Published: July 29, 2020 | Comments
Time is one of the few things we can never get back once it has passed; maybe that's why we're so scrupulous with how we spend it. Our customers' time is valuable to them, and they expect us to make good use of the time they give us. How we manage customer time and its relative, customer effort, can make all the difference between a bad customer service interaction and a good one.
Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Next week, guest-host Rebecca Gibson explores "Future Focused: Promoting Contact Center Careers." A question preview follows this article.
That's why we devoted time during this week's #ICMIchat to dig into the best ways to manage customers' time. Success in this area also requires expertise in how we manage our own time and resources. Accurate demand forecasts are essential for workforce management. Skilled contact center agents are vital to managing customers' perceptions of how time passes. CX innovation is needed to look at how customers feel about the time spent with us between contacts.
We can't talk about respecting customers' time without distinguishing between what is real and what is perceived. While time is always constant, how people experience the passing of time is a bit funny. This is exemplified well by the expression, "a watched pot never boils." While the day may be flying by for busy contact center agents, five minutes spent on hold may feel like an eternity to a customer waiting to get back to their day. Many factors influence how customers experience time, especially their emotions. To manage customer time effectively, we must focus on actual time and customers' perceptions of it.
Even though time can be precisely measured, how we perceive time is subjective. An “accurate” perception of time is as much of concern to callers as it is to the agent’s answering those calls. Engaging people on both ends tends to lead to better outcomes regardless.
Perception of time depends on the emotional state the customer is in; It appears to be standing still when we’re angry or frustrated, and fly by when we’re excited. We also tend to perceive time differently from memory compared to in the moment.
Customers lack an accurate perception of time, esp when they're in their feelings or in a crisis. However, in the role of customer, NO ONE (incl all of us) measures a customer service interaction solely by minutes or seconds. Helpfulness & rapport can "bend" time.
Perception Is Reality
Customer experience is the business of understanding our customers' feelings and emotions over their entire lifetime. While those feelings aren't always grounded in reality, they drive future behavior such as repeat purchases or customer attrition. How customers experience time during their interactions with us isn't always proportionate to time actually spent. Delays during critical, emotionally straining contacts can feel like they drag on forever, even when they don't. In comparison, time may completely slip the customer's mind on more extended contacts with friendly, conversational agents.
A mom waiting with her fussy baby at the doctors office, trying to figure out why her insurance isn’t valid experiences time differently than a patient calling from the couch about a bill.
Not all "minutes waited" are equal minutes. If a customer spend minutes waiting for a friendly, helpful customer service professional to complete a task they've described and accomplish an outcome they need, those are "good" minutes, passed calmly.
If you’re not explicit in expectations you increase the likelihood of disappointment. Also, if you have any time bound policies this can become a point of contention further exacerbated by any lengthy waits for responses.
Time & Expectations
Expectations have a lot to do with how we experience time. Customers don't have an absolute demand that all calls are handled in under five minutes or another arbitrary number. If they're asking a complicated question that they expected would take much longer, ten minutes may be amazing. However, if they're asking a 30-second question, five minutes is excruciating. Setting accurate expectations helps to minimize frustration, as long as we underpromise and overdeliver. However, it's essential to recognize that expectations are not wholly within our control. They may be formed by competitors in our industry or disruptors in another.
Customer expectations are driven by their personal experiences with not only your company but with any company when they have had to wait. Their perception becomes their reality. And they define their [overall satisfaction] compared to their perception, not our reality.
Customer expectations can come from previous experience (with your company or another) or second-hand from others (or even fictional accounts). "Reset" expectations by setting them and fulfilling the expectations you set.
Someone mentioned a minute ago that customers rarely call the contact center for a good time. They're usually experiencing some sort of problem when they do. Set expectations explicitly and then live up to them, or they won't believe it next time they call in.
I am personally okay if I have to wait a long time if I have a great interaction with the rep. You can reset them if your interactions exceeds their expectations.
Resetting Customers' Clocks
Andrew Gilliam, Associate Analyst for ICMI and today's host, explained his idea of resetting customers' clocks as, "some type of interaction during a delay, that resets expectations and makes the experience more manageable and pleasant for the customer by addressing their psychological needs." When left to their own devices, customers' minds begin to wonder. "Did they forget about me," they ask, "will my issue ever be resolved?" Providing customers with a periodic status update or requesting permission to use more of their time helps to counteract negative self-talk and poor perceptions.
Managing customers' time expectations is a fine line to walk. Your attempt to manage expectations can be taken well, or it can be taken as, "you don't care enough about me to help me NOW." Intentions can be good, but perceptions might be something else.
One thing I've noticed about customers and especially around COVID-19 if you're transparent, disclose fully, we had this delay and here's the reason, we wanted to let you know to help you manage your expectations, is a great customer trust builder. They'll appreciate you more.
