New research from the UK’s Institute of Customer Service says more customers rely on telephone service than anything else – but that doesn’t mean they’re happy.
Telephone Customer Service will Make or Break your Customer Experience
For anyone interested in customer experience, the results of the UK Institute of Customer Service’s most recent Customer Satisfaction Index make essential – and in some cases, worrying – reading.
Drawing on data from 42,500 customer experiences with 200 organizations in 13 sectors – across 30 different metrics – the UKCSI is as comprehensive a view of British customer experience as you’re likely to get.
And, interestingly, some of the findings seem to chime with Forrester’s report on IVR, earlier in the year, showing similar experiences either side of the Atlantic.
For example: the full version of the UKCSI report confirms that although customers are almost twice as likely to rely on telephone-based service than the next most popular channel (web), they’re often unhappy with the experience.
In fact, the phone doesn’t appear among the top three channels for satisfaction, lagging behind face-to-face, email and online.
(Similarly, Forrester say more customers are using the telephone than before, but only half are happy when using IVR.)
The importance of “getting through”
All this means a fair proportion of your customers may feel compelled to use the telephone, even though they don’t enjoy the experience. And the findings are clear: the way you deal with this captive audience could scarcely be more critical to the way your customers perceive your service.
The ICS compared the results for top performing service organizations against the rest – and it found one of the two biggest differentiators is customer experience on the telephone.
“The highest performing organisations tend to perform better across the range…But their performance is particularly strong in complaint handling and over the phone experiences.”
– The Institute of Customer Service: UK Customer Satisfaction Index, July 2016
Crucially, after having helpful, competent customer service staff, the biggest difference in these telephone responses was “ease of getting through”.
In our experience, this typically refers to their perception of any difficulty or waiting time before speaking to a human being. So helping callers to get through to the right place, quickly and easily – and managing the experience while they’re waiting – is therefore at the very heart of your customer satisfaction – and a big part of that is the way you set up your IVR.
Thankfully, there are a number of straightforward tweaks you can make to your IVR system to avoid frustrating callers and promote the feeling that getting through was not just easy, but quick:
Align your IVR menu order to customers’ priorities (not yours)
Hopefully, you know the reasons your customers call most often. Rearranging your IVR menu so the most popular or urgent options come first is an immediate way to help more customers feel that they’re speeding effortlessly through your system.
And while you’re looking at those options, make sure you describe them in language your customer can understand, based around what they want to do (pay a bill, track a parcel, buy something), rather than the name of the department (accounts, deliveries, sales).
The impact can be dramatic. One VoxGen client saw the average customer’s time in the IVR fall by 33%. Abandoned calls have fallen, and more callers find the right option first time, too.
Use “small data” to anticipate what the customer wants
You can go further, and personalize the customer’s menu options.
It’s easier than you might think to enable your IVR to look at a customer’s phone number, look up the corresponding information in your CRM, predict the most likely reason for the call, and offer a relevant menu option upfront: “We see you recently placed an order, is that what you’re calling about?”
By doing so, you can narrow down the menu options, skip to the most important parts and, ultimately, help your customer to get to where they want to be more quickly – all while helping the caller to think “Wow! That was easy”. It’s an immediate win.
And the more you can inform your agent about the caller when they arrive, the more likely they are to score highly for helpfulness and knowledge, too.
Some companies actively try to prevent customers getting through.
Call containment is a popular efficiency metric in contact centers, but viewed in isolation it can lead organizations to deliberately frustrate their customers – doing untold damage to their satisfaction with your phone-based service.
While cost concerns can make it tempting to bury your IVR’s “speak to an agent” option, this is a short-sighted approach. You can’t force customers to self-serve; in the long term, you can only improve your automated systems to give a quick, easy and satisfying experience.
There are also a number of things you can do to shorten the queue itself – without recruiting any more contact center staff. And every caller you can satisfy without an agent’s involvement has not only had a speedy resolution themselves; they’ve cut the waiting time for the next in line too.
For instance, ask yourself why people are holding to speak to an agent, instead of using your self-service options. Perhaps it sounds daunting, it’s difficult to use, or they just don’t trust it for some kinds of transaction. Look carefully at the data – to see where people give up – then review your processes and scripts accordingly.
Likewise, think about your messaging while callers are on hold. If you could relate it better to the context of the call (the part of the IVR menu, or that customer’s history), would that enable some to get the information they need without waiting longer – or could you offer to call them back?
Manage customers’ expectations on hold
Sometimes of course, queueing is inevitable. But the actual duration of a customer’s wait is arguably less important than their perception of that experience – and the way you deal with people while they’re waiting can significantly influence how long they think it took them to get through.
There are any number of small changes – like your choice of music, and ensuring any on-hold messages are sensitive – that can make a big difference. Most importantly, ensure your hold time estimations are realistic; take a leaf out of Disney’s book, and over rather than under-estimate the queue.