Mon, Sep

Marks for effort? Measuring customer engagement


Here's another of our occasional series of guest posts - this one from Sean Canning of Firstsource Solutions. This one is a little bit too "business process" for us, perhaps, but I think given many of the conversations that will be coming out of Management World in Dublin this week, it's an interesting look at a side of the business that you don't hear so much about.

Instead of talking about increasing customer engagement, and personalised comms and offers, and measuring only your own internal processes, this piece looks at things from the customer viewpoint. What's it like for a subscriber trying to do business with you? How much of an effort is it for the customer to get the information they want from you, or carry out the transaction they want to — hence the term Customer Effort Score (CES).

So what is the Customer Effort Score, and why has the CES approach not yet taken hold in the telecoms space? Sean Canning, Senior Vice-President, Customer Management for Firstsource, outlines the key issues.

Customer Effort – the new measurement tool that could transform your business

Attempting to measure how much effort it takes a customer to interact with a business has become a hotly contested topic over the last couple of years, ever since the notion of the Customer Effort Score first emerged.

The idea is that in trying to quantify how much effort is spent by customers before they get to the satisfactory conclusion of a transaction - be it how many buttons they have to press on the IVR before they can reach an operator, how many clicks they have to make on your website to reach the area where they can change their details – can help us understand their frustrations versus satisfaction.

If we can cut down the amount of time and effort customers have to spend to achieve their customer service objective, that’s going to take the heat out of their complaints or queries. Making life easier for the customer is an obvious business goal because it increases customer loyalty, reduces churn and increase sales and revenue. Customers will naturally develop a stronger affinity with businesses with which interaction is easy and seamless.

Measurement and models

Obviously the kind of metrics that have been developed so far to try and quantify customer effort have a sliding scale measure, whereby customers rate the level of effort on any given task between 1 and 10. Whenever you use such a measurement you inevitably introduce a degree of subjectivity and one person’s effort is another’s comparative ease.

Standards are still evolving and although as an outsourcer with clients in the telecoms and financial services sectors, Firstsource has been talking to some of our customers about the concept, so far no-one has seen it as a priority to be an early adopter or a guinea pig to volunteer to try it out in a pilot study. With the focus on their own specific cost reduction/revenue generation strategy of the moment, it’s no wonder Customer Service Directors tend to be wary of an innovation like CES. Customers that Firstsource have spoken to have expressed a need to move to a holistic model such as CES to track the pain points of customers. However, they also believe that to do this, the systems must be robust and measurement techniques need to be established to ensure clear outputs from the model

Conquer your fear of change

In order to embrace a model like CES, initially some business effort is required.  Firstly there is a mindset change, a cultural change for the service function itself, right from changes in an organization’s service delivery unit to empowerment of employees to take ownership and resolve customers’ problems Secondly there is a training element where you need to train your agents or your adviser population, you need to change your parameters on quality monitoring forms, then roll it out to your quality auditors. There is effectively an amount of unlearning in the first place, then learning, which at least the service delivery function needs to go through.

The big fear people seem to have is perhaps based on a misconception, the idea that to embrace CES is revolution rather than evolution, that to implement it fully would be very disruptive to their organizations, right down to changing the very DNA of their processes.

But if you look at the CES models themselves, they are no more disruptive than some journeys we have already been on with our customers, moving from a C-SAT measurement to an NPS measurement, for example.

Integration is the key

Importantly, you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when implementing a CES model. You still want to retain standard measures used in any contact centre including abandons and talk times. We want to keep some of these traditional measures in place because they allow us to see a full picture of our operations.

The shortcomings of these traditional measures are that they don’t allow you to move to a more productive relationship where you can be judged and rewarded not on output such as volumes of calls handled, pieces of paper processed – but on outcomes achieved– customer satisfaction and retention levels raised, additional products sold and profits generated. Integrating customer effort analytics into the system allows you to move in that far more progressive direction, which is much more rewarding for everyone – the customer, the company, the outsourcers and other suppliers and partners.

Beyond a toolset

So rather than just being a toolset, customer effort has the potential to be a significant business methodology in its own right, a platform for all-round improvements, taken from the view of examining in a new way every possible element of the business where customers are going to come into contact with it. To ask the questions ‘how do I streamline this, make it easier for the customer, try and generate the feelgood factor for them?’ need not be a chore. Rather, it’s a creative challenge that can engage and unify everyone working in a company to get behind a common goal – delivering best-in-class customer service excellence.

And businesses still have the freedom to decide which elements they would like to change and in which order, weighing implementation costs against projected returns. Effectively you only go as fast and as far as you want. CES need not be viewed as a ‘disruptive technology’ when you retain ultimate control over where you deploy it and at what pace. Telcos have been early adopters of many new processes or technologies that come onto the market, so they are more likely to adopt CES quicker than other industries.

Converting ‘customer time’

A misgiving I have heard voiced concerning customer effort is that if we are trying to minimise the customer effort could it compromise engagement with the customer? Actually, we are not saying that the level of involvement with customers is going to reduce. We’re not saying we going to reduce talk or face time with customers.

The objective is to improve the processes to make interacting with companies easier, quicker and more appealing for customers. If you have a finite amount of time to spend with your customers, wouldn’t you prefer more of that time to be spent in constructive engagement, where you can service the client, get to know them better, potentially cross-sell products to them, offer them appealing incentives based around their customer profile?

Like all indicators of satisfaction, customer effort is not the be-all and end-all of service improvement. It measures only service interaction but it does not actually measure the product itself. Hopefully the other measures you keep in place and integrate with CES will give you a clear understanding of what your customers really think of your product.

So the best CES models should be integrated alongside your other metrics, can be the trigger for organisation-wide attention to process improvements, and ideally will be unnoticed by the customer in their day to day interactions with your business. All customers should really notice is that now when they deal with your company it is a pleasant and helpful experience. That should be the goal.