I've found that clear communication about what's going on + consistent updates can ease the pain a little bit and build trust, even if it doesn't reset the clocks for the customer.
Difficult, but not impossible. Disney Parks for example is attempting to reduce their guests’ perceived time in queue by keeping them busy (and triggering positive emotions) using their ‘Play Disney Parks’ application.
Tips For Agents
Like many things in customer service life, delays are often outside of our control. Our agents fearlessly accept ownership of problems they didn't create, to get customers they help they need. Knowing the right techniques to manage customers' perception of time helps them control the interaction and influence overall feelings toward the brand. Transparency, empathy, and humility are all valuable tools for managing customer emotions on a contact.
Something as simple as saying "I need to message the claims department to find out what date the check will be sent, it usually takes about 5 minutes, would you prefer to hold, have me call you back, or text you the response?" Let the customer control the pace.
Hate to say "soft skills" as it's cliche, but just listening, understanding, thanking, comforting, empathy, all help. Then set a CLEAR expectation and meet it. Sometimes that can be out of an agent's control though.
Giving the agents the tools & resources to know what's going on, educate the customer & give accurate info (not overpromising). Also, the flexibility for the agent to take more time w/ the customer.
In contact center parlance, abandonment is when a customer hangs up or leaves the queue while waiting for an agent. Many contact centers watch their abandonment rate to understand if their service level is meeting customer needs. Customers may also give up during an interaction if wait time while working with an agent takes too long. These cases are especially undesirable because time and money have already been invested in serving the customer. In the worst cases, customers who tire of waiting may seek out a competitor or shame the company on social media. Keeping customers happy while they wait and minimizing delays is an essential component of the service strategy.
Abandonment above industry standard 5% is not desirable. There will always be abandon. Callback or options to document customer intent to contact are necessary, so Brands can ensure communication and resolution are priorities.
Abandonment is a big problem - big - huge! Two prime sources - staffing and process. Not enough staff is a WFM and budget issue. Poor processes create cracks for customers fall in. Sales brings custs in the front door but the CX needs to close the back door.
Abandonement may mean that the customer just abandoned your company forever. Do a CSI ([Customer Service] Investigation) review with each incident to see if there is a common dissatisifer that can be eliminated.
A Journey Through Time
Contact centers are only one step along the customer's journey with our organization. It's vital to manage customer time well along their lifetime, even when they're not speaking directly to us. Delays may be hidden from view, but that doesn't make them less important to address. It's crucial to keep our ears open to feedback about what happens in between calls and purchases.
Proactive reach outs. That's like, advanced CX practitioners though. Most companies are quite a few levels below that level of customer focus. That takes some in-depth journey mapping.
I'm going to focus on proactive planning for this Q: To develop a service impairment plan & revisit existing outage or issue escalations to make sure they are on point with who does what/how things are communicated. That way, when they happen again, you're prepared.
People who know me know that I always advocate contacting at least one customer a day and ask two questions - (1) how are you doing? (2) what is the one thing we can be doing to help you be more successful? This proactivity must be evident to optimize the CX
Time Is Money
Managing customers' time isn't only about making them feel good, although that has monetary benefits, too. The right approach to time management also improves our cost to serve customers. Effective workforce management helps balance personnel costs with customer demand, providing just enough service capacity at just the right time. Keeping customers engaged throughout their contact reduces repeat contacts due to abandonment or insufficient resolution. Finally, the skilled management of customers' emotions makes contacts more comfortable and faster to handle.
If things are communicated clearly, followed up on and resolved efficiently, this builds trust. Which in turns create brand loyalty. Doesn't mean the customer is "happy" it happened in the first place, but they trust you, which is crucial.
If a brand does it well, over time, customers side with the brand when there is a delay. “They wouldn’t delay this if they could do it on time”, “I’m sure there’s a strong reason for this” etc. That bodes well for business at so many levels!
#ICMIchat August 4, 2020
Future Focused: Promoting Contact Center Careers
Next week, Rebecca Gibson guest-hosts #ICMIchat to discuss contact center jobs and career development. Join the discussion at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific on Twitter.
Q1: Why don't more workers consider the contact center industry as a desirable, long-term career option for themselves?
Q2: What can contact centers and our industry do better to promote the contact center industry as a desirable career choice?
Q3: What's most motivating or rewarding about working in a contact center?
Q4: What does it take to have a successful contact center career? Is formal education required to get started? Should it be?
Q5: How can companies support front-line employees in identifying and pursuing new roles within the contact center (rather than jumping ship at the first opportunity)?
Q6: Is it better to hire from within, or source outside expertise for specialty positions such as workforce management, quality, training, and reporting?
Q7: What advice would you give a front-line employee who wants to advance in their career?
Q8: Will the skills, knowledge and abilities needed for a successful contact center career change in the next 5-10 years?
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