• July 20, 2004
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Sales Outshines Service

U.S. companies equip their employees with the tools to deal with prepurchase information issues, but drop the ball when it comes to giving them with the necessary skills to tackle delivery or maintenance concerns, according to a recent report by the Portland Research Group. "Best Practices in Telephone Customer Service: A 2004 Call Center Benchmark Report," based its findings on data collected from February 2003 to December 2003, from the responses of 841 online visitors who had recently contacted a U.S. company via telephone for help. The report's findings were assembled by SurveyLab, a division of Portland Research Group. Consumers were asked a series of questions about their encounters, including:
  • Was it hard to reach somebody who could assist you?
  • When you did talk to somebody, how did you feel about their professionalism, friendliness, and knowledge?
  • What do you feel about the response you received?
  • What do you feel about the person's authority to provide a response, the timeliness of the response, and the clarity of the response based your initial reason for calling? "We then also asked them to give us a sense of their overall loyalty to the company after the call experience," says Christopher Clegg, senior research manager of Portland Research Group, who spearheaded the survey. Clegg says, "We then also asked them to give us a sense of their overall loyalty to the company after the call experience...." The results were segmented into five categories: telecommunications and ISP companies, consumer goods and retail, consumer services and medical, travel, lodging and food, and other. The survey revealed consumers' attitudes toward "the authority of an agent and their ability to resolve the problem," Clegg says. Other attitudes surveyed included "the reason they're calling, whether they were calling about issues that happened in the beginning of the relationship; whether they were calling about issues that happen in the middle or maintenance stages of a relationship" and "whether they were at the ending stages of a relationship with the company." "What we found is that authority is rated much higher when a person is calling for presale information or for purchasing information, but when it comes to ongoing maintenance type issues, the scoring of call center agents on authority tends to drop," Clegg says. Seventy-three percent of callers reported satisfaction from the agent's authority on prepurchase information, but that figure fell 21 points to 52 percent for respondents content with the employee's grasp on ongoing maintenance issues. It continued to plummet to 46 percent for those who were satisfied with the employee's authority on delivery concerns. According to Portland Research Group, 61 percent of respondents reported satisfaction overall from the agent's response, while 37 percent conveyed that they were very satisfied, and 24 percent expressed that they were somewhat satisfied. Yet, only 54 percent conveyed that they would probably buy other products or services from that particular company in the future. "Corporate management is giving employees the power to cater to the customer when it comes to closing the sale," says Bruce Lockwood, president of Portland Research Group. "However, the empowerment seems to stop there. Companies need to quantify the impact of problem resolution, by individual problem type, and set employee response guidelines appropriately. The more likely an issue is to damage loyalty, the more authority an employee should have to make it right for the customer." Related articles: