What Companies Can Do to Reduce Customer Effort

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Popular metrics that companies use to measure customer effort include FCR, the number of repeat contacts, the average speed-to-answer, the number of times the customer is transferred, the number of unwarranted channel switches and/or escalations, and the length of hold time.

“When companies ask customers how much effort they had to expend in a call, the customer can rate their effort level as low, mid, or high,” Jacobs says. “However, the important thing for companies to remember when they conduct these customer surveys is that they don’t know the circumstances of the service call for which a customer is answering questions. Was the customer on his or her way to a job interview and faced with having to find a rental car hastily to get to that interview, so that his/her expectation for a quick turnaround on service was very high? Or was the customer sitting on the patio on a sunny afternoon, enjoying a glass of wine? The service expectations of these customers are likely to be very different.”

To sharpen the accuracy of customer effort readings, some companies measure customer effort by inference and not directly by surveys. Companies can safely assume, for instance, that every time there is an escalation, the call will be extended, leading to greater frustration. There are also calls associated with particular issues that will just naturally take longer, which can, again, positively correlate with customer frustration. Or complications with the interactive voice response system could require customers to run through so many menu choices that they end up frazzled.

Jacobs recommends that companies gauge their customer effort by combining both direct survey measurements and inferences of customer effort based on the types of transactions that take place. By using such a hybrid methodology, companies can look at customer effort through the lens of direct customer satisfaction surveys and weigh and evaluate what they see there against what they monitor from their business processes for points of customer exasperation or communication breakdowns.

“You can use artificial intelligence and other types of analytics to improve service call performance when you measure business processes,” he adds. “For instance, if you have a customer calling in from New York and you give the customer to a call center agent from Mississippi who has a very genteel and relaxed manner, the customer from New York could perceive this agent as not being very efficient and as wasting his or her time. Conversely, if you have a customer from Mississippi and you route that customer to a service agent from New York, the New York agent could appear to the Mississippi customer as being too brusque. By knowing in advance who your customer is and what the best available agent match is for that customer, you can improve the customer experience and lessen the effort on the part of the customer.”

BALANCING TIME AND TIME MINIMIZATION

Many call centers have operated on the six-minute principle in the past (i.e., if you don’t get the caller off the phone within six minutes, you’re not going to meet your call quota). In some cases, supporting the customer and solving a problem takes much longer.

“Businesses should align their customer service approach with their brand intent,” Subramaniam says. “If your company wants to be perceived as a high-touch brand, it is not a good idea to focus on efficiency metrics like average handle time [AHT]. Likewise, sales-focused contact centers are better off focusing on sales per interaction rather than AHT.”

There are also industry sectors like healthcare where inbound customer calls present a special challenge.

“Healthcare institutions can experience high patient frustration levels with inbound call agents who might lack the knowledge to answer the customers’ questions, or who might have trouble understanding what customers are saying,” LaRoche says. “In these cases, self-service options for customers can help; so can deflecting the patient to a website. But on the other side of the coin, it is also important to analyze the actual conversations that are taking place and what the patient really needs. By listening to the conversations of patients, you can also assess how and why frustration levels begin to rise.”

Because customer service expectations vary widely across industry verticals, companies first have to get a handle on what their customers expect, as well as on the level of effort that their customers expect and are willing to expend to reach a resolution.

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