Customer Contact Improvement in Practice: How to Reduce Interactions per Ticket from 11 to 1.7

Though you might prefer not to be reminded of it, one thing is certain: you will never forget the coronavirus pandemic. Add to that a customer contact team partly in the travel industry with 25% absenteeism among permanent staff, seven different managers in a year, a switch of customer service tools, and a change in the outsourcing partner for customer contact. A mess, you say? No way. For me, it was the perfect moment for customer contact improvement!

I firmly believe in opportunities during a crisis. When everything is in chaos, I am at my best. And challenges? There were plenty when I started in early 2020 with a project seeking someone to “straighten out customer service.” The pandemic quickly added more fuel to the fire, compounding the existing challenges.

Extremely high absenteeism among permanent employees, fallen team leaders, outsourced first-line customer contact, and in-house second-line with a process between them – if there was any – that completely missed the mark. And the cherry on top? The hits taken by the travel industry when travel was completely halted and the explosive growth in the e-commerce sector.

How Can This Be Different?

For all my clients, I work from three themes around customer contact improvement: people, processes, and pennies. Let me take you through this story using those themes.

Customer Contact Improvement Challenge: People

Absenteeism of 25% and Fallen Team Leaders

Imagine 25% of your customer contact team is out sick, and the two team leaders and the manager are also out. Tough, right? You understand that this impacts the remaining team.

Customer contact is about working with people, for people, by people. It’s essential to ensure the right people are in the right place. High turnover, absenteeism, or frequent dropout indicates there’s (a lot of) room for customer contact improvement. But what can you do? These are the steps I took:

1. Good Team Leaders

By hiring good team leaders, the right balance was created between managing people, focusing on processes, and taking a leading role.

2. Recruitment Policy

Instead of the selection criterion “can you blink and have a heartbeat?” we switched to: “will my life go terribly wrong if I don’t hire you now?”. This allowed us to select employees based on quality. We dared to say “no,” even when staffing was tight. Because once we found the right top performer, they made a much bigger difference, with shorter training times, for example. These employees stayed longer with us and scored very well on KPIs. We spent less time on recruitment, which also saved costs. In short, by selecting for quality, we made tremendous progress.

3. Appreciation for Employees

The team had not received appreciation for their work for a long time. It’s important to understand that appreciation has multiple facets: salary, recognition, attention, growth, and feedback. The team missed all of this. Salary steps were unclear, and there was no structure in raises. The team leaders were insufficiently available for the team, both emotionally, intellectually, and physically. By focusing on appreciation, the department’s atmosphere improved. Employees felt valued. We also introduced a clear ‘salary growth plan’ which included:

  • This is your job profile
  • This is how you can grow
  • By mastering these competencies
  • And this is your reward

I created a pleasant environment for the team, with available team leaders, motivated colleagues, and a central focus on appreciation. The long-term sick employees fortunately returned to work. We had hardly any new sick employees. Absenteeism was reduced from 25% to 2%.

Customer Contact Improvement Challenge: Processes

Unclear Processes, No Decision-Making Authority, High Costs

Outsourcing your first-line customer contact can work well, provided decision-making authority isn’t completely absent. And that was the case here. The first line functioned as a relay when an item was defective. Cases piled up in the second line due to smaller capacity and the fact that those employees were too far from the customer. This resulted in unnecessarily high ‘internal bickering’ between the two lines to clarify and handle the customer case (an average of 11 interactions per case). The average value of a defective item to be replaced was between 20-25 euros. What did we find? Handling the case costs twice as much. That had to change.

1. Process Adjustment for Defects

By adjusting the process, customers with a defective item were now directed to an online form (pushed). The problem, a clear description, the desired solution, and required attachments were requested in the form. This instantly removed four interactions.

2. Automatic Compensation

By setting a business rule, all defect requests under €15 were automatically compensated. (With a rule that after a certain number of times, the customer enters a review process to prevent abuse.)

3. Decision-Making Authority up to €50 for First-Line Staff

Although the first-line staff was not on the payroll, it was a deliberate choice to give them authority up to 50 euros to resolve the case. An interesting issue that involves having and giving trust, looking at costs and what it yields.

4. Automation

Automation eliminated useless work and increased efficiency and customer experience. For a case that initially required almost 12 interactions (mainly due to coordination between first- and second-line staff), we reduced it to 1.7.

The further results of the process adjustments were also significant:

  • 75% fewer manual actions by the employee to resolve defects
  • 64% fewer customer contact moments
  • 8% less repeat traffic
  • 13% higher customer satisfaction

Customer Contact Improvement Challenge: Pennies

Investing in Improvement with Minimal Funds When Everything Is on Fire

I think you have a pretty good picture of the challenges on my plate by now. Yet, customer contact improvements had to be implemented, which, at first glance, cost money. Therefore, investments start with providing insight to senior management. If they are convinced and support the decisions, only then can improvements work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I always work from the three themes: people, processes, and pennies. In this case, it was more about improving people and processes, so the pennies automatically came into better balance. I’d like to share one more handy tip with you about the latter.

Handy Tip About Pennies

It’s essential to map out the costs currently being wasted and how much money you can save by better organizing departments and processes. The potential for cost savings and efficiency improvements in customer contact improvement is often significantly greater than initially estimated. By presenting this business case to senior management, it becomes possible to justify the necessary upfront investments. This way, it’s an investment that not only pays for itself but also lays the foundation for a sustainably successful organization, starting with your customer contact improvement.

Is Your Contact Center on Fire?

In challenging situations like the one described above, when the contact center (thankfully figuratively) is on fire, it’s always a matter of finding out: what is better for the customer, the employees, the relationships between employees, and what is better for your wallet? These are delightful issues that I love to tackle. Could you use some help with your customer contact improvement? I’m just a phone call away.

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