A high percentage of the call volume into a contact center stems from customer complications in other areas of the organization. This is especially true in utilities. A utility contact center will inevitably receive calls due to discrepancies with the customer’s bill, late service appointments, problems persisting after a service visit, and so on. As a result, contact center agents are tasked with managing customer service issues that originated in other lines of business.
In an organization where departments are operating independently, or the contact center manager doesn’t have much influence over the other lines of business, how do you reduce the issues that drive calls into the contact center, handle the calls you still receive, and maintain a positive customer experience?
Here are three best practices for managing calls driven from other departments:
- Drive root cause analysis by investigating your top 5 call reasons
- Schedule cross-functional workshops to design end-to-end processes
- Support agent empowerment and accountability to drive customer satisfaction
1. Drive Root Cause Analysis: Investigate Your Top 5 Call Reasons
In most contact centers, where urgency is the very nature of the business, it’s easy to get lost in fighting fires instead of preventing them. Managers tend to focus on the pressing symptoms of issues rather than proactively creating a strategy to prevent the issue before it occurs again.
To drive root cause analysis and reduce the frequency of calls, managers should identify their contact center’s five most frequent call reasons and schedule meetings with their subject matter experts (SME’s) to investigate WHY these calls come in to the contact center. Investigate the data – are there fluctuations in frequency over the course of the day, week, month, and year? What could contribute to these frequency trends? How is the call volume related to initiatives, campaigns, and issues in your department and in other lines of business?
For example: Your call volume increases for ‘Customer Bill’ the first week of every month. You know that your bills go out the 1st of the month. Through discussions with your SMEs, you discover that many of the interactions stem from customers calling to receive an explanation regarding the “penalties and fees” section of their bill. Your team determines that if the bill could be updated to itemize the penalties and fees with clearer detail, many of these calls would be prevented.
2. Schedule Cross-Functional Workshops: Design End-to-End Processes
It is common in utilities for the left hand to fail to communicate with the right hand. Different lines of business operate independently, which results in inefficient processes, poor hand-offs, and a lot of duplicate work. Often times, customers end up running around in circles trying to get their issues resolved.
The example above identifies an issue in the contact center that could be easily mitigated by a simple change to the customer bill. Unfortunately, in your typical utility, where the contact center manager doesn’t have the authority to change the bill, this solution can never be achieved. At best, the contact center manager may send an email to the billing manager with the requested change, but never follow up or ensure resolution.
In order to make valuable changes across an organization, you need to have visibility and buy-in across all levels and a focus on end-to-end customer service. To achieve this goal, managers should schedule cross-functional workshops with management representation from every business function or line of business that interacts with the customer.
The goal of these workshops is to resolve issues and drive change. Management needs to feel comfortable sharing their pain points and identifying where these pain points originate. This can be challenging from a political perspective. It is necessary to establish these workshops as a ‘safe zone’, where departments can be completely candid and feel free to discuss their issues, without pointing fingers or laying blame. Management should not take it personally when processes in their department (or lack thereof) are the root cause of issues in other departments. In fact, it may be beneficial to structure these workshops so that sessions are dedicated to a single department outlining all pain points that they believe stem from another department. For example, in workshop 1: Department A outlines pain points from Department B. In workshop 2: Department B outlines all paint points from Department A. In workshop 3: Department A outlines all pain points from Department C. And so on.
Once all of the pain points and their corresponding causes are laid out on the table, the next step is for the cross-functional team to create optimal end-to-end workflows or processes that minimize or reduce the issues. The owner of each step in the process and all handoffs should be clearly identified. Supporting documentation should be created and socialized to all teams, so that everyone, including front-line staff, has a clear picture of how the different divisions interact in a specific workflow.
These cross-functional workshops create open communication paths and a healthy collaborative way of sharing ideas and problem solving. The result is optimized cross-functional processes that improve your customer service and increase operational efficiency. Keep in mind, that once your new cross-functional processes have been implemented, do NOT end these cross-functional meetings. Managers of the different lines of business should continue to meet monthly in order to keep current on issues in each department and maintain the cross-functional problem solving that was started in the original workshops. Continued communication is key.
3. Support Agent Empowerment and Accountability: Improve the Customer Experience
Even in the most cross-functional, optimized, and collaborative environment, your contact center will still get calls stemming from issues in other departments. There is no magic bullet to eliminate these calls; so what can you do to best manage them?
The best way to maintain a positive customer experience in these situations is by making customers feel that contact center agents have their best interest at heart, even though agents may not be able to personally resolve the issue.
Empower your agents to actively assist your customers. Encourage them to go out of their way (within reason) to make the customer’s life easier by providing a set of options for next steps, personally following up on an issue and calling the customer back, or adding a nominal credit to the account as an apology for poor service.
Take this one step further and create a culture of continuous improvement, where your agents begin identifying trends in customer issues and recommending solutions to management and being part of the implementation. When all levels of the organization, from management to front line, are focusing on customer satisfaction, identifying trends and recommending solutions, your culture will change from a “that’s how it’s always been” organization to a “what can we do to fix it” organization.
Instill in your agents a personal accountability for providing a positive customer experience. This should be a natural byproduct of the cultural change above, but you can programmatically do this by including customer satisfaction scores in your annual review cycle and incorporating them into your incentive programs. At the end of the day, it makes your agents happy to make their customers happy, and when agents are happy, a manager’s job is significantly easier.
By implementing these 3 best practices you can change your agents from victims to superheroes. Reduce the number of calls they receive through root cause analysis and cross-functional problem solving. Drive customer satisfaction through empowering your agents and creating accountability for the customer experience. Your customers will be happier, your agents will be happier, and you will be happier.