Striking the Right Balance

You don't want to implement policies that prioritize cost reduction, only to have your customer satisfaction suffer. Or pull out all the stops to keep customers satisfied, only to have the expense quickly consume your bottom line. In other words, it's about striking the right balance. That's why companies should develop a holistic customer care strategy that encompasses services, sourcing options, capabilities, and delivery points to yield both short-term performance improvements and long-range business transformation. This balanced approach also mitigates risk by accounting for the impact individual program changes will have on other operational areas of the business. So, what could distract companies from pursuing a balanced approach? Consider the example of a company with high first contact resolution performance that wanted to trim labor costs by moving certain customer care programs offshore. While it reduced labor costs, the savings were offset by spiking call volumes due to customer complaints about the change as well as the number of inquiries requiring follow-up activity. In another scenario a company invested millions of dollars to reduce customer care costs by automating 40 percent of incoming calls. Although the implementation went off without a hitch, customers routinely exited the system to speak with an agent. Call volume doubled. What was the common culprit here? Neither organization looked beyond the prospect of saving money to understand the impact that the changes would have on customer satisfaction. For their part, customers--who were unaware of both the shift in service practices and the reasons for them--understandably balked. Delivering customer care in an increasingly bottom line-driven economy entails far more than transferring contact center jobs offshore or replacing agents with automated Web- and telephony-based applications. To yield the desired ROI with respect to operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and profitability, companies must first understand their customers' care preferences for specific transactions. Only then can they develop a customer care strategy and implement programs that address these requirements while establishing a realistic path toward genuine process improvement. That isn't to say companies cannot migrate customers who prefer speaking with an agent to more cost-effective automated channels--only that they must instruct customers on the use of these new systems and educate them on the value they provide. Offering customers incentives to adopt the new self-care alternatives also yields more successful results than eliminating the option to talk with an agent or charging a fee for agent-managed requests. What should companies consider to stay focused on pursuing a balanced approach? They should weigh four components that would enable them to implement a balanced customer care program:
  • Services Not every transaction requires support from an agent. Routine requests for account balances, address changes, or service upgrades, for example, can be easily and cost-efficiently managed via the corporate Web site or sophisticated speech-enabled applications. In fact, many customers prefer automated access to this information, especially if around-the-clock care is available and lengthy hold times for service are eliminated. The key is to find the right blend of agent-based and automated services.
  • Sourcing Options Successful customer care deployments often bring together a mix of in-house and external resources, depending on the company's internal talent pool and service priorities. The decision to look outside the organization does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, however. A broadband services provider may opt to support video customers from its own contact center while directing technical support inquiries for high-speed data users to another firm.
  • Capabilities To forecast how well customer care operations can be optimized, companies must determine the extent to which existing and desired people, processes, and technologies are available to initiate and sustain the planned transformation.
  • Delivery Points Awareness of offshore outsourcing remains high among Americans. Yet U.S. customers indicate they are not as polarized by the practice as some industry gurus and politicians suggest. According to research findings from a survey recently conducted by Convergys Corporation, more than half of U.S. consumers continue to do the same amount of business--or more - with companies they know to have outsourced jobs to overseas locations. Also, respondents ranked the agent's ability to address their issue as their number one concern versus whether the agent works outside the United States or speaks English with a foreign accent. With proper planning, companies can develop a blend of geographic delivery points that addresses customer expectations for issue resolution. The Bottom Line Companies should develop a holistic customer care strategy that encompasses a balanced approach to customer care solutions. This can only be achieved through a thorough review of the most common customer transaction types and an analysis of their customer segments. Losing customers because of a poorly thought-out plan can be much more costly than maintaining contact centers in markets with higher labor rates. About the Author Andrea Ayers is vice president of corporate marketing for Convergys. She leads the marketing function for all of Convergys' marketing programs, creative services, digital and multimedia support, events and seminars, regional marketing, marketing metrics and technologies, and desktop publishing administrative services. Ayers earned a BA in management and administration from Louisiana State University. Visit Convergys.
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