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Plugging customer churn

01 Dec 2010

Despite the proliferation of new channels, many customers still reach for the phone when they have a service-related issue, and enterprises continue to focus on the voice channel as an area for differentiation. In fact, voice still accounts for the majority of contact centre interactions between the customer and the enterprise. It is a unique channel because it serves as the point of first contact for most customers, but also the last resort for those needing to speak with a live agent, because they could not complete a transaction in another channel. This is why the metrics that provide insight into the voice channel are so important.The KPIs used today by most contact centres focus mainly on operational metrics, which are necessary to reduce costs but are not good indicators of customer experience. Enterprises are under extreme pressure to improve customer retention, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and do more with less. The most successful self-service and routing applications in the voice channel will come from insights gleaned through consistent tracking and analysis of these metrics. By tracking TCR, enterprises gain insight into both efficiency and effectiveness, which helps them to better understand customer service experiences.According to Ovum research, 98% of interactions in the contact centre were handled through the voice channel in 2004. This number dropped to 67% of interactions in 2009. Though the proportion of interactions handled through the voice channel is decreasing, call volume is actually increasing at a moderate rate, and the number of transactions across other channels is trending upward at a rapid rate. Nevertheless, voice is still king in the contact centre, and enterprises need to optimise self-service and call routing applications in this channel to remain competitive.Although increasing automation rates in the voice channel makes sense for cost reduction purposes, a nominal increase of a mere 2–3% in automation rates can cause customer frustration and potentially customer churn. TCR provides a level of actionable intelligence for enterprises to gauge how much they can automate without degradation in the customer experience.Key messagesNew challenges confront enterprises in today’s multi-channel market. Increased customer queries and transactions across voice, web, email, SMS, chat and social media channels are difficult to manage; it is hard for enterprises to leverage customer data that can help them exceed service expectations.Commonly used metrics in the contact centre are either too broad or too technical. They do not provide the type of information that enables enterprises to gauge customer satisfaction levels. Consequently, enterprises are unable to make any true service improvements.Task completion rates (TCRs) represent a better metric for measuring satisfaction. TCRs break a customer interaction into different tasks, thereby providing a much more granular look at both qualitative and quantitative information. The premise behind TCRs is that customers are significantly more satisfied when they feel they are making progress within an interaction. The wrong metrics create false impressionsIn a recent Ovum survey, 1554 North American consumers were asked what they perceived to be the most challenging channel in customer service. A full 32% of respondents identified automated self-service/voice recognition in the voice channel as the most challenging. This was followed by paper mail and speaking with live agents in the voice channel. It is clear from the results of the survey that there is significant customer frustration when it comes to automated self-service and voice recognition systems.Enterprises spend more than $3 billion per year on automated touch-tone and voice recognition self-service and routing systems and services in North America. These investments are driven primarily by enterprises’ efforts to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. While investments in these solutions will continue to increase over the next five years in North America, there is an obvious disconnect in what the enterprises deploying self-service and routing solutions perceive, and what the customers using the solutions actually experience. This disconnect can be traced to how and what enterprises track when gauging the performance of their self-service and voice recognition systems.The problem with current metricsIn the voice channel, enterprises have been struggling with how to successfully and accurately gauge customer satisfaction levels in a way that is neither expensive nor time-consuming.Some enterprises conduct customer satisfaction surveys and ethnographic studies across a small sample population. This is valuable in providing insight into the experiences of specific types of customers; but enterprises still need to extract actionable intelligence from metrics that are representative of all customer interactions in the voice channel.The KPIs tracked by enterprises in the voice channel today are often too broad and focus primarily on the cost, as opposed to the quality, of customer service delivered. For example, automation rates are typically monitored to gauge the performance of self-service and routing applications, which provide enterprises with a bird’s eye view of application performance. But