At Customer Service Experience, Companies Are Challenged to Put Customers First

NEW YORK -- Companies are severely disconnected from their customers, speaker after speaker at the opening day of the Customer Service Experience conference told attendees, based largely on the differing ways the two sides view interactions.

"Customers think in terms of a journey, but companies think operationally," often leading them to look at metrics that do little to improve the overall customer experience, said Anuj Bhalia, global lead for service analytics strategy at Accenture Management Consulting.

"You need to change the operational mindset," he said. "Operational metrics have a place in shaping how you run your business, not the customer experience."

"[Key performance indicators] don’t solve problems, people do," Bhalia pointed out.

The customer journey, he added, looks at the entire experience in the context of all interactions with the company, not a single exchange with an agent in a contact center.

As such, "average handle time is not a good measure of customer satisfaction," Bhalia said.

"Instead, use experience metrics" that look at things from the customers' perspective, he said.

One of the more important metrics in this new way of thinking, he added, is the amount of pain the customer has to endure to get his issue resolved. This includes the number of times he had to contact the company, the number of agents he spoke with, the amount of time he spent on each interaction, and the number of transfers and escalations along the way. It also involves the number of channels used.

"Take a sledgehammer to your silos," Bhalia added. "Every channel is a unique form of contact with your brand," but each is interrelated to form the overall experience, he said.

Because of that, companies should build cross-channel journey maps, look at post-interaction churn rates, and design metrics that reflect customer priorities, Bhalia urged. Then, he said, analytics can be used to uncover what truly matters to customers.

Bob Azman, chief experience officer at Avtex, agreed. He suggested that, from a customer’s perspective, “being easy to do business with is so important to the overall customer experience.”

And he outlined what he identified as "the four pillars" for a strategic service vision. They were:

  1. the service delivery strategy;
  2. the operating strategy;
  3. the service concept; and
  4. the target market segments.

"You must align your people, processes, and tools around these to be successful," he said.

The key to building customer loyalty, Azman said, is just as simple. "Do the job right the first time, and then have a comprehensive recovery strategy for when a failure occurs. When a failure occurs, how you recover really matters."

These prescriptions apply as much to digital channels, such as chat, email, and social media, as they do to phone interactions, panelists at an afternoon session maintained.

"If the tools you're using can get [customers] to a resolution, they will respond, regardless of the channel," Ian Jacobs, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, maintained.

The problem, however, is that many of the channels today don't do that.

For example, only 40 percent of business-to-business companies offer social support today, down from 46 percent a year ago, according to John Ragsdale, vice president of research at TSIA.

Additionally, so far, only 31 percent of business-to-business companies have integrated social communities into their CRM systems, Ragsdale said.

As to why customer service through social media isn't more prevalent, Esteban Kolsky, founder of ThinkJar and chairman of the conference, said the answer is simple: Customers don't want to use the channel "because it sucks for customer service.

"It's not the right channel to solve customers' problems. It's a horrible channel for dealing with customers," he said.

Conversely, chat is becoming more common because it serves both customers and companies well.

But even that channel comes with a few caveats. Johan Jacobs, principal analyst at Digital Clarity Group, said the biggest mistake a company can make is moving phone agents over to chat. "Do not give chat to your phone agents. It's not the same skills involved," he said emphatically.

And chat has to be tied to an effective knowledge base so agents and customers can find answers quickly. "In order to be effective in chat, you need to focus on your knowledge repository," he said. "In chat, relevance of the response is the biggest metric you can look at."

All of this tied into the morning keynote's message by Shane Snow, chief creative officer at Contently, who challenged attendees to think radically simple in all that they do while holding on to lofty ideals and the constant quest for something bigger and better.