The Cable Television industry held its annual gathering this past week in Chicago, and while much of the talk was about product and technology (I think the word “cloud” has now officially taken on a different meaning – that’s an alert to Mr. Webster), there was a smaller gathering outside the exhibit floor that was of greater interest to yours truly.
It was a panel discussion about Customer Care, and I was honored to be asked to participate, with four other industry executives and analysts. It was a lively and informative discussion, and it highlighted a classic business dilemma, one that’s relatable to just about any other industry or business.
The dilemma? Getting a competitive product to market, and properly supported, at the lowest possible cost, while continuing to grow revenues, and profit, at acceptable rates.
I’ve been in the Cable TV business for over 24 years, and this has always been the ultimate razor’s edge in the boardrooms. In a service delivery business like this one, there are thousands of levers that can be pulled to solve that dilemma, and when the competition is as fierce as it now is, any errors get magnified.
Our panel talked about the different ways that companies could improve their customer service to gain (and retain) customers, and we put a lot of “lever pulls” on the table, supported by some compelling analysts’ data. A lot of it surrounded improvements to call centers, and this was where the dilemma came to the surface.
It was a discussion on “hold times”, and how that impacts a customer’s view of the company, and ultimately, their propensity to retain (or recommend) the service. I think you know how this one came out – customers don’t like to be on hold.
The implication was clear – improve the call center “service level” (the percentage of calls answered within 30 seconds), or suffer the slings and arrows of impatient customers. But that costs money. Boom, the dilemma.
What’s really “acceptable”? Should we be running out to hire more staff, upgrade our phone switch, and make sure we answer every single call within 30 seconds?
Are those the levers we should pull?
Not necessarily. We need to take a big step back.
And there’s where we can oftentimes see that there probably are ways to solve this problem without spending any additional money, or just reallocating some spending to different places.
Here are my four key steps to being able to do this:
- A deep understanding of the service (or product) delivery and support process, from beginning to end, and the costs associated with it
- Effective ways to measure the success (or failure) of as many of the steps of the process as possible.
- Asking the customers about the process as it was delivered to them, both as an overall impression (my tool – The Net Promoter Score), and as impressions of the critical parts of it – with real humans.
- Using all the data collected to evaluate each process point’s relative importance to the total customer experience
Let’s go back to the call center dilemma, and I’ll show you how this worked, in a real situation in my former company.
Based on our ranking of the relative importance of hold times, and our ability to collect real time data on that metric, all the other process metrics, and the customer impressions, we determined that we could actually lower our call center service levels slightly (i.e. spend less money) and not adversely affect our NPS scores (which, because of our correlation analysis, we knew was a great predictor of revenue growth).
But I bet your asking right now, hey, you need to keep increasing those scores, right? Why would you want to tread water? The answer is, we did want to keep the score going up. So we took the money we saved in the call center, and put it towards other parts of the process that were more important.
To the customer. Since we asked them.
And the scores did go up. And we continued to grow the bottom line at the rate we had planned for.
Understanding the big picture in this way is a leader’s secret weapon against pulling any levers that, on the surface, seem like a really good idea, but in the end, are really not. That’s the danger of looking at data in a vacuum, no matter how “correct” it is.
It’s a lot of work, however – there’s a lot of sleeve rolling you’ll have to do. And you’ll have to get to know your customers really, really well.
So when you find out that in YOUR business, answering every phone call within 30 seconds is absolutely essential to survival, and your boss tells you there’s no more money in the budget, you can rest a little easier knowing you’ve already figured out how to do solve that dilemma.
(On this Father’s Day, I dedicate this post to my late Dad, who always supported me, and encouraged me to make sure I loved my work – hey Dad, I’m there!)