Improving customer contact

‘Just following procedure’ is often the favourite mantra of those seeking to defend the indefensible. At a time of cutbacks and efficiency drives, customer service staff may increasingly be tempted to utter the well-worn phrase as an excuse for something going wrong.
Excuses are never a solution. We need to ask tough questions about the role of procedures in delivering satisfaction and trust to the public. First, we need to be sure that the public are satisfied with the way we do things. Second, we should ask whether our procedures might actually prevent us delivering an excellent experience for the public.
On the first point, Customer Contact Association’s (CCA) 2009 benchmarking of Industry Council members shows that over 80 per cent of callers are satisfied with the contact centre experience. This compares well to the negative impression given by media coverage of the sector.

Room for improvement

However, there is room for improvement. One common complaint from consumers is that agents are JFP – just following the procedure. They get frustrated by systems and processes which get in the way of meeting an individual’s needs.
Professor Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School argues that too many organisations think that, in rule-bound workplaces, employees will still recognise that solving customers’ problems must come first but he says staff are afraid to act.
Yet there is a paradox in this view: if compliance doesn’t exist then customers receive variable service which might breach legal constraints – or fairness. In some sectors, managers are applying lean service, demand management and avoidable contact strategies. Driven by efficiency, we can expect more of these initiatives as budget cuts strike.
Lean service techniques can and should improve poor process. At a bank’s contact centre, we saw many ideas to improve experience. At a telecoms provider, agents meet every morning to identify problems. At an insurance company, a social networking site enables ‘grass roots’ generation of ideas from Generation Y
agents. In some trusts similar techniques are being identified to improve service.
But it’s not just about listening to our colleagues. Dr Carsten Sorensen of the LSE and PA Consulting released new research: ‘Listen! Open for innovation with information technology’. The report says customers will increasingly make complaints and suggestions through third party social networking sites rather than directly to the contact centre. As Gareth Turpin of 02 observed, there are comments on Facebook such as “you’d expect someone at X [the brand] would have seen the issue here and got back to us.” But how many brands have even set up an alert on Google for “[your brand] sucks”?
CCA Customer Experience Council
In June, we had our first meeting of the CCA Customer Experience Council. The group explored ideas for capturing the public’s feedback and, importantly, the way these ideas are used to improve processes. One manager raised the dilemma: Should I respond to a customer’s query/complaint on Twitter openly or take the issue offline?  The manager had concerns about both. Do the former and customer privacy may be an issue. Do the latter, and followers don’t necessarily know that you’ve responded. Through benchmarking, case studies and workshops CCA aims to help organisations solve these issues.
No doubt Lean Service and new forms of customer feedback will deliver many ideas to overcome JFP. In fact, CCA analysis shows between 15 per cent and 50 per cent of contacts are avoidable so the business case should be straightforward. But some of the resultant end-to-end process improvements won’t be solved by simple fixes. Co-operation from other parts of the health system will be needed and investment in technology, training and skills.

CCA Global Customer Convention
We know that you are facing difficult times, most likely tasked with driving costs down yet keeping your workforce engaged to deal with increasingly difficult customer demands. Some would argue an impossible task?

Deep down we know there are no quick fixes – it’s all about continual improvement. The good news is that we have 15 years experience and are at the centre of a vast and growing network with more than 1,000 organisations facing the same issues as you – we can help!

CCA Convention 2009 is the pinnacle of our learning to date, drawing from unrivalled experience, research, benchmarking and academic input.
There is no better investment of your time – not only will you access proven techniques for immediate impact, but also the latest thought-leadership to ensure that you are positioned to drive and influence change in your organisation.
There has never been a more pressing time to recognise the efforts of customer contact teams and leaders who have worked tirelessly to provide help, advice and a lifeline for customers during difficutl times. This is your time. We invite you to be part of it – you’re better connected with CCA.
The convention takes place on 4-5 November at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), Edinburgh. Visit to book.

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