Customer Satisfaction Inches Higher, Increasing Sales Opportunities (Q&A)

A report from CFI Group has found that while customer satisfaction levels are not where they should be, a positive shift is beginning to emerge. Data compiled from consumers across various sectors in 2014 showed a customer satisfaction score of 72 (out of 100). While that’s a three-point improvement from the previous year, it matches 2008 as the third-lowest score since the report was first issued. However, CFI CEO Sheri Petras explains that even that slight gain shows that things are turning around for the customer service industry, thanks to an improved economy, and more knowledgeable agents.

Smart Customer Service: Although customer satisfaction numbers rose slightly, they matched those in 2008, which were low. Are you encouraged by the results? 

Sheri Petras:  Yes. The economy is starting to turn around. Is it where it used to be? No, and that’s the point of the report. There is still a ways to go for improvement but it’s good to see that [customer satisfaction] scores are on the rise.

SCS: The report also points out that 41 percent of customers expect that agents will upsell. This seems new.

SP: The positive glow of the economy is bleeding over into the contact center, but it’s really that the contact center and customer service still makes a difference. The customer service aspect of the relationship leads to actual business results; people will spend more money if you do a great job with the customer. That’s one of the more exciting things that we found this year. Also, since people have more discretionary income, doing a great job pays off. If an agent recommends something, people are much more likely to entertain those thoughts.

SCS: Additionally, the report noted that 43 percent said that they were very (17 percent) or somewhat (26 percent) receptive to upsells. That seems to be quite a change from the past.

SP: This is where doing a great job comes in. If you have a lousy experience—you call to complain about your bill and [customer service] doesn’t fix it and then they try to sell you something—it isn’t going to work. If the issue is solved or the agent is doing a good job at making a connection with the customer, a customer might want to hear and consider buying something else. We typically think of this in retail, but it fits across multiple industries.  

SCS: It’s a given that first call resolution is critical; do you have any data that underscores this point?

SP: If the first [agent] can solve a problem, customers are 30 percent happier. People might say, “I’ll give you a little leeway for two calls, but after that you might as well just go away.”

SCS: When CFI compiled this data, did anything surprise you?

SP: Yes, that agents and call performance have such an impact on purchasing. My expectation going in [to the data] was that people want to get off the phone and not want to hear about upselling. But the fact is that folks expect it and they respond to it. Not everyone is going to respond to it, but by and large, people didn’t hate it, there wasn’t a massive negative backlash. People are saying, “If you are nice to us and solve my problem, I’ll spend more.”  

SCS: Even though there is an increased focus on multichannel, the report found that 57 percent said they still prefer to contact customer service by phone. Why do you think that is?

SP: I wasn’t surprised by this. Customers now will often solve simple problems themselves—they probably don’t want to call for something that they can solve in a fraction of the time it takes to call into a contact center. They can use online banking for example. But if they have a real problem, something where they feel that they need to contact customer service, they absolutely want a human on the other end.

That’s where the knowledge of the agent becomes important. “I’m not just calling to find out when my stuff is shipping, I can track that myself. I’m calling because the stuff I ordered is the wrong color or doesn’t fit, how do I most effectively send this back to you so that I pay the least amount of shipping?” Those are the types of things where you want a human to say, “Here’s our policy and here’s the best thing for you to do.”

SCS: What key message do you want readers to know about this report?

SP: The biggest takeaway is that customer service pays back. It’s not a cost center, it’s a process center. Companies that focus on that are going to win.  

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