Food for Thought

Average Handle Time

Can you reduce AHT without damaging customer satisfaction?

It is obvious that metrics have an important role in the growth of any call center. Perhaps none more so, regardless of the communication media, than the Average Handle Time (AHT), which is importantly a management tool to assess how quickly employees are serving the customers.

This metric measures the average length of time it takes the call center agent to solve the customer’s problem, and factors in the complete duration of the interaction, including total talk time, hold time and all of the follow-ups or admin tasks related to the call. The formula can be derived as:

AHT formula

While AHT goals vary between businesses and departments, truly understanding what Average Handle Time is and how to utilize this metric for specific organizational needs is critical for optimizing its results, including improving the customer service experience and providing long-term profitable growth.

Benefits of Measuring Average Handle Time

Through establishing clear-cut benchmarks for current productivity levels, companies can analyze AHT metrics and identify actionable steps for both immediate improvement and future growth. The most apparent benefit a call center will experience when measuring AHT is an increase in agent productivity. Quite simply, when the call center agents know they are being measured for efficiency, they naturally are more motivated to handle more customers. More customers being handled means less frustrated customers waiting in the queue. On the other hand, those agents with an AHT which is still higher than the established benchmark enables managers to easily identify agents not helping callers as quickly as they should. As a result, knowing the average amount of time it takes for employees to complete tasks helps companies determine staffing needs. If numerous employees are taking longer than anticipated, that might mean that many other customers are left waiting, and consequently, more staff members are needed to help them, or the more AHT is lowered, the less staff may be needed.

Limitations of Relying on Average Handle Time

It’s important to realize, however, that while AHT and the emphasis on speed is an important and necessary call center metric, a lower AHT isn’t always an indication of success. This is because AHT doesn’t distinguish simple cases from more involved, in-depth ones. While agents handling a large volume of basic customer issues may be spending an average of 5 minutes per call, on the other hand, other agents within companies or departments handling more difficult or involved cases would likely assume higher AHTs with the goal of connecting more with customers and offering a more personalized experience. Therefore, it’s important not to solely rely on AHT as the end-all be-all metric, and to make sure that you are also monitoring calls for quality. Another problem is that call center agent trying to keep their AHT score down can be very tempted to rush the customer of the conversation, while the customer just ends up confused and having to call back again. This is the reason that companies that depend solely on AHT are often plagued by repeat calls, and customers having to make repeat calls is one of the biggest drivers of customer disloyalty, so while emphasizing AHT may look great in regards to speed of service, it’s very likely that the Customer Satisfaction metric will suffer. Finally, AHT also doesn’t measure customer retention, growth or any other meaningful key performance indicator.

Tips for Reducing AHT without Damaging Customer Satisfaction:

    1. Agent Training: Refining your training program will enable call center agents to help customers more efficiently and better prepare them to more quickly resolve even the most challenging cases.
    2. Call routing: Call routing technology saves time for both customers and agents by quickly forwarding incoming customer cases to the agent who is most qualified to resolve them.
    3. Knowledge Database: Equipping call center agents with all the information they need at their fingertips is crucial for reducing AHT, so that they don’t have to waste valuable time searching for information in separate databases and software programs.

Self-Service:

    Reduce call time by sending customers to the references that already exist online, including articles, guides, and videos. Over time, this also trains people to look for help online first instead of reaching for the phone.
  1. Big Data Analytics: By leveraging big data analytics, brands can identify customer pain and passion points more effectively, while even anticipating what customers will ask for in advance to quickly resolve each customer interaction.

Today, the metrics a call center emphasizes have an effect on the customer experience that can’t be ignored. While AHT remains a valuable efficiency metric for any call center, only by balancing it with other customer satisfaction metrics will enable your business to keep customer satisfaction and brand loyalty high, while also enabling your call center to be a profitable, high-performing business entity!

In an upcoming blog article, we will investigate other useful metrics that organizations use to assess the performance of a call center.

