• April 1, 2007
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Winnowing Customer Care Woes

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Wireless customers who call their provider and interact with an automated response system have markedly shoddier customer care experiences than those customers who are serviced by a live rep, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Wireless Customer Care Performance Study--Volume 1. Reports of customer woes with automated service are nothing new, but the study provides further evidence that some of the main causes behind customer aggravation--poor design, too many prompts, and irrelevant, restricted choices--continue to taint the automated customer experience. The semiannual report, now in its fifth year, examines the customer care performance of wireless providers based on customer experiences with three common touch points: phone calls with a CSR and/or automated response system, in-store interactions, and online Internet connections. Experience metrics like problem resolution efficiency and hold-time duration were evaluated in each channel. More than 13,970 wireless customers who contacted their providers' customer care departments in 2006 were surveyed. The average index score for customers who got in touch with their wireless carrier by speaking with a CSR was 127 points, but the index score for customers who used an automated system was 92 points, and even lower (73 points) for contacts made over the Internet. "Carriers have been trying to drive their customers to the nonoperated systems because it obviously saves them money, but there's not a lot of flexibility in those systems," says Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. "If someone calls up and has an issue with her network or call quality there's not too much that a computer- generated system can handle and help with." The report does not break automated response systems into touch-tone and speech-enabled IVRs to evaluate each approach on its own. "The experience that you can provide with speech versus the experience that you can provide with touch tone is very different," says Azita Martin, vice president of marketing at TuVox. "Speech recognition systems open up what customers can do and what answers the systems can provide back." But instances where the system can't recognize what someone says can negatively impact the user experience. "Between a touch-tone and speech recognition system, [voice is] going to be more flexible," Parsons says. "But there's still that dividing line where regardless of how intuitive that system is, customers are going to run into a problem or an issue when they do contact their carrier that won't be resolved through that one channel." To improve the customer experience delivered via automated systems, Martin suggests that companies "design the application and the menus very specific to the needs of customers." Providing customers with opt out, educating them on what channels work best for particular issues, and taking a more dedicated approach to agent training are strategies that should be injected into customer care processes. "Have some service reps just do voice plans and the others do data plans, and make sure that the customer gets to the right person to talk to." Customer Care Index Rankings T-Mobile (number one for the fifth consecutive reporting period) 107 Verizon Wireless 101 Alltel 99 Industry Average 98 Cingular 94 Sprint Nextel 92
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