Using call centres to deliver improved customer insight

We all know it. Times have changed and this is even more apparent when it comes to the relationships that customers have with their providers. The digital age is upon us where information moves and gets collected much faster, changing and shaping the way relationships are built. Blind spots are being created across organisations resulting in a sea of untapped opportunities that revolve around customer needs. Organisations need to embrace new technologies to deepen their understanding of the ‘new customer’ - who is technically savvy and is not afraid of voicing an opinion in ‘real time’, ‘all the time’ to the rest of the world – and innovate the way they serve customers.
About the CCMA
The Call Centre Management Association is the longest established association in the industry and is focused on supporting its members to raise the standards of call centre management across the UK. The CCMA believes that the most important ingredient of a call centre is having knowledgeable, helpful agents whose behaviour and actions reinforce the organisations brand and values. It also believes that in these days of increasingly demanding customer expectations, there is a necessity to invest in sophisticated technology, which makes life easier for customers. These technologies range from basic routing of call to agents, tools to support resource planning, through to multiple self service capabilities. Many organisations are looking to how they can best use the technologies available to build better relationships with their customers whilst avoiding increased costs. Customer experience and digital will be the key differentiators going forward, both governed and influenced by social media, cloud, mobility, big data and gamification. These new trends represent the biggest challenge and yet also present the greatest opportunities for organisations that are prepared to embrace them.
Technology for answers
With all these data sources it is easy to lose control of what is important and misinterpret what it all means for organisations. Make sure you start with the questions you need to ask to inform your business decisions, and then look at technology for answers - not the other way around.

Public sector organisations are struggling to make ends meet and deliver services with ever-decreasing resources and budgets. In these circumstances, listening to the ‘voice of the customer’ may not seem a priority, but doing so can identify opportunities for major cost savings, customer experience improvements, and a wealth of unexpected and simultaneous benefits. Using appropriate technologies, customer feedback data can be converted into valuable insights into the efficiency and effectiveness of an organisation’s end-to-end delivery chain, pinpointing specific areas for corrective action. Converting this insight into targeted improvements is the ‘Midas Touch’ that delivers benefits for the customer and the organisation, including impressive cost savings.

The importance of using the true ‘Voice of the Customer’ to drive an organisation’s success cannot be underestimated. It delivers: the ability to match services to the needs of customers; improved operational efficiency through fewer unnecessary interactions; enhanced effectiveness of customer interactions; enhanced customer relationships by removing the causes of dissatisfaction, and; Improved end-to-end supply chain performance. Despite this, many public sector organisations fail to focus on measuring, analysing and acting upon what their customers are telling them, with the result that they fail to capitalise on the wealth of strategic, tactical, financial and experience-related insights that their customers willingly provide.
The historical perspective
We live in a multi-channel world and the customer service centre has become a critical touch-point in the end-to-end customer journey. Historically, however, customer service performance has been assessed through operational KPIs such as call volumes and average handling time, which along with resource planning metrics such as occupancy, are essentially internal efficiency metrics. As such, they add minimal value to the customer experience or insight. Similarly, the value of traditional customer satisfaction measurement approaches such as quarterly outbound surveys is questionable when survey results appear some while after the actual customer interaction, so management action cannot be taken immediately.    

As a first step, it is essential that businesses take customer feedback seriously and make the decision to invest in high quality real-time, data capture tools and methodologies.  Payback is possible within a few months.

IVR, Email, SMS, and Face-to-Face Surveys The process to extract customer feedback is very simple. Using a multi-channel survey tool, real-time customer experience feedback can be gathered simultaneously, providing feedback and comments directly from the customer, along with insight from the Agent and Team Leader. This provides an automated 360 degree view of the same transaction, and organisations can analyse the data to assess the performance and identify areas for improvement. All data is presented immediately (including alerts) through real-time management dashboards. The more sophisticated survey tools also identify and establish Agent best-practice profiles, essential for improving Agent performance and quality.
Web Surveys
Web Surveys can present survey invitations to customers at strategic points on the web journey. In a multi-channel environment, this is a critical component for achieving a comprehensive view of the customer experience and sentiment i.e. How do they rate the online experience? (navigation, content, functionality and so on).

