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How to balance between operational efficiency and getting to know your customers

The drive for efficient Contact Centres.

The focus for many organisations over recent years has been operational efficiency. This is often delivered through reducing the live interactional time between customers and Contact Centres through process re-engineering, AI, self service and improvements in the way that information and knowledge is shared.

Whilst this may not have led to the dramatic reduction in contact volumes from customers that some predicetd, it is clear that there are a number of customers that are now only engaging with organisations through technology.

We also see that despite contacts with the Contact Centre increasing in complexity, contact durations have not significantly increased. If we assume that there is a need for improvement in efficiency then once we have the correct processes and systems in place, the only area for change will be the speed of the Advisor in dealing with an enquiry. This will often lead to a reduced level of engagement and a missed opportunity to understand how that customer feels about the organisation and the products/services it provides.

So, the question I have is:

How do we manage to improve our understanding of customer needs and expectations if we are speaking with them less often and for shorter durations?

balance efficiency insight


Some will point to customer satisfaction and other surveys but my experience is that this will not provide the full picture. Typically, customers respond following an interaction that is either very pleasing or very disappointing. Response rates for surveys are typically low and will not reflect the full picture. My view is that these should be viewed as an indicator of trends rather than an overall satisfaction level.

Customer focus groups are very helpful in extracting good quality insight but only if a. the sample size is large enough and b. the members are representative of the customer base being served.

Technology providers will state that the information can be extracted from the way that customers use technology and the enquiry types that they have. For example, the questions that they post, the FAQ’s they access, the content on a website that they read. This type of information is useful and will help in understanding the information that customers expect to be able to obtain or the services they can use through technology. Again, it provides a part of the picture but not the entire landscape. They are unable to capture the reasons why customers do not use technology for self or assisted service.

We can look at CRM systems and understand what the enquiries are about but this is often limited and categorised into areas specified by the organisation. We need to be getting deeper.

So, whilst it can be seen that there is a lot of information available, they do not always provide the insight that is required to measure holistic performance or indeed improve service or products. To do this requires greater engagement with customers to understand why they are making contact, what are issues that they face, what are their expectations, are they being met etc.

We often find that the Contact Centre is not part of developing services when actually it has a greater volume of interactions than any other area. It is a real waste not to utilise the opportunity that this provides both from a factual but also anecdotal perspective. It is easy to question customers and get their response to specific questions but it is also really useful to let Advisors talk to customers and get to know more about them and their needs.

In order to get a feel about how customers perceive an organisation’s service or products, we encourage Executives to visit the Contact Centre and talk to those who know. Ask them about the current issues and how customers are feeling. These people have a real insight based upon numerous discussions per week; their insight can be really helpful in supporting data as described earlier.

It is possible to extract a real high quality insight but it is not easy to do that from one single place and it definitely depends upon what information is required and what is available. I would normally advise using a blend of some of the insights described above but if it is a quick sense check then I would always suggest that Contact Centres have their finger on the pulse of customer sentiment.