It has been a little over ten years since I founded Vocalabs with the goal of giving companies the customer feedback they need to make intelligent decisions about their customer experiences. Back then, our initial focus was on the contact center (where we still do a lot of work, though we now do somewhat more in bricks-and-mortar customer service).
Over the past decade I've noticed a slow but definite shift in attitudes at many companies to how they provide phone service. For example:
- When referring to IVR usage:
- In 2001: "IVR containment rate" (customers need to be "contained" like toxic waste)
- In 2011: "Self-service rate" (customers can choose to serve themselves)
- When discussing key agent metrics
- In 2001: "What's your average handle time?" or "How many calls per day does an agent take?" (the most important thing is how much expensive talk-time a customer consumes)
- In 2011: "What's your first call resolution?" and even "We don't focus on handle time any more." (the most important thing is getting the customer's problem solved)
- Design strategies for self-service automation
- In 2001: "We want to push more self-service." (self-service should be forced on customers)
- In 2011: "We want to understand why some customers don't use self-service." (many customers choose to use self-service. What's stopping the rest?)
While I don't think these changes are universal--I certainly still hear about "IVR containment" as a key metric--I think it is notable how many companies are taking a more customer-centric approach and it is paying big dividends. I was at a conference a few months ago where several large companies said they had stopped using average handle time as a key agent metric to focus on first call resolution--and as a result the overall costs went down. Putting the screws on agents to get customers off the phone had been leading to poor service, customer frustration, and higher cost.
It has also become clear that many customers really will use self-service, and even prefer it for many things. They just don't like bad self-service. But when a reasonable option exists (like online travel reservations, or ATM machines) the acceptance rate is phenomenal.
For the past ten years I've been preaching that the best way to get customers to change their behavior is by seducing them with a better option, not by forcing them to do something they don't want. Based on what I've been hearing, the message is getting across.