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Providing superior customer service is vital in attracting and retaining customers—and thus in achieving high performance. But many executives rely too heavily on instinct alone when it comes to formulating customer-service strategies.
Recent research from Accenture into customer tolerance provides insight into providing the right levels of customer service—and recovering from poor service experiences that could result in churn. Accenture analyzed the results and offers five steps to help companies get started on optimizing customer service while controlling costs.
Customer service executives often trust their experience and intuition around customer tolerance when managing their organization’s customer service operations, and specifically contact centers. But there is a downside to this approach: pulling one lever too far might result in an unexpectedly negative impact to customer satisfaction—one that is hard to recover from and may result in churn.
In 2012, Accenture conducted primary customer tolerance research to provide insight into the pivotal question about how much customers will put up with before loyalty slips—and what organizations can do to recover effectively from service failures. Covering the United States and Mexico, the research tested customer tolerance to infer the critical service elements that most impact tolerance across five key industries.
With this groundbreaking research, customer service executives can understand the factors behind customer tolerance and make data-driven decisions about which service attributes to emphasize, such as first call resolution, overall wait time, overall handle experience, number of handoffs or offer effectiveness. The research results can also help organizations to identify industry-specific issues that trigger customers to call in for service, such as billing issues or incorrect reservations. With this knowledge, companies can proactively apply the correct service recovery tactics to maintain customer loyalty.
Analysis of multiple data points in the Accenture 2012 Customer Tolerance Research revealed specific insights in three areas related to how organizations can improve the customer experience. These findings were:
Companies can recover from service issues or failures if resolved quickly and appropriately with an offer valued by the customer.
Customers want first-call resolution; however, wait times that are longer than three minutes quickly outweigh first-call resolution benefits.
Customers are willing to be transferred once to resolve a problem, but satisfaction declines rapidly if they experience additional transfers or other hassles.
Looking at these three findings in greater depth can help customer service executives make more informed decisions about which service-attribute levers to adjust, and why.
Recovering from service issues or failures. The Accenture survey results showed that prompt issue resolution was the best way to recover from a service issue and retain customers’ business. If the resolution process causes some aggravation or the issue could not be resolved, companies can still rescue the situation by providing relevant and effective offers that the particular customer segment values.
Limiting waiting time to three minutes. According to the Accenture survey, when customers initiated contact with a company, they placed a high priority on having their issues resolved on the first call. This finding was tempered, however, by a corresponding statistic indicating customers did not want to wait an extended period of time to speak to a customer service representative. Across all industries, results showed that customer satisfaction was definitely in peril if the call wait time went beyond three minutes.
Reducing multiple transfers and other hassles. According to the Accenture survey respondents, being transferred once had a relatively low impact on satisfaction, but multiple transfers led to a significant decline in satisfaction. One likely reason for this drop is a correlated finding that customers dislike having to repeat information about their issue to each subsequent customer service representative.
To optimize customer service while controlling costs, companies must first identify and understand the key tolerance inflection points for their specific customers. To get started, Accenture recommends the following steps:
Define a strategy and goals—and stick to them.
Align processes to strategy and ensure processes are consistently followed.
Align organization to strategy and goals, and manage staffing to address the goals.
Align individual and team performance measures and goals with the strategy.
Continually monitor customer expectations and the ability of the organization to meet them.
January 10, 2013
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