Too often, I witness my clients implement a new technology that should move the needles of metrics or costs, but they fail to produce the desired outcomes. I used to call this a problem with application design but have shifted my thoughts to one specific root cause – a customer’s time.
How to Not Value a Customer’s Time
I live in Northern Virginia. I am not sure why folks that live in the north part of the state give it a new name, but I have hopped on that wagon! Recently, I received an electric bill that appeared two-to-three times the normal for the month of July. I had been gone for two weeks and set the AC unit on 85 degrees and unplugged 90 percent of everything in the home to save electricity. I wanted some neighborhood bragging rights that my electric bill would be the lowest but was shocked that it was likely the highest.
So, I logged into the website, and attempted to educate myself on the bill. I read several links on billing and meters, and found the interesting knowledge article on estimated versus actual usage. In summary, I think (still not clear to this day), I paid an estimated usage in July and will receive a nice credit in August.
Frustrated, I decided to call up the utility. I dialed the toll free number, traversed the annoying IVR menus, and waited 25 minutes on hold for “the next available rep” to process my request. I can state with confidence that making your customers wait for nearly a half hour does not value time and ends any attempt to improve metrics.
Telephony charges, while cheap these days, obviously go up when customers wait that long. As a side note, after hearing the recorded message that states, “We value your business, please hold for the next available representative” 15 times, I thought to myself that they actually do not value anything and I searched Google for a replacement utility for my home address, while I listened to the elevator music hit of the day.
This proves that research stating high effort, my case measured by time, drives your customers to your competition!
To summarize, I spent 10 minutes on the website, 25 minutes on hold and five minutes speaking to an agent. I hope that effort results in my August bill having a credit of $50. While I do not remember who I spoke to, I want to apologize for my emotional tirade for the first minute of our five-minute call, not finding the answer on the web and waiting on hold put a dent into my already thin patience.
How to Value a Customer’s Time
You can go to Google or read all the current hype on the multi-channel or omni-channel customer experience. Both tie into my concept of focusing on “value my time,” and I find this missing with so many of the companies I do business with. Back to my example, I first logged into the website and read about billing and came across the concept of actual versus estimates. While it was not crystal clear, it did a decent job of educating me on the electricity bill but I wanted to speak with a rep for more detail.
This is a chance to utilize technology that I like to categorize as “customer continuity” which can mean a lot of things, but in this case I am referring to tracking all the transactions or steps I take as a customer.
My utility company needs to store that I was clicking and reading about billing and specifically the topic on estimated versus actual as the final web page. By storing my web usage as a transaction, the utility can personalize my experience on the next channel or at a minimum prevent me from starting over. Let’s look at the second and third channels from my experience – IVR and agent.
I called the customer service number listed on the web but I was presented with the standard, one-size-fits-all, menu. The IVR did not know that I was just on the web and reading up on billing. A personalized, intuitive IVR would great me with something like “I see you visited our website today and read FAQs about billing? Would you like to speak with a billing specialist?”
I could respond with a simple yes and route to agents with that skill. Instead, I had to listen to the dreaded menus and eventually I just pressed zero for the agent. The personalized IVR would take 15 seconds, while the standard menu had me listening to prompts and entering my account information for two minutes. We can save one minute, 45 seconds on this part of the transaction alone, contributing to that value of time. Also, this will do wonders for all your metrics by not forcing customers to restart a transaction.
When I finally spoke to an agent, they did know who I was and only asked a simple question for security. That said, I heard the infamous “how can I help you today” and I was back to square one on a new channel. I responded in anger to the poor agent, as I just waited forever on hold and had to re-explain to the agent my problem. For a third time, I had to restart from the beginning my billing question.
Similar to the IVR, why not have the agent start the call based on my interaction with the web channel? Or, my interaction with the IVR? An example, “I see you were just on the website, reading a few billing FAQs, what can help clarify about our billing Chad?”
The benefits: (1) The agent starts the conversation where I left off and that defuses emotional outbursts with customers; and (2) it saves the two-to-three minutes of me restating my problem from scratch. In both the IVR and agent scenarios, using the context of a prior transaction simply values my time.
One of the greatest methods to achieve this goal involves the use of a “continuity” or “transaction” system that stores your customer’s activity on one channel and allows you to use this in the event the customer switches channels.
As most of our clients start adopting new technology, like interactive text response, a core design principle we consider is how to integrate continuity into the solution, examples:
The last web page visited by a customer
The last IVR transaction attempted or completed by a caller
The topic of a recent chat online with an agent
When you look at existing systems and processes, or plan the adoption of new ones, please invest time asking “How will this value my customer’s time?” to both your vendors and internal teams.