*ICCM Speaker Ties Customer Service to Profitability

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CHICAGO -- Customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are quantifiable metrics that operators of service-oriented customer contact centers can exert some control over, according to one of the keynote speakers at the International Call Center Management Conference and Exposition held here yesterday.


John Goodman, president of call center consulting firm e-Satisfy, Washington, said that customer service call centers can add to a company's bottom line by resolving customer issues quickly and efficiently.


Incorporating Internet technologies into a contact center has the potential to increase that efficiency, he said. The key is for contact centers to apply some of the same customer service paradigms that governed their telephone call centers.


"Yes, the Web is new and exciting, but you still have to execute the basics," Goodman said.


He also cautioned that e-mail is only one of the vehicles that customers should have at their disposal. Although e-mail is efficient for responding to simple, frequently asked questions, providing general information and communicating some complex, predictable procedures, it is not as efficient as the telephone in handling very complex, customized customer support functions.


Companies can use surveys to determine how satisfied their customers are when they seek service from the contact center. The data obtained from those surveys can then be used to calculate the financial impact of improving customer service, Goodman said.


He cited an example of a company that estimated it had 350,000 customers who had a problem with one of the company's products. Of the 50 percent of those that complained, 25 percent were dissatisfied with the way their problem was resolved by the contact center, and 70 percent of those, or 30,625 individuals, will not purchase additional products from the company. Meanwhile, only 3,500 of the customers who were completely satisfied after their experience with the contact center would not order products from the company again.


The company was then able to calculate how much money it probably lost through poor service in its contact center. Satisfaction also decreases rapidly if customers have to make repeated contacts to have their problem resolved, Goodman said.


He also listed several practical tips for contact center managers to improve customer satisfaction in their contact centers. One suggestion he had was to encourage customers to use their Web sites to send some basic information about their problem.


"You need to educate your customers on channel use," he said. "If you can use your Web site to gather basic customer information such as name and address and the type of problem they have, then they can basically walk themselves through that process and you don't have to spend the time on the telephone walking them through it."


He also said that companies should offer a way to contact a service agent on every page of their Web site. And when customers use those contact solutions, they should either be told upfront how long they can expect to wait for a response or they should be asked how quickly they need a response.


With interactive voice response, a little coaching can go a long way, Goodman said. He cited the example of KeyCorp, Cleveland, a bank that has its agents guide a customer through the IVR system if the customer has a problem using it.


"What we find is that when you walk them through it like that, we find anywhere from a 50 percent to 70 percent adherence, where the next time they will use the [IVR]," Goodman said. "So for a 19- or 20-second investment upfront, you avoid 20 phone calls."


He also suggested that companies actually print a diagram of their IVR systems on the back of monthly statements that they send their customers, or anywhere that they print their phone numbers. That way customers can see for themselves that they need to "press three" for a certain type of customer assistance. He also suggested that IVR menu options be limited to three choices.


Other suggestions he had included having first-tier telephone agents listen in on calls that are escalated to more experienced agents as a training mechanism.


In addition, he stressed the importance of gathering data from customers about the nature of their problems and tying that data in whenever customers call.


"Your contact center should have three goals: response on first contact, generation of additional revenue and gathering data," he said. But, he added, the technology must be in place to make that data available to agents. "Data entry that can't be tied back through the [automatic call distributor] for customer identity is basically wasted time," he said.


He cautioned against requiring customers to enter an account number or similar data when they contact a center about customer service issues. He said only about 30 percent of customers have that information at their fingertips when they call.


"So it will make things seamless for 30 percent of customers," he said, "yet it will create chaos for the other 70 percent."
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