Discussion with Jarvous Freeman, leading US authority on CX and contact center optimization, on how to leverage the contact center to create lifelong customers. Freeman has spent his entire career in this space and has seen it all. Name the largest enterprise contact centers, and he’s probably run them. Contact center optimization is his passion.
What does it take to create a lifelong customer?
Creating lifelong customers requires knowing who they are, what they need and empathizing with their experience in the process. The best way to do this is by studying and mapping out the customer’s journey. Journey maps can get complicated and feel like the Marvel “what if” scenarios or crime show murder boards. No matter how complex, they are essential to truly understand who your customer is, why they reach out, and how that product can be improved, so future outreach is unnecessary.
Did you know that most consumers consider themselves loyal after purchasing five times from the same brand? Unless you listen to the customer and create an experience that resonates with them, you’ll ultimately find it hard to build a sustainable business.
Rethinking Analytics – Contact Center Moneyball
Historically, call center analytics have been static, telling you what happened at a point in time. Metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Average Handle Time (AHT), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Percentage of Calls Answered (PCA), and productivity individually are the wrong way to look at the data. If you focus on these metrics independently, your teams will map their activities to them. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Let’s say service levels are excellent, but what does it do to improve the customer experience? You may have hit service levels every day, but did you reduce contacts? Why are people calling?
“Service levels statistics aren’t typically valuable. Let’s say you answer 80% of your calls in 20 seconds… what does that even mean?” said Mr Freeman. “We combine metrics into a single statistic that tells a complete story.”
Research from Vocalabs indicates that longer waiting times have a minimal impact on customer satisfaction scores (as long as it isn’t too long). For example, banking industry customers are willing to wait two or three minutes.
Routing customers to the right skills and ensuring they receive the best possible experience are more critical than picking up the phone quickly. Focus on solving the problem.
In a call center environment with suffering service levels, the typical response is to throw more resources (people) at the situation. If you double the number of staff, you hit the service level, right? In truth, that simply covers over the cracks without solving the REAL problem.
You have to flip the data on its head, get honest customer experience feedback, and map everything to tell a complete story. The process takes months of listening to calls, analyzing data and looking at what works for your business. It could look something like this:
Ask – Reach out to your customers through open-ended surveys asking for honest feedback. Include this with an NPS score and then run it through data models to find trends. No better place to get the information than at the source.
Listen – Listen to calls to understand what’s happening in your organization so you can build out the data sets for your specific circumstance.
Understand – Conduct keyword analysis to get customer sentiment and place AI/ML behind it to understand what it all means.
To Jarvous, “There really is no neutral in customer experience. They’re either happy or not.” If the customer is indifferent in the neutral example above, are they ever likely to be a loyal brand advocates? A typical NPS metric will ignore these neutral customers, but they could be telling you more than you realize. If they are not a promoter, will they come back?
If a customer is not happy, reengage and find out what’s wrong. Send them a nice message to rectify the situation. Show empathy and try and get it right. When you are genuine, your customer will respond positively, and you will gain a long-term advocate.
If you get it right, it’s not about the metrics you hit but the story that the combined data tells. It takes time to get right, so don’t rush it.
Is it possible to eliminate the call completely?
Once you have created your customer-centric process, focus on reducing churn and solving problems. It’s at this point where engaging product teams impact long term service statistics. You now have data from those customers that you can share with product leadership, telling them what your customer said were strengths and weaknesses. Once resolved, customers should no longer need to call regarding that issue, reducing the need for any outreach.
“If you get to the root cause, the phone doesn’t ring.”
The average call center has a first call resolution of 74%. Although that is considered an industry standard, it still means that the customer needs to put in further effort to get the correct answer on over a quarter of calls.
Statistics from Call Centre Helper show that 6% of call centers have an average cost per call of over £10 (around $14) in the UK.
Improving that first call resolution by 10% saves $1,400 per 1,000 calls. In large call centers, the saving potential is enormous. Now imiagine if you eliminate the call altogether.
Innovation – What’s next in technology?
According to a study done by American Express, over 60% of US consumers prefer an automated self-service, such as a website or mobile app, for simple customer service tasks.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and its applications like machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) is the key to the future. If done right, self-service solutions will minimize disruption and friction. Gone are the days when customers are waiting in line and navigating IVRs.
Consider this scenario:
You enter a website looking for a resolution to a question. You are assigned a “digital buddy” or Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) to help you throughout the process in the channel of your choice. The customer communicates their issue, and then the AI resolves it, leveraging a predefined knowledge base and machine learning. If too complicated, the system connects you with a skilled agent.
Research from Zendesk in 2021 shows customers don’t want to phone call centers for simple tasks, so why would your customer journey force them to do so?
A phone call can be the last resort and removes transactional conversations like password resets and order tracking. The calls may end up being longer, but you’re focused on the question that truly needs a person’s attention.
Taking it a step further, Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) is where things could end up. Companies like Facebook using their Oculus will enable customer service teams to engage with as if they were sitting right there beside them. Consider things like fixing your car or virtual tutoring. You could have an actual virtual AI or agent sitting in that environment helping the customer. Such innovation is not outside the realm of possibility and is already being used in some industries.
Words of wisdom
Follow the style of Jimmy Johnson and what made him successful at all levels. Winning is important but have fun and be passionate about what you are doing. Push the boundaries and find humble, star players across the organization and help them realize their potential.
Best Practices Summary:
- Rethink customer experience analytics to tell an entire story
- Do the work to understand your customer’s journey
- Be a rule-breaker, and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo
- Look for opportunities across industries for innovation
- Have Fun!!!