Opinions differ: some customer experience colleagues consider contact reduction to be a mistake, based on the notion of: ‘surely you want as much contact as possible with your customers?’ While I’m reasonably well known for my ‘hardcore customer protection’ stance, I must beg to disagree. I took a closer look at contact reduction a number of years ago, after having donned my customer experience glasses. I took what I believe is the most pragmatic approach: as a customer, I do not want to make 3 calls if a matter can be sorted in a single call, or even without calling because I can arrange it online myself. So we’re actually talking about reducing unnecessary customer contact.
And yes indeed, that certainly represents potential cost reduction for an organization. It is an enormous win-win situation for both parties. However, what you often see is that an organization starts from a cost driver. In that case, the constant challenge is to continually mobilize everybody to achieve the cost target, based on improving customer services.
I have 7 tips for you to keep in mind when initiating contact reduction truly from the customer’s point of view.
1. Check the potential reduction with your customers
When starting with the idea of potential contact reduction in your organization, the question soon arises: how much potential is there? Instead of figuring this out for yourself, why not just ask your customers? Many organizations continuously measure the satisfaction with their telephony and e-mail channels. Add the following question to the survey: ‘Do you believe this contact moment could have been avoided?’ If ‘Yes’ is the answer, add the open question ‘What could we have done to avoid this contact moment?’
This allows you to immediately measure two things: (1) the reduction percentage which is certainly feasible from the customers’ point of view and (2) you know exactly where the potential lies. The percentage thus deduced should be seen as a minimum in my experience. After all, customers are not always aware of how simple they can find matters online. If you take a more active approach in that direction, there is a good chance of even greater potential than the customers themselves already indicate.
2. Determine the contact reasons
The open question will already give you an idea of the avoidable contact moments. However, determining the subjects of the calls and e-mails is also an essential link. I still fail to understand why some organizations have endless discussions on the investment in time/tools for recording of contact moments. Let’s assume, in your case, that the recording of contact reasons enables you to reduce contacts by 10 to 20 percent. That will be a pretty open and shut business case.
Logging of contact moments by agents is a commonly used method to record telephony, while calls are often also used. We discovered that the selection menu is a completely unreliable source when determining the context of the contact moments. Customers seem to type in their choices relatively randomly. BI tools with keywords can nowadays often easily help you determine the top X reasons for e-mail contact moments. That saves the agents registration time, and allows simple formulation of monthly reports.
3. Listen to conversations for details
Whatever the method of recording contact reasons, you only have a general idea of the contact: invoice, premium, payment, et cetera. This does not suffice in understanding the cause. It can be useful to ask agents about the context, though you need to be aware once again of the gut feeling of the agents. The number of contact moments agents believe to have received may not be reliable.
The most practical deepening method to truly discover customers’ questions, is to listen to tapes. Let’s imagine that the invoice is a theme of the top X logs, then listen to 500 tapes of those logs together with a project team. In two hours’ time, you’ll have a very good idea of the exact customer questions concerning the invoice and therefore also the causes. What’s more, you can use this to refine the logs where necessary.
4. Establish the timing of the peaks per customer process
Aside from the content of the top X of contact reasons, the timing of the contact or the timing of the cause of the contact is equally important. By determining the frequently asked questions and their timing in each customer process, you can very specifically avoid contacts. By proactively sending an e-mail just before that peak moment for example, in order to answer those frequently asked questions. That will result in 5 to 10 percent reduction.
5. Use the customer experience journey as your design principle
By working through each customer process entirely from the customer’s point of view, you can often identify clumsy process steps or ineffective communication. The reason for this is that most organizations have no central customer journey responsibility, instead each department applies part of the process. When all those involved study the end-to-end process in a customer-centric manner, you will reach insights which may seem obvious but were simply lacking. Timely confirmation of certain transactions, for example, a good text in that confirmation, announcement of the next steps in the confirmation, et cetera.
6. Locate the cause
In my experience, the cause of the contact can be found in 3 categories. 1: something goes wrong in the process itself and communication about that, 2: the process works well but customers call instead of undertaking action online and 3: there is no first time fix, and therefore repeat traffic is required.
The three options are relevant, as the perpetrators and therefore the resolving party, often differ. The process itself is often the back office, moving online is a combination of marketing, contact center agents and online, and repeat traffic really is a contact center issue. So make sure you know who to involve in order to remove the cause of the contact moment.
7. Ask the customer!
There will always be stubborn issues, in which it is tricky to discover the exact cause. Once again, simply involve your own customers. Let’s imagine you discover that customers continue to call you for a certain process, even though it can be easily dealt with online. Select a random sample of these customers and ask them why they prefer to call. Once again, they often simply have no idea that it could be done online, and will appreciate being informed that this is possible!
This allows you to offer great added value for both your customers and your organization, by avoiding those contact moments which add no value for either party.