Scoring With an Inside Pitch
Filing taxes is not fun. In fact it can be downright frustrating, especially if you have questions and can't get them answered quickly. At Turbo Tax (part of Intuit), our customers were facing exactly this dilemma. Since 1983 we've provided highly successful online tax filing products to customers, but as each year passed increased volume made customer service less than stellar.
By 2001 we were fielding close to one million phone transactions, with the height between December and April 15, when people are compiling and filing their taxes. Although we ramped up our 50-person support staff to about 1,000 to handle call volume each year during tax season, we soon saw that this was no longer enough. Hold times were extensive and service levels were only at about 50 percent satisfaction ratings.
It became clear to me that the best thing for Turbo Tax would be to stagger our customer service approach. My goal was to first outsource our call center to multiple offshore and domestic locations, but also to implement an online knowledge base and chat option as the customer's first service option.
Convincing internal staff, including the CIO and CFO, of my plan wasn't easy. There was a lot of apprehension about whether our clients, who were so accustomed to phone-based support, would allow themselves to be shepherded to an online solution. As for offshore call center outsourcing, since our major locales were in Ireland and India, there was concern about cultural and language barriers, as well as about taking jobs away from folks in the States.
Internal staff had job retention fears as well: After all, if you are a call center manager and your call center goes overseas, what happens to your job?
Concerns were ultimately relieved in a number of ways. One was good old-fashioned lobbying. The other was to implement a small offshore call center pilot to demonstrate how well it could work, and how internal staff would be integral to managing foreign operations.
By 2001 we were ready to ramp up to the multitiered approach. We hired Sento, a company that had a proven track record in the methodology we needed.
We don't advertise a phone number for customer support, but a URL instead. Users are also driven to that URL right within the Turbo Tax product, through a number of steps that also allows us to gather CRM data about them. If FAQs and the knowledge base cannot help clients solve their questions, they are set up with live chat, implemented largely overseas. The highest level of escalation is to a call center rep.
This solution has allowed us to triple customer service volume while keeping costs flat, because our costs dropped from about $13 per transaction to about $5. Customer satisfaction ratings have been consistently in the 90s and more than 60 percent of customer service queries are answered immediately online. The remaining 40 percent mostly comprise chat help, with only about 15 to 20 percent of those folks ever having to be directed to the phone lines.
Today our call centers run 24x7. We pay per rep's transaction, so there is a healthy environment of competition among our international and domestic outsourced centers, which not only keeps costs down, but also funnels the most work to the centers with the most initiative. Our internal staff has become more managerial than task oriented, and now it helps develop interactions with the engineering and marketing departments based on the capabilities of the customer service solution center.
Thanks to Sento's scalable solution, we have big future plans, including implementing the same model for our technical support facilities and embedding more CRM data-gathering functions into the online help.