Beyond Metrics - Evaluating your contact centre isn't just a numbers game anymore. 

 It's the experience, stupid - Evaluating your contact centre isn't just a numbers game anymore. 

Article by Dan Carpenter, Technology Director, Eyretel Inc. 

Dilbert pokes fun at Call Center Metrics.

This past Sunday morning I was relaxing with the four inch thick Boston Globe in my lap, a cup of coffee on the table next to me and work was the farthest thing from my mind until, ironically, I got to the comics.  The opening frame for Dilbert was a call center manager berating an agent for his longer than average call handle times.  "You better improve your stats or you're out of here," she warns.  Of course the next caller he handles is Dilbert and the stat-focused agent is anything but helpful.  We've all spoken to these metrics driven droids.  It made for good Sunday comic strip humour until I thought about it some more.

 The fact that a nationally syndicated comic strip not only articulated a fundamental flaw in contact center management but also that Scott Adams knows that people will GET IT is a salient message to any business that has a contact center.

 If you are responsible for a contact center in some way and you judge the success or failure of your center by metrics alone you might want to skip this paragraph.  Or, if you’re an outright metrics-junkie just stop reading because as hard as this may be for you to accept, it's not about the numbers anymore - it's about the experience. 

From Call Factory to Experience Producer.

Your customers are savvier than ever.  They have experienced the best & worse contact centers and, as the Dilbert strip points out, they even understand the business practices behind your center.  They are painfully and personally aware that their concept of a good contact center is not necessarily in line with management’s philosophy.  Do you realize that the very metrics that are being used to judge the center may in fact be driving customers away?  It is a classic catch 22 but before we go any further let’s be clear on this fact: Metrics undoubtedly play an important role in contact center management but they are not the panacea.  They can’t change your customer’s perception of your center.  You might answer the phone very fast, talk very little and move on quickly to the next call but what does the customer think about their experience?  Efficiency does not directly translate to effectiveness.

 It is human nature to want to understand things.  We want to apply logic to them.  To boil them down to easily understandable, formulaic transactions.  A + B = C.  I kick you, you scream, right?  We’ve learned this since birth.  It is a philosophy that has been embedded deep within our psyche but when it comes to higher level business or personal relationships it’s not that easy.  Life is not an A + B = C event.  It’s dynamic, it’s spontaneous, it’s beautiful in it’s diversity and it’s vastly more complex than any metric we could ever monitor.

 Whenever human interactions are involved, numbers, formulas and metrics are more frequently being recognized for what they truly are – baseline tools for creating a rudimentary understanding of the relationship that are, unless they represent the simplest of relationships, inherently flawed and at best should be used for procedural analysis. 

 California State Universities are going to be eliminating the SATs as criteria for admission.  Some Ivy League schools readily admit to not placing much weight or even completely disregarding these same tests.  They feel that the test offers little insight into the ultimate quality and success of a student.  Numbers alone can’t accurately quantify the individual.( Ed note - for many years Oxford & Cambridge Universities have used own entry level test 'The Oxbridge' and personal interviews to replace standard A level exam scores for applicants- to ensure relevance & potential of applicants).

 A few years ago Congress was reviewing it's funding of the arts because there was an uproar over an offensive, government funded exhibit.  The question "What is pornography?" was posed and after much debate, the final response was "I know it when I see it."  Clearly some things are too difficult to define explicitly but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored or stuffed into a nonsensical formula.  Instead, we need to appreciate the dynamics that effect the interpretation.  Why do you think that image is pornographic and I don’t?

 Sometimes you can not apply hard & fast rules - you have to look at the intangibles; the fuzzy nuances that are open to interpretation yet that greatly impact the perceived context.  This is how your customers evaluate your contact center.  They don’t care about the metrics, all they care about is the interaction, and that interaction isn’t a specific thing.  It is a series of events that occur during a specific contact and, depending on the business, over time.

 I can hear the contact center managers who are reading this column now, “Another writer telling me what I’m doing wrong, why I’m doomed for failure by doing what I’ve always done.”  You’ve heard it all before.  Things aren’t so bad and, most likely they’re probably pretty good.  And you’re right.  I don’t understand the details of your specific business but at the fundamental level, what I’m really telling you is that, to paraphrase a true genius, “the times they are a changing and you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone”. 