Source: Jacada

Call Waiting & the Customer Experience

Today, customer service trends are driven by the need to meet consumer expectations. However, the evolution of technological innovation together with the emergence of the Millennial consumer has led to quickly changing expectations.

No matter the channel, just having a presence isn’t enough. Consumers expect quick service and a timely resolution to their problem. In other words, they do not like delays, and most of all, customers hate being put on hold. At the front line for handling many types of customer inquiries is the call center, and it significantly contributes to a company’s success by increasing customer loyalty and enforcing its brand. At the same time, one of the easiest ways to create a poor impression of your company and lose customers is through a negative call center experience. In fact, according to YouGov, 76% of consumers said that just one unpleasant contact center experience was likely to make them take their business elsewhere. Therefore, the first step to improving customer satisfaction and loyalty means reducing time spent on hold and providing alternative solutions to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Please Hold, Someone Will Be with You Shortly

While hold time is consistently at the top of the list of things that can ruin the call center experience for customers, the reality is an average of 57% of all calls today are being put on hold, so it begs the question, how long is too long? A recent survey by live chat provider Velaro indicated that 60% of people would hang up after waiting on hold for only one minute and 34% of those callers will not call back. That’s a huge problem because the average time a customer spends on hold is closer to 90 seconds, and for some industries, it’s a lot longer. According to the same study, one-third of customers believe that customer service departments should be answering immediately, with no hold time whatsoever. Unfortunately, this makes it tough for companies to meet customer expectations as customers are often frustrated before they have had the chance to speak with someone, including the psychological factor where the perceived negative experience makes customers even overestimate how long they have been on hold. At the same time, it immediately puts the call agent in damage control mode instead of solving the customer’s original issue. This same trend is occurring within the B2B sector, and no matter how short the hold period is, customer satisfaction suffers from the very beginning. So, what’s the solution?

Solutions: The Power of Choice

While many businesses may feel that they just don’t have the resources or the knowledge of how to rescue their customers from log wait times, companies that are looking to improve their customer experience management strategies need to start by finding solutions. The common-sense approach would be ensuring an appropriately-sized staff to manage to manage the amount of call volume, while, at the same time, implementing proper call routing software that delivers the call to the correct agent, department, etc., efficiently.

However, while hiring more customer service staff is one way to address the problem, it’s not the most cost-effective one since there are always down times when having additional call agents available who sit idly is unnecessary. Therefore, instead of focusing on preventing inevitable wait times, some companies are deploying more alternative solutions that help customers tolerate the wait. For example, music combined with constant hold time updates that tell the consumer how long they have left to sit on hold. This gives the customer the information they need to make their choice whether to remain on hold or call back again at another time. Also, did you know that customers left on-hold without any background music felt that a 30-second on-hold call lasted 90 seconds, while customers thought a 30-second on-hold call that used music-on-hold lasted only 15 seconds?

One of the most practical, and cost-effective potential solutions is the callback. Instead of staying on hold, a customer leaves their contact information and receives a call from a customer service representative as soon as one becomes available, (assuming they call back). Not surprisingly, this is an option that appeals to many customers as 63% of people would prefer a callback to waiting on hold, and 28% would prefer a callback to spending just one minute on hold. Once again, the callback is an effective solution because it gives the customer the freedom to go about their business while they wait, and avoids altogether the extra frustration caused by the hold experience.

Many organizations are implementing an alternative option to waiting on hold. Visual IVR is a support platform that guides inbound callers to a web-based support experience – personalizing the support journey for customers already on their way to the queue. By pivoting an inbound call to a digital interaction, Jacada Visual IVR allows you to surface all of your digital assets, in a single location, to your voice callers. The pivot to digital self-service often eliminates the need for the customer to connect with a live person, saving time and money for both the caller and the company.

In the end, the foundation of any positive customer experience today is the impression that you value their time. If you are up to the challenge, the results will speak for themselves.

