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Customer Satisfaction Measurement:
A How-to Guide To Contact Center Excellence

By Villette T. Nolon, NetReflector


The role of today's contact center is rapidly shifting. Expected to both support a company's global business strategy and play an integral part in the overall customer experience, the contact center is becoming a true extension of a company's brand, no matter its type (inbound versus outbound, internal versus outsourced, onshore versus offshore, support versus sales) or the kind of customers it deals with (internal, external or a blend of both.) Yet, the contact center still faces challenges of its own, including high staff attrition, productivity issues and operational cost containment. Performing such a balancing act only ends up putting more pressure on already stretched resources. One way a contact center can deliver and win on all these fronts is to embrace an essential business driver as a key performance indicator: customer satisfaction.

Although at first sight, customer satisfaction seems easy to understand, it can actually be difficult to define and sometimes even more difficult to measure. This article presents a general, pragmatic approach to customer satisfaction measurement, including tips and recommendations to help contact center professionals implement a brand new initiative or improve an existing program.

Why Measure Customer Satisfaction And How?
Businesses are increasingly coming to their senses about the importance of measuring the customer experience, as illustrated by the findings of a report entitled 'Customer Experience Spending Expands' published by Forrester Research in January 2005. The industry analyst firm surveyed 176 North American firms with annual revenue in excess of $500 million. Not only are customer satisfaction surveys the most popular activity, 54 percent of respondents also expect to increase spending in Web analytics. Why? Because to remain agile and respond to the preferences of customers in real time before they have a chance to churn to a competitor, enterprises needs to know what those customers want now, not tomorrow.

Paul Sutherland, Global Quality Assurance Manager for Accenture's Help Desk Services, also values what his customers have to say.'He is responsible for a quality assurance team tasked with defining the global quality management program for the company's help desk function, which emphasizes customer satisfaction and performance measures. Its six contact centers located on four continents handle more than 4,000 phone, e-mail, Web-based and chat customer support interactions daily.'Paul explains: 'Our organization provides technical support to over 100,000 Accenture personnel in 48 countries as well as 12 external customers around the world.'The bottom line for me is that the customer, no matter who he is, has immense information to share.'Measuring customer satisfaction is a great way to tap into that valuable resource to implement effective change, and tangibly measure the impact of any changes we make in terms that matter most.'

To be successful, your customer satisfaction measurement program needs to be ongoing, a best practice that is often misperceived. Requesting feedback from your customers once a year is just not enough if you want to continuously improve your business processes. A contact center organization can gather customer satisfaction feedback in a variety of ways. A good rule of thumb to jump-start your success is to emulate each customer's preferred method of communication: if they prefer phone interactions, then use phone-based surveys such as IVR. If e-mail or Web-based interactions are preferred, then sending e-mail-targeted surveys after a ticket is closed or hosting a survey link on your Web site is the right approach. Nevertheless, one survey method is not necessarily mutually exclusive of the other. In today's market where time delays can be costly, real-time measurement will provide your organization with a competitive edge from the get-go.

Homegrown Or Outsource?
If your contact center is looking into implementing a customer satisfaction measurement program from the ground up, you will inevitably face the dreaded question: homegrown or outsourced? To ensure you make the best decision possible for your organization, prepare a business case weighing the pros and the cons of each option. Be aware that your decision will be largely influenced by the type of customers you deal with, and the amount of internal resources you have available, including people and technology.

If you are a contact center services outsourcer, you will most likely benefit from using a third-party vendor to produce an unbiased scorecard you can present to your external clients. If, on the opposite end of the scale, you assess you have enough human and technology resources to develop a solution internally, you may want to keep this process in-house. Nevertheless, make sure you inquire about and understand customer satisfaction measurement best practices to avoid common pitfalls.

If you know your internal staff resources are scarce and implementing data analysis and reporting is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming due to internal technology limitations, then relying on an outside expert will help alleviate the pressure. Your timeline for implementing such a program to meet corporate business objectives will also be a determining factor in outsourcing or not.

Define Metrics That Support Your Specific Business Objectives
It is obvious that in the bigger scheme of things, every company's ultimate goal is to enhance its bottom line by managing costs while increasing satisfaction levels and turning customers into loyal, long-term sources of recurring revenue. The performance metrics you choose to derive from your customer satisfaction data will be the ones that are vital to your specific operations.

You can leverage customer satisfaction intelligence in a variety of ways: to identify systemic staff training and operational issues early on, so you can start developing and implementing long-term agent motivation and retention programs; or to find out the key business drivers that will help determine product and service areas that need more resources. If you are a contact center services outsourcer, you can evaluate your overall performance in the terms that matter most to the client companies you serve.

Quality metrics based on customer satisfaction are not enough. For a balanced, 360-degree view of your team performance, you need to combine them with your traditional technical metrics to gather trend data over time and implement successful change strategies. Here are some of the technical metrics you can combine customer satisfaction with: speed of answer averages, average handle time, wait (hold, queue) time averages, abandon rates, complaints percentages, service-level compliance ratios, wrap time averages or percentage of transactions closed on initial contact.

What works best is to attach targets to each of these metrics, and treat these targets as actual objectives that contact center managers, teams and individual agents are accountable for. The smaller the number of metrics chosen, the better, so you really focus your efforts on a handful of mission-critical change strategies. If you have a global contact center network, it is useful to draw performance comparisons across individual contact center locations, geographic regions, individual agents and incident category.

Make Reporting Work For You And Your Stakeholders
Reporting is the next step in your customer satisfaction measurement program. Choosing the right report format is very important at this stage because reporting in itself serves two main purposes: first, to turn raw data into insights on which you can take immediate action; second, to communicate clear, relevant findings to all your various stakeholders.

Translating the data into intelligence and then into action is a challenge in itself. Keep in mind that what you want to find out is what really matters most to your customer, so you base your decisions on safe, objective information. While a contact center manager might perceive technical ability and knowledge of their staff as the most valued attributes by the customer, the customer may find the agent's level of empathy and friendliness the most important thing of all. Some very sophisticated reports, such as a key driver chart, have been designed to specifically address these types of questions. Also, if you choose a mix of survey methods to map back to your organization's multiple customer touch-points, make sure you consolidate all the data into one single repository, so you analyze overall customer feedback at the enterprise level, no matter what touch-point it came over.

The second challenge is for reporting to 'speak' to your different audiences. From executives and external clients to your very own contact center team, the information needs to be delivered in a format that suits individual needs. Make sure you understand what data are important to each of your audiences, how they visually want the information presented, and how they want the data delivered (online portal, e-mail, paper, etc.) so it makes the most sense to them.

So what does the future hold for the contact center as it relates to customer satisfaction? One thing is certain: the voice of the customer is a key business driver that contact centers cannot afford to ignore if they want to improve their operations and contribute to their company's bottom line. In a research report published by Gartner in May 2005, Esteban Kolsky, research director for the industry analyst firm based in Stamford, Connecticut, comments: 'Moving away from traditional, stand-alone implementations toward the consolidated, enterprisewide use of feedback can add strategic value and reduce costs.' By measuring and integrating ongoing customer feedback into operational processes in real time, contact centers will remain agile, ensure high customer retention and help improve company profitability. CIS

Villette T. Nolon is President and CEO of Seattle-based NetReflector, Inc. (www.netreflector.com), a provider of integrated customer satisfaction and loyalty measurement solutions for the customer care industry. Prior to NetReflector, Villette served as Vice President of North American Sales for SafeHarbor Technology, an Internet-based technical support service firm.

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