Innovative insight providers are also using speech and text analytics to drill down further. Speech-based technologies can automatically identify key words, phrases, and trends that are not possible through more traditional manual call listening or sampling. Text analytics converts speech to text by scanning emails, written verbatims and complaint letters before feeding the outputs through text mining software, to extract key words, phrases and themes, again removing or reducing human intervention and enabling much larger volumes of customer feedback to be mined for insight. 

Social networking analysis enables an organisation to dig even deeper and understand root causes, emotion and intent quickly and accurately. These tools ‘listen’ to social networking conversations across literally millions of community sites in order to extract relevant commentary about an organisation’s brand, products and services.  Research from Gartner* pointed out that nowadays over 50 per cent of customer comments about service are no longer provided direct to the organisation through the official channels, but instead are simply shared with other customers and social network groups (e.g. Trip Advisor).   The implication of this is that organisations that rely on feedback solely through the traditional channels may have a seriously distorted view of how their brand, service and customer experience is rated.  Any actions taken as a result of feedback through these traditional channels may therefore be out of line with what customers really expect.
Turning Insight into Gold
Unlike many organisations across different sectors, Government organisations lag behind in adopting these same solutions to deliver best-practice customer outcomes and genuine cost savings. The real-time, actionable dashboards and the professional analysis of survey results and verbatim comments enable an organisation to strike gold, by accurately pinpointing areas for both tactical and strategic corrective action. Comprehensive, in-depth Deep Dive Reports reveal numerous aspects of the customer experience, both positive and negative, and frequently quite startling volumes of failure demand (avoidable calls, repeat calls), broken processes causing re-work (double-handling, ill-conceived forms and letters, failed deliveries) and recurring sources of customer frustration. In essence, the analysis identifies exactly where to focus the improvement activity and shapes how to deliver service in the future.
Quick Wins
Targeted improvement projects can convert ineffective supply chain processes into tangible cost savings. In a London Council, a trial on their Environment Action Line identified that 12 per cent of calls were Repeat Calls and 11 per cent were Avoidable Contacts – all of which could potentially be eliminated, with the consequential benefit of cost savings (Use scant resources to add value, not manage failure)

Customer verbatims captured though this survey tool identified the non-delivery of additional recycling bags at residents’ homes. After investigation, the diagnosis was that although the bags were being delivered as promised, the delivery men could not gain access to resident post-boxes inside the flats, and bags left on the doorstep were being stolen. An innovative solution was recommended whereby recycling bags were stocked by local shops and callers given a unique code to authorise collection, saving wasted costs of failed deliveries, repeat and avoidable calls, and complaint handling.
Customer insight, from multiple channels and expertly analysed, can help businesses to take targeted immediate action, bringing enormous value add in terms of improved customer experience, savings and growth.  The findings add considerable quantitative and qualitative value. No organisation can afford to ignore the Voice of the Customer, since this should be the primary strategic driver to improving customer experience and reduce operational and supply chain costs.  This can only be achieved by a thorough analysis of customer feedback down to the root cause level (the bedrock), then using this actionable insight to develop tangible and targeted improvement initiatives.

The technology is just an enabler. The critical issue is that asking the right questions, and listening to and understanding the customer are not enough in themselves – insights from their invaluable feedback must be translated into innovative improvement action or the investment in the insight tools and new technologies are simply wasted. There is no point mining for the data, if the output remains no more than a pile of untouched rubble, especially in today’s cost-conscious world. Like Midas, the true value lies in turning the ore into gold.
About the author
Jo Daly has three decades of experience working with private and public sector business clients. Her specialisms are customer experience, process re-engineering and multi-channel integration. As a Managing Consultant with InsightNow, she helps Clients to transform their business through actionable customer insight.
About the CCMA
Formed in 1994, the Call Centre Management Association (UK) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation run on a voluntary basis by working call centre professionals. The association believes that the key to quality employment lies in promoting managerial excellence by helping to develop individuals with the vision, expertise and the commitment necessary to enable their respective organisations to thrive in an era of fast changing, networked economies, global competition and heightened customer expectations. For further information visit

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