Vocalabs Newsletter: Quality Times


In This Issue

Pretty Good Practices

In business we talk a lot about "best practices." The general idea is that industries can develop and standardize certain ways of operating which are demonstrably better than the alternatives.

I have some problems with how this works in the real world. Ideas promoted as "best practices" are rarely backed up by the kind of rigorous research the phrase implies. Too often, a "best practice" works well for some companies in some circumstances, but doesn't work elsewhere. At worst, "best practices" are sometimes nothing more than interesting ideas from consultants looking to drum up business. Perhaps my biggest complaint, though, is that the phrase "best practice" implies that the "best practice" can't be improved and that no alternative approach would be better.

I think most businesspeople know that every situation is unique. What most companies are looking for from "best practices" are ideas which have worked elsewhere and might be adopted (or adapted) in their own operation where it makes sense.

So I no longer talk about "best practices" with my clients. Instead, being from Minnesota, I discuss "pretty good practices."

"Pretty good practices" are ideas which work in some companies and make sense to consider for other companies. Pretty good practices are not set in stone, and can be refined to fit the unique culture and situation of each organization. Pretty good practices are things I consider pretty good, but I'll keep my mind open in case a better idea comes along.

Most importantly, though, where prescribing a "best practice" tends to end the discussion (whether the practice is really the "best" or not), taking about "pretty good practices" is the beginning of a conversation about how to improve.

Understanding Patterns of Customer Behavior

Advanced analytics tools have made it easier than ever to identify patterns of customer behavior. It's now much easier to learn things like how often customers call on the phone after visiting your website, or whether certain customers consistently try and fail to use self-service options. This often uncovers some obvious places where you're leaking money through excessive support costs and repeated customer problems

Understanding why these patterns exist is harder. You can guess, but it's much better to ask the customer directly.

Customer surveys designed for this kind of in-depth insight are a little different than a routine customer service tracking survey:

  • Sample: This is not the place to use a random sample. Instead, target just the people in the group you're trying to understand. So if you're trying to figure out why some customers bypass your IVR and try to go directly to an agent, those are the customers to survey.
  • Method: It's important to get to the customer as quickly as possible after the experience, while the memory of what happened and why is still fresh (but not during the same phone call please!). Have a human being call the customer within an hour. The quick response and the rapport between the customer and interviewer yields the most detail and specifics about what happened and why.
  • Questions: Even though this survey isn't intended to track your top-level metrics, you still want to include those satisfaction or loyalty questions in order to compare against your entire customer base. In addition, ask detailed "what happened" and "why" questions with an emphasis on open-ended questions.
  • Size: For these purposes, several hundred completed interviews is a good starting size. 500 interviews will give you a broad cross-section of the customers you're interested in and some meaningful statistics about the different root causes and their prevalence (while keeping the budget manageable). Going up to a few thousand interviews gives more granularity and better statistics on particular root causes.

The challenge today is often trying to take too much data and generate insights and understanding. Modern analytics tools are a powerful start. Targeting a detailed customer survey to a specific pattern of behavior is often the quickest and most effective way to understand what's really going on.

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