Source: Jacada

Call Centre Frustrations May Cause Consumers to Buy Elsewhere

I recently came across an article in Contact Centre World, entitled “Call Centre Frustrations May Cause Consumers to Shop Elsewhere”. That may seem like a statement of the obvious but it’s one which is all to often overlooked.
The first line was an eye opener – 68% of customers hang up if they have trouble hearing a call centre agent. This includes a bad connection, poor voice quality, faulty speech recognition software, an agent mumbling or having an accent that is difficult to understand.
The report was based on a survey of 3,925 consumers in the United States, U.K, Germany, and France, and makes a good point about the level of investment a call centre requires to really deliver.
Call centres are implemented to serve people and are generally the focal point of contact a customer has with a business. Companies often don’t invest sufficiently in the right technology and people to deliver the service that would satisfy their customers, let alone please them.
Customers contact call centres for assistance, so they key is to not leave them dissatisfied when they make may be their only call. An inbound call centre is an opportunity for a business to really impress its customer base and deliver exceptional customer service, which is what is required to ensure repeat business.
Customer Reviews

The Gift of Negative Customer Feedback

Every company loves positive feedback, but the truth is it’s the negative feedback that really drives the company’s long-term success. How so? Just like any real and important relationship, only when customers complain, do companies truly discover, and hopefully solve, customer problems as they arise.

It’s tried, true (and free) data about what goes wrong and what can be improved, about what customers like and dislike, enabling a brand to grow and evolve. However, customers are not always prone to share with a company the experiences they may have had with their products or services. For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent! And the ones who do share, usually they will complain about social media sites rather than contact the company directly. Therefore, every complaint is really a precious opportunity. As Bill Gates once said, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Let’s look at some of the practical benefits:

Fueling Innovation

What drives innovation in your business? Are you truly listening to the wants and needs of your customers and working to improve your product to meet their expectations? These are questions every brand needs to ask themselves, yet today many companies overlook their most engaged, creative and cost effective source of innovation — their customers! These customers who use their products and services. You might have the best expertise in the industry, but professional knowledge will never be more valuable to business performance and innovation than a single customer who uses a product or service and offers real world feedback, especially negative. At the same time, collecting customer feedback is just the first step to ensuring product innovation. It’s what you do with the feedback that truly matters. In fact, a Gartner study shows that 95% of companies collect feedback. However, only 10% make improvements based on this feedback. The bottom line is listening to your customers and acting on their insights is the only way to guarantee you create a product or service that evolves in line with their expectations, solves their problems and fulfills their needs.

Improving the Customer Experience

A happy customer is a retained customer, and since it costs six to seven times more to obtain a new customer than to retain an existing one, it’s worthwhile to keep your customers happy. That’s why constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of customer feedback is critical to providing the best customer experience at every touch point. And while positive feedback can be a helpful indication of what the company is already doing well, understanding why a customer is angry is even better. Negative feedback in a customer service setting can help a company reveal flaws in the product development and the customer service process. If product marketing is making promises the product is not fulfilling, this too will often emerge in the feedback. At the same time, in many cases, an unhappy customer who experienced a problem with a product or service, but it was quickly addressed and fixed, often shows more loyalty to a brand than a customer who has never been disappointed with that same product or service. In fact, studies show if a brand resolves a complaint in the customer’s favor, they will return to do business again 70% of the time, while up to 95% of first-time customers will give you a second chance if you handle their complaint in a timely manner. In the end, your customers make or break your business, so use the insight from customer feedback to create a consistent customer experience that will keep them coming back for more.

Marketing Research Intelligence

When businesses and organizations make critical decisions that determine business strategy and planning, it would be incorrect to assume that only intensive, elaborate and expensive market research can provide the necessary information that organizational leaders need in order to make those strategic decisions. As customer feedback is the ultimate source of tangible data and insight into how customers really feel about the product or service businesses deliver, this feedback is also critical to guiding strategic business planning and marketing decisions. For example, before investing time and money in new products or services, it makes good business sense to offer them first to your customer base for their feedback. Without first tapping into the perspective of their customers, companies are missing out on a critical source of data that can help determine the sustainability of a brand’s long-term success.

The bottom line is that brands that embrace and utilize their customer feedback across all channels are the ones that will develop a product or service that customers want to buy, and an experience that exceeds their expectations, enabling growth and success, now and in the future.

Credit & Source: Jacada

customer-expectations

Top 5 Customer Service Expectations in 2017

Customer service trends are today driven by the need to meet consumer expectations. However, the evolution of technological innovation together with the shift in the demographics of consumers has led to quickly changing expectations. The main challenge in customer service strategy today lies in its ability to adapt to these changes and to grow in complexity, especially as it becomes increasingly crucial to the success of a company.

Customer service is indeed the face of your company and to stagnate in meeting your customer expectations could spell doom. Here are five customer expectations in 2017 your company needs to meet:

TOP 5 Customer Service Expectations in 2017

top five customer service expectations in 2017

#1: The Customer Experience

Once upon a time, quality and price were the essences of purchase decisions, but today more and more brands are chosen based on whether the overall customer experience matches their expectations, and the failure to do is leading customers to look for brands that will. Especially as the Millennial generation has become the largest worldwide, it’s critical that your customer experience design and customer service capabilities are prepared to meet the needs of these younger customers. In fact, a recent study reveals that 72% of Millennials are actually more likely to spend their hard-earned money on positive experiences rather than on strictly material products. In other words, receiving the business of Millennials requires more than the traditional exchange of value for money. Customer service is the key to proving this experience, and as a result, gaining their loyalty and advocacy.

#2: The Customer Journey

Today, one of the main expectations regarding the customer experience is its level of personalization. According to Accenture, 73% of consumers prefer to do business with retailers that use their personal information to make the shopping experience more relevant. To achieve this, brands need to build insightful profiles of customers based on previous journeys. As a result, agents are equipped with a comprehensive view of their customers, including a complete history of their interactions and transaction history with the company, so not only do those customers don’t have to repeat information every time they make contact, but it enables the personalized experience they expect. This approach can also extend to proactively contacting customers, such as sending relevant promotions, follow-up calls to ensure satisfaction, etc. Indeed, fostering relationships with customers can significantly help companies not only meet but exceed customer expectations, turning them into happy customers.

#3: An Omni-Channel Presence

In this age of Omni-channel interaction, customers expect companies to be able to communicate with them on their preferred channel, be it in response to a self-service inquiry, an e-mail, live chat, social media post or speaking with a live agent on the phone, with the choice often depending on the complexity of the issue at hand. So a customer service Omnipresence, wherever that may be, is essential. At the same time, while communication channels are evolving to meet growing customer expectations, also customers expect consistency in their Omni-channel customer support. So the customer experience and cross-platform branding must be the same on all channels in order to minimize friction and effort for your customers.

#4: Expedited Customer Service

Today, no matter the channel, just having a presence isn’t enough. Consumers expect your customer service to help them quickly and efficiently. When they have questions about your service or product, they must be answered in real time, or the customer will simply seek out another available option. In fact, 77% of people say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service. With every additional transfer, phone call or email, customers slowly lose patience with your customer service, which can really hurt your likelihood to build and retain your customer base. So as more channels are rolled out with new and innovative engagement features, be ready to be there waiting because that is where your customers will be.

#5 Value Based Customer Service

Today, many customers are prioritizing more of a synthesis of a company’s values with their own. Indeed, consumer habits are shifting from a wild consumerism to a more conscious, selective consumerism, and this being expressed in their choice of which companies to support with their buying decisions. In fact, according to research from Barkley, an independent advertising agency, more than 50% of Millennials make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about, The reality of more values-based consumer base should influence the strategic planning of your customer service, as customers may expect these shared values also to be expressed by the service reps who they directly interact with.

The bottom line is that customers expect a fast, meaningful, personalized experience on the communication channels of their choice. If you up to the challenge, the results will speak for themselves.