this metric says little about customer experience. Other common metrics used in the voice channel are simply too technical. First call resolution rates, recognition rates, error recovery rates and call handle times certainly indicate how the system as a whole is functioning. But these metrics don’t really say anything meaningful about the customer experience.Imagine a car with only a speedometer but no tachometer, gas gauge, rear view or side view mirrors. The driver knows how fast he is going, but has no idea of how hard the engine is working, how far he is able to travel with his current fuel, and no understanding of where his car is in relation to other cars and objects on the road. Ultimately, the goal of improving self-service automation necessitates better metrics to gauge customer satisfaction at both broad and granular levels. This is more important now, given the constant demographic shifts within consumer populations. Ethnic diversity, age, income level, and comfort with new technology all affect the way customers interact with businesses and what they expect from enterprises with which they do business.The emergence of new forms of communication, from email – which is now almost traditional – to SMS and social media, necessitate changes in the way enterprises gauge the state of their customer relationships. Clumsy metrics such as call handle rates simply aren’t relevant for a consumer populace that is accustomed to outreach via Tweet or SMS. What this means for enterprises is that there is a significant opportunity to differentiate at the customer service level. Products and services are becoming commoditised at a faster rate than ever before due to globalisation. In a copycat world, improvements in one product or service grant are only a temporary advantage. But the value of great customer service is that it builds and reinforces customer loyalty. Better metrics can help facilitate this connection.Customer impact of task completion ratesTask completion rate (TCR), also known as transaction completion rate, is the percentage of interactions that trigger a specific task end-point. In the context of the voice channel, the customer enters the self-service or routing application, then begins and completes the specific transaction the customer originally intended to complete. He then hangs up or moves on to the next task. This is common for transactions that have clearly defined endpoints (eg: address change, bill payment, and fund transfer).TCR breaks a customer interaction into different tasks, thereby providing a much more granular look at both qualitative and quantitative information. The premise behind TCR is that customers are significantly more satisfied when they feel they are making progress within an interaction. Because customers generally call contact centres to accomplish a single goal, it is easy to overlook the fact that numerous individual tasks comprise a single interaction.Take, for instance a customer trying to book a new flight using airline reward miles. The first task for the automated solution to complete is to determine whether or not that customer has enough miles. If the answer is yes, the second task is to determine whether there are any flights that can accommodate that customer. If the answer is yes again, then the final task to complete is to book the flight.The surface simplicity of this interaction ("I want to book a flight”) belies the complexity happening beneath. A jam in one of the cogs, no matter how small, can disrupt the entire system and irritate the customer.The importance of TCRThe number of KPIs that enterprises track is increasing, as contact centres are being more widely recognised as a strategic asset, as opposed to a cost centre for enterprises. TCR is one of several newer KPIs that enable enterprises to derive strategic value from monitoring and processing information gathered from these metrics. These newer strategic KPIs go beyond the limitations of what quality, agent, cost and operational metrics provide.Figure 1 (P30) shows the evolution of the KPIs that enterprises use to benchmark contact centre performance today, and what they will incorporate into their tracking mechanisms in the future. These KPIs are further detailed below.Operational KPIsThese are the basic metrics that are tracked, with a focus on the operational aspects of a contact centre. All contact centre operations need to at least track these in order to stay in operation. Cost KPIsThese metrics are designed to provide the enterprise with the ability to compare cost structures and overheads in the contact centre. They are not relevant to the customer, and during tougher economic times these metrics often receive priority over others.Agent KPIsThese metrics enable enterprises to track agent performance from a sales performance perspective as well as an employee satisfaction perspective. Agent quality is of particular importance to contact centres and enterprises that need to retain high-quality agents and decrease agent attrition rates, as hiring and staffing contact centres is expensive.Quality KPIsThese metrics track the effectiveness of customer care in the contact centre. They are highly relevant to customers as they focus on the customer experience, a differentiator for most enterprises. However, these metrics do not provide much granularity into the customer experience in each channel or across channels. Strategic KPIsThese