Customer service: Your greatest competitive weapon

Prompt resolution of customer complaints can create customers for life. Here’s how to measure customer service success.

In my quest to purchase a snowblower last weekend, I narrowed my choice down to models from two different brands. In checking customer reviews across an assortment of retail websites, a disparity immediately became apparent. Negative reviews for one of the brands sat untouched while the other manufacturer had responded to nearly every rating of three stars or less with messages ranging from “will take this into account” to “call this 800-number to resolve the issue.”

The company’s responsiveness played no small part in my decision to choose that vendor for a substantial purchase. It’s an example of how, in the age of the empowered customer, service is becoming a profit center.

You wouldn’t know that from the way many companies take a dismissive attitude toward their contact centers, though. Despite overwhelming evidence that high-quality customer support pays off in repeat business, lifetime customer value, and word-of-mouth promotion, they treat their contact centers as an unpleasant but necessary cost of doing business. Performance is measured in terms of the number of calls completed per hour. Low pay and stressful conditions create average contact center turnover rates of more than 30% per year as employees burn out from repeated confrontations with angry customers, often without the power to do much to resolve their complaints.

Businesses should look instead at contact centers as a chance to rescue the customer relationship. “85% of customers would choose to switch after one bad experience with a brand, and that’s been more pronounced in these digital-first times,” said Jay Choi, Chief Product Officer at Qualtrics, a company whose expertise in gathering and interpreting customer feedback data has earned it a market capitalization of over $23 billion.

Measuring the wrong thing

Qualtrics’ research has shown that call completion rates are exactly the wrong metric to use in evaluating contact center performance. “We actually found out that the number one predictor of satisfaction is issue resolution,” Choi said. “It’s more important than the length of the call,” particularly if the contact center representative shows determination to resolve the issue regardless of how long it takes.

There is plenty of evidence to support the value of contact center interactions. Dell Computer has published internal metrics showing that 97% of dissatisfied customers can be rescued with proactive intervention and more than 40% become raving fans. Customers who call with a problem are doing a company a favor by giving it a chance to resolve the issue rather than simply walking away. Treating those calls as a nuisance rather than a gift sends exactly the wrong message.

The profit-making potential of customer service interactions goes beyond rescuing an individual sale. Aggregated feedback provides insights into products or business functions that need improvement. Choi cited the example of the Volkswagen Group in Australia. The parts department at the automaker was under pressure to minimize inventories, but the company’s inability to furnish replacement parts was stoking customer dissatisfaction. “They decided to significantly increase inventories and their customer satisfaction rates rose from 61% to 92% in three years,” he said.

Customer feedback can also yield ideas for new products. Successful resolution of an issue presents a good opportunity to offer low-key promotions that can generate additional revenues, although up-selling should be discouraged until problems are resolved. For B2B companies, feedback from customers can also be a useful source of material for content marketing efforts that generate sales leads.

Measuring what matters

Qualtric’s Choi recommends that a better measurement of customer service success is the percentage of calls that are successfully resolved rather than the number that is completed. Post-interaction surveys, which assess customer satisfaction just after the call ends, are useful but should also be supplemented by annual “relational Net Promoter Score” research that measures overall impressions of a company or brand. “There is a bias in post-interaction response surveys; you tend to see the poles,” with customers on either end of the satisfactions scale more likely to respond to them than those in the middle, Choi said.

Technology is enriching the value that can be mined from contact center interactions. Conversational analytics is a relatively new category of software that analyzes human speech and text exchanges to detect sentiment and emotion. Clarabridge, which Qualtrics acquired this past summer for $1.125 billion, analyzes audio recordings of customer interactions and applies analytics in real-time to help service representatives respond more appropriately. “We understand where the conversation is heading and can intercept and provide a promotion to calm things,” if tempers are flaring. Other vendors in this burgeoning market include Invoca, Cogito, SoundHound, and DataChat. The goal is not only to give call center representatives additional tools but to better understand overall sentiment.

When it comes to proactive customer service, I’ve always been impressed by the leadership that overnight delivery services exhibit. These companies pull off minor miracles every day, but invariably some deliveries fall through the cracks. Their Facebook pages bristle with angry posts from outraged customers, yet company representatives consistently respond with grace and even humor. They know what conversations with aggrieved customers really are: a turnaround opportunity.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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