 

Credit & Source: Jacada

Chatbots

How Chatbots Will Change Call Center Customer Service in 2017

Chatbots? It’s the numero uno buzzword of 2017. Basically, we’re talking about artificial intelligence (AI) that is able to understand human language to enhance the user’s experience. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, predicts that “the future of technology lies in human language” and that “conversation is the new interface, and bots are the new apps.”
A chatbot can have a meaningful conversation with a customer. The customer poses a simple or complex question and the chatbot is able to give a sophisticated answer. The tech industry has embraced chatbots with vigor – from large corporates to innovative startups. They all see the inherent value of this technology to their organizations especially in the realm of customer service. But are chatbots a passing fad or here to stay?
Out with the Apps, in with the Chat
 
Chatbots are most certainly here to stay and you will see a swarm of them being deployed across a range of platforms. Thanks to the natural language processor we now have a simple means of interacting with technology. We could say that our digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are the forerunners of this chatbot explosion. Siri also serves the function of “understanding” what we are asking for it. They can easily recognize our voice commands. Chatbots, on the other hand, respond to the text. This has been a long road of attempting to get computers to understand the human conversation. Everyone has jumped on board trying to crack the seemingly impossible code to our human language. Since 2014 we have seen chatbots start appearing to the public. There was Microsoft’s Xiaoice and Facebook’s M. The big giants like Google are also developing their own chatbots. Twitter has their chatbots interacting with customers automatically with their new welcome messages and quick replies. Large tech companies are even assisting smaller businesses with creating their own chatbots as there is a race to see who will control the platform for all chatbots. This basically means that we are sure to see an acceleration of this automated technology erupting across the web this year.
 
The Employee That Never Sleeps
With pattern recognition and machine learning the chatbot can understand a customer’s typed commands or questions. If you are a business that deals with customers on a daily basis you are well aware that there are certain questions and issues that come up all the time. Your chatbot is never going to sleep so it can handle these basic questions from your customers with ease. They can reply in real time to the customers needs raising your customer service level in the process. Your chatbot will be your best customer support agent in 2017. The movement to elevate customer experiences with “botsourcing” of basic communication is catching on like wildfire.
 
The Rise of the Call Center Chatbots?
So why would a call center, that doesn’t “sell” a product or run a chat messenger, put time and resources into building their own chatbot? The most practical use is to improve customer service. At call centers, when there is a high call volume, we frustrate our customers with long wait times and many abandon the call and head over to our competition. If you had a chatbot that could handle all of the low touch requests you could see a drastic reduction in the customer waiting and a surge in customer satisfaction.
A Gartner research study found that “only one-third of customer service interactions will require human interaction by 2017.”
This would alleviate understaffing issues especially for smaller businesses who might not have as large a budget for call center staffing as the big giants. The use of a Chatbot would substantially lower expenses for your call center. With the Chatbot taking care of the easier questions from customers, the agents would be left to offer expert customer service for clients needing more complex assistance. In this new automated digital world that we live in, customer service is the new differentiator. If you are able to offer superior service with the assistance of a chatbot, you will leap ahead of your competition.
There are many tasks that chatbots can do better and faster than humans and they should be sent to work on them straight away. But high-touch interactions still require human communication where your agent is able to spend time completely hearing what your customers ask. Chatbots tackle general communication tasks leaving more time for your agents to truly deliver exceptional service to their customers. You now have the time to do more for your customers not just rely on your chatbot minions to cover the basics.
 
From Trend to Best Practice Overnight
It might seem like a new trend that’s just starting out its life cycle and might take some time to fully take off – but that’s incorrect. In this rapidly ever-evolving digital age – useful automated technology like the chatbot will determine the future communication between customers and companies. They have entered the workplace, they are your new, efficient employees who work 24/7 and keep your customers smiling. At the moment they function as customer service enhancers but their full capabilities have yet to be realized.
2017 might be the year of the Rooster in the Chinese Calendar but in tech terms – it is the year of the chatbot!