 The Need for Customer Experience Management.

The difference between your company & your competitors is narrowing rapidly, if it hasn't completely disappeared already.  How are you going to attract new customers?  How are you going to keep them coming back for more?  The practices that will make your organization successful in this millennium will not be driven by metrics.  A small change in the percentage of your customer churn can make a dramatic impact on your bottom line.  How can you increase your customer loyalty?  Product and price can’t carry you anymore.  Customers can scan dozens of websites with the click of a mouse for the best price.  How do you get them to always come to you first?  How do you make them want to do business with you? 

 What you need to do is start listening to your customers.  Feel their pain, feel their joy, understand what they experience when they touch your center.  Numbers can’t help you qualify that.  They will help you tune up the systems and optimize your agents but they won’t tell you what your customer thought of the interaction.  The numbers are the equivalent of feeding starving people.  It’s a band-aid that provides short-term gains but in order to solve the underlying issues you need to, in the case of the starving, teach them how to farm or fish effectively and in your contact center you need tools that allow you to perform complex analysis of the customer’s entire experience.  You need Customer Experience Management (CEM). 

 CEM is a methodology that allows for the consolidation, representation and analysis of all of your contact center data from the IVR system, to the actual agent to customer conversation and all the other systems the customer touches in between as they traverse your environment and enterprise.  Mining this data can provide a clear understanding of how your customers perceive your organization which in turn can be used to segment and tailor your systems and staff around your customer’s expectations. 

 The difficulty is in trying to tie together all of the information generated by the disparate contact center systems.  It can easily become an overwhelming task and as call centers become multi-media contact centers the task becomes even more difficult.  Each system has its own database, its own format, its own purpose and concept of what is important to your business.  In order to understand the experience of the customer you need to be able to make sense of this morass of data, and if you run multiple centers the difficulties increase exponentially.  Then you’re also dealing with different platform vendors, different configurations, different revisions and so on.

Winning Customers depends on the consistence of the experience. 

Let’s take a look at a practical, non-technology-oriented example of CEM - an example of CEM in practice before CEM became a term.  Southwest Airlines offers cut rate fares, not the most convenient airports, older planes and much lower level of services than the other airlines and yet they consistently top the list of best airlines for customer service.  They’re growing fast and are profitable.  How can this be?  They move a lot of people; they do it fast and efficiently.  Their metrics are good.  But more importantly they do it with panache, with style and confidence and they understand that it’s not about the minutia of “do I get a specific seat” or “are you serving Chicken Cordon Bleu” - it’s about the experience.  They make it fun.  Their employees have personalities and that’s a good thing - something that can’t be measured by a metric.  If you talk to Southwest frequent flyers they are generally rabid fans of the airline.  Southwest owns these people in a way that any company should envy. ( ed note : 1976 Ford Motor commissioned a survey of Ford owners "Would they buy a Ford again".. 63% said "depends on how you treat us when we need help with out current Ford"; first time importance of 'experience' documented).

 Now I’m going to ask you to take a step back, put down the reports, exit Excel & think about your contact center from your customer's point of view.  What do they think of it?  Is it world-class?  Do you want it to be?  Can you see the value in going above and beyond the metrics and looking at the experience?  These are questions you need to answer before you embark on a quest for CEM. It’s not easy and it certainly involves breaking with tradition and rethinking how you evaluate the success of your contact centers. 

 But, it will be worth it because in the end, a successful contact center will be one that provides the best overall experience and, by definition, that can't be driven by numbers alone.  It will also be one that recognizes the hard-to-quantify realities surrounding human interactions.  You need to own the customer spiritually - at a different level than in the past and you need new tools and ideas on which to base your contact center effectiveness and efficiency. 

 So the next time someone asks you “What makes a world-class contact center?”  What are you going to say?  Hopefully, it’ll be something like, “It’s hard to say because they all have their own unique business issues but I definitely know one when I see one.”

(Ed note : My personal definition of World Class Call Centre is the 90-90 rule : 90% of all calls answered within 20 seconds by a person & 90% of all calls resolved and handled at entry point).

Contact to Dan Carpenter


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