Levelling on Service

Back in the not so glorious days of the outsourced contact centre boom, we all had one objective in our crosshairs.

And that was hitting the SLA.

There was largely one channel (telephone) and an essential part of service meant that you picked up the call and did so quickly. Failing to pick up would clearly defeat the whole exercise and making the customer wait would aggravate an existing issue or engender a fresh steaming one.

And back then, you could see the correlation between speed and service. Customers wanted answers and resolution, and they wanted them chop-chop.  Particularly if you were the pour souls who had dropped the ball in the first instance. You didn’t want to make it worse.

That of course never stopped the charlatans from massaging the numbers to reflect service greatness.

Fast forward 20 years and we have multiple channels, new technologies and services.

But fundamentally the same predicament. Customers want solutions.

Oh, hang on a moment. BPOs exist only due to their ability to present low cost models. Yet great service and value for customers are going to necessitate investment. So how do they attain both?

Well, they don’t.

Of course, they converse with effortless fluency in the vernacular of Customer Experience (or CX) and will adduce forensic-quality evidence of this in the form of carefully constructed surveys and reports. Detailed and torrential case studies adoringly embraced in thought leadership warm hugs.

It’s all good in the CX hood.

And client organisations will readily lap it up. It spins the yarn that spans the hazardous gulch between cost and value.

Almost every BPO enthusiast you meet will yak zealously about their success in channel-switching and how they (not anyone else, mind) guided 70% of their customers from voice to chat or to email. Or deflected enquiries through to self-service or to an automated message. It has become the ‘industry’ refrain. The mantra.

And let’s not knock these considerations, because technology should be deployed for the creation of more efficient and effective services. But it averts its eyes to the key consideration.

Did the customers actually want that?

Early on, when voice was king, IVR supported skills-based routing, with the underlying philosophy being that enquiries were picked up by the best-qualified persons to do so.

So, while the jungle of IVR routes knitted together by some providers could balls-ache us into submission (remember Orange’s 1990s web of frustration?), their heart seemed to be in the right place.

And nobody banged on incessantly about customer experience.

Because customers wanted and still want their problems solved; they don’t contact you for an experience. For that, they pay some balloonist to propel them up towards the stars at midnight, with a glass of Moët, a red rose and a silky smile.

The question of experience becomes pertinent to the customer, largely when it’s crap. 

An efficient and professional service is implied as standard. Or at least it is, at the point you are about to make a purchase choice. Once you have purchased, it becomes an extra for which they’ll be doing you a Gargantuan, self-flagellating favour to grant.

How these service providers love to pontificate about how they went the extra mile for you. Only to furnish you with something they communicated as being a given and intrinsic to their culture, before their cold, sweating hands darted in for your wallet

You see, BPOs take channel management as their starting point, not the customer. They need to make the numbers – and their story – stand up. They will switch and deflect you, because it will return truncated costs and ameliorated service numbers.

And they will wrap up that functionality as a great experience, by relying on endless tropes to bolster their rationales.

Technology is good; ‘more choice is good’.

Yet truly great service requires tractability to settle into individual customer needs, not bulk shoe-horning customers into expedient one-size-fits-all pots. Switching from voice to chat might not be good for your customers. If you know that customers will embrace that, then fantastic, apply the technology and everyone’s a winner, baby.

But take technology as your departure point and coerce your customers down one route over another, and you’re building balance sheets not customer value.

Any BPO that was true to its word would map out the best way to support customers, grounded on what they know about how customers behave and react. Then apply the right technology and methodology to facilitate those services.

Though, how many BPOs seek to establish a solution based on that? Most I know steam in with their credentials and the technical wizardry they have at their disposal.

But let’s not let their clients off the hook. They drive this solutioning through their procurement strategies, which in turn are unremittingly impelled by their crackpot CFOs.

They don’t care about customers. They care about looking like they care about customers. And many clients don’t buy service, they buy stories.

And it will always be customers like you and I, who will end up paying the price.

unsplash-logoLouis Hansel

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