For the first time since Vocal Laboratories — better known as Vocalabs — introduced SectorPulse, its customer service monitoring study, in 2003, the research firm has applied a new methodology. In place of the old method's panel approach, the new Service Quality Tracker instead uses live telephone interviews with customers. What hasn't changed is that the process still compares and contrasts the nature of customer support delivered by various companies within the same industry. The recently published results, for example, involve the service performance of contact centers belonging to vendors in the personal computer industry — Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
The three computer companies were essentially neck-and-neck in the following measurements:
- hold time;
- agent's politeness and professionalism; and
- the ability to have the caller speak with a live agent.
Apple pulled ahead, however, with a higher percentage of its customers reporting that their problems were resolved during the calls, leading to fewer repetitive or irrelevant steps.
[Editors' Note: Vocal Laboratories' press release can be found here; the release includes one chart depicting the results.]
According to Emily Selene de Rotstein, Vocalabs' vice president of sales and marketing, participants typically find out about a survey opportunity while they're searching for technology support from their vendors. Between May 2008 and May 2009, approximately 4,000 of the customers browsing the online tech-support pages of Apple, Dell, or HP were presented with and called a user-specific toll-free number for additional help with a product-related technical issue. Using that number as an identifier, Vocalabs was able to track the progress of:
- all 4,000 incoming service calls;
- its own 4,000 outbound calls to request participation in the survey; and
- the responses of the approximately 1,150 customers who eventually particpated.
Not surprisingly, 85 percent of customers who enjoyed first-call resolution reported being "very satisfied"; only 11 percent of those who did not have their issue resolved said the same. It's no surprise that a customer can be extremely satisfied with a call even if her issue isn't resolved, according to Peter Leppik, Vocalabs' founder and chief executive officer. For instance, he says, if the agent conveys that the problem resides not in the product itself, but in an external circumstance (a third-party supplier, perhaps) -- and the consumer agrees -- then the issue has less of an impact on the company. "Satisfaction is a composite thing in the customer's mind," Leppik says.
Ninety-one percent of respondents who were "very satisfied" with their initial service calls reported an intent to repurchase, compared to 34 percent of those who were dissatisfied. Moreover, 81 percent of customers who were very satisfied with the initial calls reported overall satisfaction with the company itself, versus 10 percent of those who were dissatisfied. "The impact that this one call -- this tech-support call -- has on customer opinions about the company is profound," Leppik says. "[Companies] need to make sure they're handling these calls properly. If they're not, they're ignoring generous opportunities.... If they are, they're building a reputation that will serve them for the long term."
Vocalabs identified several factors during the initial service calls that significantly contributed to customer satisfaction with the company, including:
- an interactive voice response system that was error-free;
- an absence of irrelevant steps;
- a wait time that was not unreasonable;
- the ability to reach a live person;
- the ease of reaching a live person;
- professionalism of the live agent;
- the ability to escalate if needed; and
- achieving a resolution to the problem itself.
Of the three companies in this first study, Apple led the way in terms of percentage of customers who said they were "very satisfied" with the initial service call:
- Apple....58 percent;
- Dell......46 percent; and
- HP........43 percent.
If Apple's success is a result of having been better able to resolve customer problems, Leppik says it's difficult to pinpoint a single explanation. The company's success, he says, could be attributed to a number of possibilities: it might be better training or better policies, or it could even be that the company primarily deals with its own product, which is easier to support.
Leppik emphasizes that this study is not a projection of a company's overall ability to satisfy customers -- participants, after all, were drawn only from the pool of customers who called for technical support. Even if taken in the narrow context of how companies are handling their customer support calls, however, the big-picture application of these findings, Leppik says, is to "expand the state of what makes a good customer experience."
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