The UK customer service sector is clearly in for a challenging time this year, particularly given the twin pressures of an economy recovering slowly from recession and today's increasingly Internet-enabled consumer landscape.
Despite these pressures, customer service management teams are being tasked with either maintaining their current service levels with fewer resources, or are being asked to deliver service level improvements without significant additional budget.
Clearly this is a difficult balance for call centre management to achieve, and that’s why there is an increased focus on activities that can optimise customer service such as effective resourcing, encouraging self-service and improving back-office performance. It’s also why many call centre managers show such initial enthusiasm for ‘call avoidance’ as a step towards helping them to achieve a better service balance.
Call avoidance sounds like a bad customer service principle, but it’s potentially smart providing that the focus remains on removing non-value calls from the contact centre queue. It shouldn’t just be about avoiding calls – more about getting the right kind of contacts in the first place.
Adopting a more proactive service approach can help an organisation to reach out to the customer before they need to get in touch – effectively removing interactions that are irritating for both the customer and the organisation. Why wait for the customer to call up and ask when the repair service is coming – it is far more effective to pro-actively reach out to the customer with an SMS or an automated call.
Using techniques such as SMS fulfilment, mobile web applications based on the latest presence data (such as BlackBerry-based boarding passes at airports), as well as focused outbound IVR initiatives that can reduce or eliminate the requirement for follow-up customer calls, organisations can quickly start to influence the type of calls they receive. Broadcast technologies such as Twitter are now also proving useful in getting a message out to an audience quickly – potentially removing a significant volume of calls from customers who’ve just had their queries answered.
Six steps to successfully challenge demand
However, if contact centres are truly to drive down excessive numbers of avoidable contacts, they really need to start challenging demand within their own operations. At Sabio we believe there are six specific stages that Customer Services teams can follow to successfully challenge demand:
- Applying operational focus – The first task is to actually establish who owns the contacts – the call centre of course fields the interaction, but it’s typically driven by a particular team within the business, whether it’s sales, the service department or accounts. An initial goal should be to ensure that ownership of demand actually sits within the department that has the most influence on demand – so Production for manufacturing issues, or Finance for billing enquiries. Cross-departmental teams should be created to analyse the different contact reasons, with responsibility for driving continuous improvement in volumes.
- Establishing consistent data sources – It’s also important to have consistent codes to track interactions, and to make sure these are then standardised across other channels such as email, web and IVR. There needs to be a manageable number of contact reasons – no more than 20-30, and a single departmental owner per contact reason. Customer complaints should also be mapped to these codes, and it’s also essential to collect all the WOCAS (What Our Customers Are Saying) data for further action.
- Analysis and tracking – Once this data is collected, organisations can start to track the cost of calls per contact, report on exceptions, and drive department-led analysis and reporting on key issues such as repeat contacts. Other valuable outcomes would include root cause analysis on complaint calls led by the responsible department, and trend analysis on WOCAS data.
- Developing structured resolution plans – By actively managing contact volumes and applying call avoidance techniques, organisations can prioritise identified improvements and directly address time-consuming repeat call issues. Instead of living with non-value calls, the customer services team can work to develop structured resolution plans alongside departments, and also start to target the elimination of specific complaints by type.
- Evolving towards self-service – Having completed the analysis phase and started to resolve specific customer service issues, call centre operators can then start to look at ways of challenging demand across their other interactions – whether it’s contacts that could be better addressed via other channels such as the web, SMS or IVR, or higher-value contacts that perhaps need a more structured self-service offer. Again, any self-service offers need to be structured around caller requirements, and usability needs to be assessed over time with regular optimisation.
- Implementing proactive strategies – A key strategy for challenging demand is to use proactive services to advise customers of important information. Using channels such as SMS, outbound voice calls, email or outbound IVR can pre-empt incoming calls. Examples here would include SMS messages from a bank or building society to flag when accounts are overdrawn, or an IVR message to confirm upcoming delivery times with customers.