired experience with the pressure of time at hand, as customers want to feel as though advisors understand their needs, rather than keeping the call or chat time to a minimum. The entire concept is counterintuitive and counter-productive – and yet despite top level ‘Customer Experience’ focused strategies, when it comes to assessing contact centre performance and purchasing outsourced contact centre services, many companies are still set in their ways, entrenched in an outdated, speed based culture.

Clearly, performance has to be evaluated and assessed to ensure value for money and quality of contact centre operations - so how can organisations match contact centre deliverables to corporate CX goals?

Cultural collision

The very nature of a speed focused model not only clashes with the metrics contact centres regularly measure against, such as the customer voice, but the pressure and incentive for advisors to get off the call as quickly as possible begins to cross a fine line where their interests are pitted against that of the customer, making the aim of CX even harder to reach. Gartner states that the four most common categories for CX metrics are quality, satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. Embedding these measures, from social media sentiment to routine customer surveys is fundamental to forming the desired environment and experience for customers within a contact centre.

Despite the negative connotations attached to AHT, it still remains an important way of tracking traditional performance metrics, such as the number of dropped contacts, as well as contacts handled, and overall making sure that key processes are functioning correctly. Furthermore, it has the ability to track staffing and productivity levels accurately. This is useful as through measuring spikes, AHT has the ability to pinpoint any emerging problems within the business- such as a billing glitch – that requires rapid escalation. Despite this, AHT cannot be used to evaluate the quality of personalisation of a company’s service. AHT is a problematic incentive due to its counter-intuitive properties when it comes to offering a personalised resolution to customers. Businesses won’t get the results they want, and customers won’t get the tailored service they deserve.  When time becomes the key form of evaluation of an individual's performance, quality experiences made up of understanding the customer and building relationships will be replaced by a focus on wrapping up the call, and also handling multiple chats simultaneously. The primary goal will be hitting the AHT metrics- and ultimately damage customer experience, and along with it- the brand image.

Monetise the metrics

In order to deliver on the corporate CX vision, contact centre’s need to refresh their approach to culture. This change will mean adopting new technologies and embracing the self-serve in order to free up advisor time for more complex customer issues. Most importantly, the focal point needs to remain on rethinking advisor metrics. The goal for advisors should always be quality of experience, first time resolution and customer voice; with training in place to enable advisors to make the transition towards a better quality interaction. Modifying both the contact centre culture and the processes must be at the heart of this transition as without this, a customer-centric vision won’t lead the way, and a one-touch resolution be harder to reach.

Moreover, a CX focused culture may require more than leveraged technology to reach customer needs. Changes may also need to be made to the recruitment model to ensure advisors match the profile and demands of the customers as shifting focus from a AHT to a CX model involves allocating individuals who possess the appropriate skills for the job or brand. From the high levels of empathy and great listening skills required by those primarily dealing with elderly and/or distressed individuals, to an inherent interest in fashion for an advisor working for a clothing company, great CX requires a far more tailored recruitment model.  

Conclusion

Great customer experience will never be achieved while advisors are worrying about AHT and reducing interactions with customers. Companies need to look hard at why they are following such an outdated model: AHT typically ties in with low cost, low value interactions. And with the inability to differentiate simple matters from complex calls, as well as not being able to tie back key performance indicators, you will only be able to reach great AHT when you don’t focus on it. With more companies now realising the fundamental importance of providing great service and jumping on the CX bandwagon, is it not now essential to rethink the way these services are delivered by embedding customer experience within the culture?

Dino Forte, founder & CEO, Ventrica
Image source: Shutterstock/Jirsak