Satisfaction guaranteed?

Andy Sleath, from Aspect Communications, argues customer service managers are more focused than ever before on delivering quality service and improving customer satisfaction.

Customer contact centres today play a central role in business. They’re a company’s eyes and ears to the outside world, the place where more customer contacts are made than anywhere else and – to many organisations – their richest source of customer information. They’re also where long-term profitable relationships are made – and sometimes where they are broken.

It should come as no surprise therefore that contact centres are often the focus of customers’ frustration when things go wrong. Last year, BBC’s ‘Brassed Off Britain’ programme ranked contact centres as the fourth most hated UK institution. The Citizens Advice Bureau’s (CAB) 2004 annual survey reported that almost 97% of people found at least one aspect of using contact centres annoying – with up to 40% dissatisfied with their experiences.

Should we be surprised by these findings? In truth, not really. If you ask a thousand people in the street whether they have ever had a bad customer experience, then of course the answer will overwhelmingly be ‘yes’. Whether that customer frustration is the result of poor service – or faulty products, broken appointments, badly-delivered services etc. – is largely irrelevant. For as the company’s front line troops, it’s the job of customer service advisors to deal with irate and frustrated customers, resolve their issues and gain their loyalty.

Another reason why dissatisfaction with contact centres appears to be so high is simply because customers’ expectations are rising. When the red mist descends, an angry customer will forget that he can now phone customer service at 8pm a night; leave a meter reading on an automated machine without waiting; and get answered in 10 seconds rather than have to wait twenty five minutes.

What the CAB and other recent research is signalling is that consumers aren’t willing to put up with second rate service any more. They are not prepared to wait three minutes to get answered. And they are often not prepared to accept ‘no’ for an answer. Customers are getting more ‘vocal’ and organisations need to improve service levels to meet these expectations or risk losing them to a competitor.

Recent research suggests that contact centre managers understand this important change and are focusing on ‘quality’ and ‘customer satisfaction’ like never before.

Contact centre analysts ContactBabel, for example, point to a rise in the percentage of call centre managers that see first time resolution of customer queries as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ from 47% in 2003 to 56% in 2004. In the same survey, 74% of managers put “increasing customer satisfaction” as their no.1 aim (above “decreasing cost”, “achieving set metrics” and “increasing revenue”), up from 66% in 2003.

ContactBabel’s findings are supported by evidence from the 2005 Contact Centre Trends Market Survey, commissioned by Aspect Communications.

The study revealed that ‘customer satisfaction’ is now the highest priority key performance indicator (KPI) of contact centre professionals in both German-speaking countries and in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In German-speaking countries, 36.8% of interviewees said that ‘customer satisfaction’ was their top priority, up from 18.7% in 2003. In the UK and Ireland, where data was collected for the first time in 2005, the figure was 29.8%. Significantly, in the 2004 report, the much more process-driven objective, ‘adhering to service level’, was rated the highest priority KPI by interviewees.

What we are witnessing is a sea change in contact centre management. Since the boom years of CRM investment in the late 1990s, cost and profitability issues have dominated the way contact centres have been run – sometimes arguably to the detriment of ‘quality service’ and ‘customer satisfaction’.

Today though, there’s much evidence that organisations are recognising that customer expectations are rising, that customers are becoming less tolerant of poor service and that they will need to focus more on meeting the needs of their customers in order to succeed. A growing number of companies are also accepting that happy and loyal customers who make repeat purchases can have just as big an impact on bottom-line performance as cost-cutting.

It is a new focus on ‘quality’ and ‘satisfaction’ that will represent a win-win situation for organisations and their customers.

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