Leadership Strategies for Delivering Superior Service

Good service! Something be wished for; something to aspire to deliver; something that costs to deliver. Different views of the same objective.

For the person in charge it means being pulled in three different and often opposing directions. Actually there are more than three views of the situation. The views of the various stakeholders: the volume demands of customers, clients, citizens, prospects; the volume capacity consisting of agents, other departments, suppliers, supervisors and line managers; corporate senior officers for oversight or governance; outside viewers of the service, the general public, competitors, regulators; and finally the person in charge. The variety and variances of volumes: demand and capacity across channels: voice, email and chat. The person whose job it is to balance all these competing, opposing and dynamic factors every single day is the senior individual responsible for the call or contact center…pity them.

Good service is a slippery term. We all know what it is when we experience it. Everyone can share a story or situation where it wasn’t delivered. Everyone knows it is easy to deliver. After all, how difficult can it be to answer the phone or return an email in a timely fashion? Now can all of the call center managers stop rolling on the floor in laughter? They know and we can suspect by their reaction, that it actually is quite difficult. This position is supported and underscored judging from the frequency and volume of stories in the press and based on anecdotes and stories we hear based on personal experience.

For frequent readers of this newsletter and industry veterans we know that poor service can be expensive for most companies, governments and organizations. Poor service means: high abandons, long hold times, angry customers, stressed staff, high turnover, increased costs to recruit and train new staff, increased errors from newly hired staff learning their trade, more firefighting by supervisors and line managers, lower revenue as sales are lost, brand erosion due to a lowered reputation making marketing and sales unhappy, and all of which increases involvement from well meaning senior people who don’t understand all the interconnectedness in the center. Everything is connected to everything.

Over servicing has its own problems which are less obvious. One center prided itself on having a 99% service all the time. This would be good, if it was a 911 center. I know if I call for a fire, police etc. I want the call answered within 5 seconds 100% of the time. I suspect you might be of a similar mind on this point. However for the majority of centers a 99% grade of service is way too high. A point often lost on people new to call center management. After all isn’t a high level of service the whole point of the scoring?

To put the last point into perspective consider this. If the service level is 99% with an average call length of 3 minutes then each agent is likely only talking for about 20 to 30 minutes an hour or less given the nature of volumes and call arrivals. The agents will be bored and prone to doing a lot of nothing but complain about how difficult, poorly run the center is. They will be gossiping, cruising the internet and acting out a host of other behaviors not wanted in any center.

People often confuse a high service level to an appropriate service level. The purpose of service level reporting is to track the consistency of service that our customers experience and to not to attempt to set ever higher service level records.

A sustained very high service level also points out that something is wrong. The organization may be paying too much and receiving too little. Centers that often deliver very high service level performance can also be inefficient, bloated, expensive and/or poorly run. The center may have too many staff, too much equipment, and too much budget, delivering to callers that which is not expected or required. In short just plain over servicing customers, can all be deduced or inferred from too high a service level.

So what is one to do when face with this type of dilemma?

Good service is a result of consistency; consistency is a result of good management. Good management comes from understanding that all is balance and all is change.

Change is a given in most centers. Things changes, constantly. Being able to accommodate those changes and maintain the balance is the essence of good management.

First question any center manager should ask themselves is “what is good service” and for whom? The concept of call center service levels incorporate a number of metrics generally derived from your telephone system of switch: Grade of Service (GOS) is a percentage of calls answered within a defined time period, Average Speed of Answer is is the defined time period and Abandoned is the percentage of callers who will hang up the call before being answered by an agent. For an emergency 911 service it had better be 100/5/0 or hundred percent of calls answered in five seconds with no calls abandoned. For technical support
the standard ranges from 70/40/5 to 80/300/5 and beyond.

For most consumer and business centers the most frequently quoted service standard is 80/20/3 or 80% of the calls answered in 20 seconds with less than 3% abandoning. What is interesting to note about all of these standards is what isn’t present. Only a small percentage of centers today measure ‘blockage’ or the percentage of calls that receive a busy signal when attempting to dial into a center. That is because it is easy to achieve the service level objective if the center and most importantly center management are
not accountable and measured on this parameter.

Blockage is the poor cousin to our other SLA components; GOS, ASA or Abandoned. It is the only component that cannot be directly measured from the telephone system. Perhaps more importantly however any service level or SLA can be achieved if the center is willing to create blockage.

For instance it is known that if a center blocks the number of calls accepted by the switch by reducing the available circuits or ports to only receive the number of calls for which there are available agents; then achieving the service level is straight forward. This blocking however upsets customers, which in turn increases the call length. But if the aim is to achieve the service level for bonus or perception purposes then this method is the way to reach it.

This fortunately is not often the case. Usually it is an error or omission because either the center management doesn’t know how blocked calls are measured; and/or are without the tools to measure it either regularly or accurately.

Regardless of whether it is ignorance or the absence of tools, not measuring blockage can lead to a disconnected view of how customers and managers perceive the service. In most centers today there is a 30% difference between what the center believe their satisfaction rate is (as identified through their own internal ‘Quality’ scores) and that satisfaction rate stated by their customers. This difference can often be traced to how each view the “good service”.

From a customers point of view good service includes: being answered in a timely fashion, without a long wait; speaking to someone with the knowledge and authority to help, getting their issue resolved promptly and professionally, usually on the first call; and with any promises about service delivery, product, next actions being fulfilled without the need to call back a second time.

Center management of all levels often views good service usually through the lens of operational metrics such as: Average Speed to Answer (ASA), Average Handle Time (AHT), Average Wrap Time (AWT), Number of Calls per Hour, Agent Quality Scores.

Metrics such as: First Call Resolution, CSAT (Customer Satisfaction), ESAT (Employee Satisfaction), Percentage of Errors per Transaction Type, Complaints Per 1000 Calls or Transactions, Agent Occupancy/Utilization, etc. can be more difficult to measure. These metrics are also more reflective of customer perceptions and much more indicative of the sufficiency and adequacy of center and its’ management. Therefore they are less likely to be employed either because it reflects on the overall management or policies or that it is too difficult to determine. Regardless of the rationale for not producing these metrics an organization that doesn’t view this data will find great difficulty in meeting their customers’ expectations. This can be a critical ‘blind spot’ for any organization.

Consider this hypothetical situation: As senior management continues to push for better and better service with less and less resources, center management and staff is compensated on how well the center performs against measures and goals over which they have little control. Given the fact that they are told to do as well with less, the center management chooses to report on that over which they can control, the service level based solely on GOS and ASA.

As in politics usually the best solution for all is not the best solution for any. It is a compromise and combination of: the demand of customers, the capacity of the systems/centers, and the expectations of performance. The center managers’ best solution is generally to tread the fine line between the expectations of their organization, management, customers, the line managers and agents. This is always in the center managers’ best interest but not necessarily the customers’ best interest.

Next month we will examine how you can better align your center with the goals of your management, expectations of your customers and what is required to build an effective service focused team within your center.

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