metrics cannot be classified as  belonging to just one of the operational, quality, agent, or cost categories of KPIs,  which are essentially metrics that measure efficiency or effectiveness. Efficiency metrics are mostly about costs and operations, while effectiveness metrics focus on improving quality, customer experience and agent retention.Strategic metrics reconcile the need for efficiency and effectiveness in three areas: quality, cost and agents. In some cases, strategic metrics will be applied to all three areas. Tracking new metrics provides  different perspectives that enable enterprises (which are constantly challenged with fine-tuning efficiency and effectiveness dials) to optimise customer service and costs.Aside from TCR, the following metrics fall into this category:First contact resolution (FCR) rate – The rate at which customer inquiries or transactions are completed on the first contact, regardless of the channel of communication. A customer can start a transaction in one channel and complete the transaction in another within the same session. Policy adherence measures – Metrics for tracking compliance.Competitive trackers – A new KPI for tracking information that becomes business intelligence for enterprises.Revenue per employee (RPE) – The RPE ratio is used to more effectively track cost versus profit centre initiatives and upsell and cross-sell campaigns.Cost per interaction/session – The cost of an end-to-end interaction across multiple channels.To be successful in today’s challenging business climate, enterprises need to find the right balance between efficiency and effectiveness without diluting resources, regardless of the economic challenges. TCR provides actionable intelligence for enterprises to improve efficiency and effectiveness, giving enterprises a competitive advantage in the voice channel. The growing role of TCR in the futureEnterprises that adopt TCR will be able to accurately measure the success of an end-to-end customer interaction across multiple channels in the same session. This is where the value of TCR for the enterprise will be amplified. Measuring TCR ultimately provides an all-encompassing view of customer behaviour and trends. At the same time, it allows enterprises to drill down into each interaction and get the detailed insights they need to make relevant business decisions. While TCR is more prevalent in the voice and web channels today, it will eventually be used across more channels as more customers begin a transaction in one channel and complete it in an entirely different channel, potentially at a different time. Another vital metric that enterprises need to track is first contact resolution (FCR) – an extension of first call resolution. Unlike first call resolution, which refers only to contact initiated through the phone channel, FCR is a metric determining when an issue was resolved regardless of the channel. FCR, which can focus on multiple goals in one interaction, can be used in conjunction with TCR, which isolates and tracks completion rates for specific goals, tasks, and sub-tasks. The combination of the two metrics ultimately provides varied levels of insight into customer interactions which can be very powerful for enterprises.Tear down silo wallsEnterprises should evaluate and tear down silo walls that inhibit the flow of information, while investing in technology that enables connection between the various departments of an enterprise. Enterprises commonly segregate their self-service strategies, agent-assisted service strategies and proactive communications strategies. This is a mistake; customer service should be seamless, holistic and intelligent, connecting inbound, outbound, automated and assisted service into a single system where management is centralised and economies of scale can be augmented.Once an enterprise connects previously disparate databases, it creates the foundation for new possibilities. For instance, personalised automation, which accesses caller details and history to provide a dynamic and personalised interface, enables customers to handle more complicated tasks through self-service, and frees up contact centre staff to handle more complex transactions. Adding adjunct technologies such as personalised automation, which complement the performance of self-service and routing solutions, will help drive TCR higher.Get all stakeholders on boardDeriving relevant actionable intelligence from TCR will differ from one department to another. Customer service operations should collaborate with marketing, sales and IT departments to educate them on TCR. TCR data needs to be organised, contextual and relevant for each department, and should be provided in real time where applicable. By promoting cross-departmental activity, enterprises will be able to more quickly track TCR across multiple channels (not just voice) to gain actionable insight that can directly impact enterprises’ bottom line. Commit to improving TCR over timeEnterprises should constantly strive to improve TCR over time. They should consistently baseline, benchmark and tune applications to ensure that self-service and call routing performance is improving in the voice channel, as well as other applications in other channels where TCR is being tracked. This article is an abridged version of Ovum Analyst Dan Hong’s research report ‘Using task completion rates to understand customer service experiences’.