Contact centers have traditionally used first contact resolution (FCR) rates as a key performance metric. While FCR rates can be useful in assessing how well contact centers handle incoming requests, this is an internal process measure and does not provide an accurate view of how well a company is treating its customers. In fact, they can be quite misleading. By the time customers call or email a company, they’ve probably already visited a website, bounced around a phone system, or been confused by a product manual. As a result, what many companies view as FCR actually represents second, third or even fourth contact resolution. When customers have to reach out to a company multiple times to resolve an issue or obtain needed information, they are not happy.
 
To satisfy and retain customers, you can no longer rely solely on metrics such as FCR rates that measure your ability to react to your customers. You must adopt best practices that will enable you to anticipate customers’ needs and address potential issues before they contact you. You should strive for Zero Contact Resolution (ZCR). Organizations that embrace this proactive approach will substantially improve their customer experience, which translates into a distinct competitive advantage.
 
The Customer Experience: Higher Standards, Higher Stakes

The Internet and the global marketplace have dramatically altered the way companies and customers interact. Today’s consumers have access to unprecedented choice. With a click of the mouse, they can find another vendor offering a similar product at a comparable, or even lower, price. Switching to another vendor is easy and typically costs nothing.
 
Consumers’ expectations are also rising. If one company replies to a customer’s email within a few hours, he or she will soon expect others to do likewise. Whether customers have a positive experience with a competing company—or with a company in an entirely different market—does not matter. The impact on their expectations is the same. Companies are no longer compared only to others in the same industry—they are being compared to the very best organizations customers have ever encountered.
 
In addition, the Internet has empowered customers to more effectively communicate with each other. When today’s customers are disgruntled, they can immediately visit a number of websites to let millions of others know, doing serious damage to a company’s reputation and brand image. At the same time, the web can amplify positive “buzz” about organizations that deliver exceptional customer experiences. 
 
When consumers have a vast range of choices, greater expectations, and can easily take their business elsewhere, a superior customer experience may be the most compelling reason that they do business with you. And it can be the single most powerful way to set your company apart from competitors. In fact, respondents in a recent study cited “outstanding service” as the number one reason they’d give more business to one company versus another—ahead of both “lowest price” and “best quality.”[1] 
 
Zero Contact Resolution – The Ultimate Goal
 
Because the essence of ZCR is anticipating and addressing customers’ needs before customers reach out to you, ZCR can substantially improve the experience you provide to customers.
 
ZCR also reduces contact center costs, because it pre-empts phone and online workloads. But ZCR’s true value derives from the way it improves customer satisfaction. When customers know you care about them—and when you provide them with benefits that are not likely to be duplicated by competitors—their loyalty increases and the chance of losing them decreases, even when they are offered incentives to switch.
 
Some way to achieve ZCR include:
 
Targeted outbound communication
Instead of waiting for customers to contact you, contact your customers to let them know about issues that may affect them. For example, if you discover a potential problem with a product, inform customers—before they discover it. This ZCR tactic can take the form of emails, bulletins or newsletters with customized content.
 
Event-driven communications
Specific events can create unique opportunities to inform and engage with customers. For example, an airline may need to alert customers when bad weather threatens to disrupt travel plans. Shortly after customers purchase certain items, you can inform them of related accessories or service contracts. Less-than-positive experiences, such as late deliveries or malfunctioning products, can also trigger outreach, such as an apology.
 
Behavior-based communications
Close observation of customer behaviors may also lead you to reach out to customers. For example, if a frequent customer stops making purchases for several weeks, contact the customer to inquire about potential problems. If a customer’s buying volume suddenly jumps, let him or her know about special services for preferred customers. 
 
Use feedback to drive product (or service) development
You can also achieve ZCR by using the insight you glean from various touch-points to ensure that your products and services closely align with your customers’ needs and wants. This approach can eliminate a wide range of complaints and significantly improve customer satisfaction. To do this, you must be able to capture and analyze customer information to provide your product managers with the reports they need to appropriately modify and enhance your company’s offerings.
 
By implementing a ZCR strategy, you’ll keep your customers happier—which means you’ll keep more of your customers. ZCR will also reduce workloads in the contact center by pre-empting a substantial volume of incoming customer communications—allowing you to spend more quality time with customers on issues that require special attention.
 
While direct contact with customers is always important, in todays highly competitive market ZCR can be a proactive strategy that will enhance the customer experience.
 
Steve Daines is the vice president and general manager of Asia Pacific for RightNow Technologies (News - Alert), a leading on demand customer relationship management vendor. During the past seven years at RightNow, Steve has held several executive leadership positions including vice president of customer delivery and vice president of North America sales. Steve holds a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University.



[1] Harris Interactive (News - Alert),” U.S. Customer Experience Report,” August 2007


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