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Expert's Angle: Customer Dissatisfaction – Busting Myths and Finding What Really Drives It!

Our Baseline: Is it As Bad As the Media Would Have Us Believe?

In one word: No. Contrary to what we may read in global media, customers are actually increasingly happy with customer service contacts. This skewed media view comes from consumers vividly remembering their bad experiences, but forgetting about all of the good calls that they have had. However, we still have a lot of work to do.

Companies need to find out their individual drivers of customer satisfaction, or C-SAT (which varies significantly from sector to sector) and break this down to staff level to be able to drive change and ignore industry myths.

Figure 1 shows the percentage of customers giving participants in the Bright index contact center benchmarking survey a high score.

Figure 2 shows the percentage of customers giving participants in the Bright index contact center benchmarking survey a low score.

What Really Drives Customer Dissatisfaction in Our Contact Centers?

There are many myths out there on what affects C-SAT. These myths are then made into targets that are communicated to agents, resulting in contact centers driving the wrong things. When analyzing 500,000 C-SAT surveys carried out last year, Bright found two key things:

1. The breaking point for customers was between 1.5 to 2 minutes hold time. By breaking point, we mean when the customers started scoring general satisfaction low due to having waited too long.

2. The customers dissatisfied with hold time went on to score overall satisfaction lower than others. However, on average, these scores were not lower than 3 (on a scale of 1-5)! The customers dissatisfied with staff engagement and product knowledge however, scored their overall experience as "very dissatisfied." This even applied to customers having waited more than 5 minutes.

Figure 3 shows what impact different scores for Answer Time, Engagement and Knowledge, has on general satisfaction with a contact center experience.

So, engagement and product knowledge significantly trump hold time in driving C-SAT, yet what is the most common performance target to drive C-SAT? 80% of calls analyzed were handled within 20 seconds. The reason for this is threefold:

  • Technology suppliers putting it in to their systems as a default measurement without taking into consideration what strategy or sector their clients may be in
  • Senior directors wanting one simple to understand metric to gauge the quality delivered and
  • An inflated belief in how important customers find speed of answer in comparison to other areas

Only 50% of calls across our industry are handled within 20 seconds and the target often cripples organization that struggle to reach their service level targets. When finding out their actual breaking points (when customers starting scoring them badly due to hold time), they often see that customers accept waiting longer than they previously thought, as long as metrics like first-call resolution (FCR), engagement and product knowledge are okay once they've reached an agent. When they subsequently relax the service level targets, this frees up resources to focus on the things that really drive C-SAT.

By implementing this tactic, as well as feeding back to the agents their individual C-SAT scores on a weekly basis, many companies saw the number of very satisfied customers increase on average by -drum roll- 30%!

Top Three Fixes to Drive Down Customer Complaints

1. Call resolution and root cause analysis. After a decade of reviewing contact center operations we still find that a majority of center in the U.K. do not have a structured way of measuring why customers are calling. This means that they are solving the same problems repeatedly annoying customers, instead of doing root cause analysis and creating action plans to stop avoidable calls.

It also means that they don’t have a chance of becoming the "real time contact center" that consultant Donna Fluss describes as the information hub of an organization. Well-functioning centers report on a regular basis to other departments what C-SAT feedback during the period have related to respective department and asking them to do something about it.

This failure to understand problems happens at all levels of public and private life. For example, an industry colleague consulted officials in Washington D.C. who were looking for ways to cut the budget. He queried the million-dollar cost for cleaning the Lincoln Memorial and asked "why do we have to clean it so often?" Then, "why are there so many birds?" and "why are there so many insects?" Finally, he discovered that it was the Memorial's spotlights that were attracting the birds and causing the need to clean so frequently. This colleague simply changed the lights and managed to nearly erase a million dollar cost.

Figure 4 shows the average percentage of queries solved in the first call across industry sectors in the 2010 contact center benchmarking Bright Index.

2. Engagement. Companies are starting to realize that staff engagement can drive both C-SAT and productivity. When shown proof of direct links between engagement and productivity, thus the bottom line, organizations start to listen. A positive and proactive agent will take new targets on board and try to reach them, have less absence, solve problems themselves and in turn increase FCR, etc. A bonus is that this drive down customer complaints and C-SAT improves.

The graph below shows that in 2010, 42% of employees rated their satisfaction with their contact center employer as "very satisfied."

An improved people focus isn't enough though - one reason for poor results is a lack of appropriate staff, 15% say they do not enjoy talking to or helping customers and should frankly never have been hired.

3. Product Knowledge. In addition to having the right training procedures in place a significant number of companies are not taking advantage of technology available to support their agents. In most contact centers, it is impossible for agents to go through a day and answer all customer queries just based on previous training. However, it is possible if the CRM and knowledge base systems that most contact centers already have in place is used properly.

This product knowledge, combined with call resolution and root cause analysis, will enable agents to respond to the most frequent queries, which will have a major impact on customer complaints. The organization can also enable agents to solve customer problems based on how often the agents may encounter the same problem.

Automation Vs. Customer Dissatisfaction

By analyzing top performers in last year's Bright Index benchmarking, we saw that they had a higher level of self-service in common. By top performers, we mean both higher efficiency and C-SAT results. There was one caveat though: They all had to have short and clear menu structures in their IVR solutions and the option to speak to a live agent, or the results were the opposite.

Key Messages

  • Companies need to find out their individual drivers of C-SAT (which varies significantly from sector to sector)
  • This C-SAT feedback then needs to be broken down to staff-level to be able to drive change
  • Industry myths need to be ignored and replaced with industry facts
  • Agent engagement and knowledge normally trumps hold time, be sure to get your priorities right
  • Have a structured way of measuring why customers call in place and feed that information back to other departments, change team and back into your knowledge base
  • Top performers may have a higher self-service level, but it also needs to be well-designed

Mats Rennstam is the Owner and Managing Director of Bright UK Ltd./Bright AB