To get a valid view of why your customers contact your customer service, all you need to do is register customer contacts across all channels. Sounds simple when put like that, and in a way it is - it’s not hard, but it does take time. I’ll show you exactly how in a bit and there are examples at the end of the article. The advantage in doing this lies in all the valuable information you pick up: It’ll help you decide what you need to improve to reduce your customers’ need to contact you. And that’s a big win-win: Fewer calls means happier customers and fewer resources spent on your end on reactive customer service.
Of course you won’t be able to make most of the changes yourself. It might be that your website has wrong information, marketing creates false expectations, billing keeps making the same mistake (sorry, billing!) or your product could be changed somehow. So in order to actually make something happen, you’ll likely need to carry the message to other parts of your organisation. Becoming a facilitator for change often has several other benefits that I’ll also get into later, but to begin with, your focus should be on getting management buy-in to get a forum to present the data to.
When implemented, you’ll have a feedback mechanism for your entire business that also makes it possible to measure the effect of changes made. That’s pretty nifty, so let’s get started.
How to register contacts
Most contact centers still use multiple systems for handling conversations by phone, chat, email and social media. Even if each system supports tagging or labeling a conversation, it can be difficult to get an overview of all contacts across all those systems. To resolve this problem, you can use a tool to register customer contacts. At my previous job as Customer Support Manager at a large online retailer, we were looking at different solutions and decided to use Google Forms. It’s free, easy to set up, allows multiple answers in the same form and it’s possible to export the data. The form can look something like this:
Google Form that we made to register customer contacts
It does add time for each contact, but it’s time well spent in improving the customer experience, the product and your business processes. Most agents will do so during wrap-up, but you’ll quickly see agents pick it up during the conversation. After all, it’s only a few clicks. One thing we found is that it’s virtually impossible to get agents to register every single customer contact. In my experience, only about 50%-70% of contacts were registered even though agents were instructed to do so for every single one. It didn’t represent a problem for us, because our contact volume was still in the tens of thousands each month, so we were still able to see trends.
Are contact channels important?
In some cases, it can be beneficial to take the channel into consideration. We started out by registering what channel (phone, email or chat) the contact came from, but we quickly realized that issues were not channel specific, so we took that out of the form. To save time, it’s important to only collect information that you know will be used. However, be aware that different channels usually carry different expectations for the customers. This varies by industry, but you’ll normally see customers use phone and email for complex issues while they use chat and instant messaging for simpler ones. This means that a channel bias can turn into actual data bias, so I suggest you start by registering contacts across all channels regardless. You don’t want to run into a scenario where you don’t know if you’re fixing the right things.
Weekly customer check-ups
The results can be presented to marketing, IT and other departments that are stakeholders in the customer experience. A presentation of the customer contacts makes it very tangible for management, who are not in daily contact with customers, to see why customers contact your business. Armed with this information, management can make sure that both marketing and IT implement changes and improvements that will have the biggest positive impact on the number of customer contacts and the customer experience. We started out having a customer review every week. At first, a weekly review was necessary because there were a lot of issues that we needed to address. But as changes were implemented and time went on, we made the customer reviews bi-weekly and finally monthly. For these customer check-ups to be successful, you need buy-in from top management. In order to create the largest possible impact, this cannot be the type of meeting people skip. The required representatives should always be present and, most importantly, have authority to immediately prioritize recommended improvements.
For the more impatient of you, I should probably tell you that some of the changes will take a long while to happen. Especially changes to IT are notoriously tricky, as some things are easy fixes and others just aren’t. Therefore, you should always look to both effort and expected impact when you prioritize.
A welcome side effect is that you’re opening up customer service to the organisation. Everyone, including top level management, can now see what’s going on, and in some cases also why. It relates the proper cause and effect for how customers and customer service are affected by your overall product and other activities, and it’ll help integrate customer service with the rest of your organization. For some contact centers, this will be a big political change that can drive a different view on customer service as a whole.
What can you do yourself? Facilitate self-service
When analyzing the data you have collected in your form, my guess is, you’ll be able to identify a lot of issues that can be resolved with self-service articles. These are low-hanging fruits, and you should add the missing articles immediately. If you don’t have a self-service portal, well, get one. Most customers want to find answers to their questions themselves, and this is a huge benefit every company should take advantage of. Especially if you’re an online business, a comprehensive self-service portal is essential if you want to deliver an excellent customer experience.
If you enter the registrations into a data warehouse (or just a large spreadsheet), you can look at the customer contacts historically. This makes it possible to see trends and the effect on implemented changes. After a new release of your website or a change to your product, you can see how it affects the kind of contacts you receive. It’s also easy to compare the spread of contacts from month to month and from year to year. Basically, this simple solution will give you all the reporting needs you’ll have.
After using this method for a year and implementing quite a few changes, we saw a reduction in customer contacts of about 30%. It was also evident that the customer contacts that we did get, were the contact that we should get. We ended up with about 95% of all customer contacts being issues where customers could not resolve the issue through self-service or find the answer on the support site.From 2015 to 2016 we got:
- 19,2% more orders
- 15,1% fewer customer contacts
- 26% fewer customer contacts per 1.000 orders
In this particular case, we ended up getting more orders but having fewer customer contacts, and that is a dream scenario for most companies. Of course, the entire effect wasn’t off the back of this one simple methodology, but it got us pretty far.
Here’s a bit more data to keep you warm and show you which questions we asked. These were based on 13,425 registrations.
57,9% regarding an existing order
31,8% not regarding an existing order
7,7% regarding different product
2,6% regarding company app
Top 5 - Related to order
16,2% change of order
11,9% when will my order arrive?
9,1% return policy
7,9% order cancellation
Top 5 - Not related to order
39,1% product information
8,8% loyalty membership
7,9% call to different department
Top 5 - Specific product
20,8% change or correction to product
19,3% about product
7,6% purchase of extra service A
7,6% purchase of extra service B
So are your customers contacting you about the right things? The things that they absolutely need to? And how many of those can you still fix? What are you still doing here? Get fixing!