Customer Service Interactions: The 5 Most Important Factors

Brian Cantor

What truly matters when interacting with customers? Which factors most notably affect the success of the interaction?

The safe, easy, PR-friendly answer would be "everything." Today’s businesses, after all, are competing on the customer experience. Any gap in a business’ customer experience theoretically represents an opportunity for a competitor to steal the spotlight – and the business’ customers.

Seemingly idealistic, the "everything matters" approach can be very problematic. Customers do not evaluate everything equally – they ascribe particularly high value to certain customer experience elements. If businesses bottleneck their ability to optimize those high value elements to assure every element of their experience is equally strong, the result will be less valuable experiences for customers.

Businesses certainly cannot ignore any element of the customer experience, but they absolutely should focus on the elements of greatest importance to customers.

In a survey for our upcoming Executive Report on Cloud Contact Center Technology, we asked a sample of contact center, customer experience and operations professionals what factors their businesses deem most essential to customer service interactions. The respondents scored a myriad of factors based on a 0-5 scale, and we listed the top five below.

While this inquiry uncovers how businesses prioritize their interactions, it admittedly faces a clear limitation: it measures what businesses, not customers, deem to be most important.

The businesses were likely drawing from customer insights, feedback and performance scores to make their determinations, but we have no way of knowing that their selections precisely align with what customers would have chosen. In the below analysis, we therefore address how each factor presumably impacts the customer during a service interaction.

Accuracy (4.10/5)

Presumed Importance to Customers: Whether seeking information, instruction or resolution, customers want to know they can trust the information they receive. That trust emerges when the customer knows the information he receives is both factually true and contextually appropriate.

Business Imperative: To accurately communicate with customers, agents must receive access to accurate information. Real-time knowledge bases, vivid customer profiles and extensive contact center training help to provide the necessary foundation. They empower the agent to empower the customer.

Desirability of Resolution (4.09/5)

Presumed Importance to Customers: Customers are not always correct about what went wrong, but they are always right about how they feel and what they want. Sensing no obligation to compromise, they expect the business to empathize with their sentiment and act on their call for a resolution.

Business Imperative: Metrics related to resolution – as defined by the customer – must factor into a business’ performance management strategy. Operational efficiency is important (and important to measure), but it means nothing if the contact center is not consistently and completely delivering what its customers demand.

Reliability of Support Systems and Processes (3.97/5)

Presumed Importance to Customers: Customers are seeking support because they encountered a challenge. They should not face an additional hurdle in accessing assistance. Automated and virtual channels should function as they are supposed to function. Live agent interactions should not be crippled by poor call quality or slow-loading backend systems. No matter when and in what channel customers choose to connect, they should encounter an experience that "just works."

Business Imperative: In addition to manage agent performance, businesses must also measure and manage the performance of their systems. They must assure constant, unconditional uptime. They must evaluate their technology to assure it is working as intended and appearing as it is supposed to appear to customers. They must develop self-service systems based on how customers will actually use them. They must astutely monitor volume and seasonal spikes—and potentially invest in cloud or otherwise-agile technology—to avoid downtime in the event of surges.

Friendliness of the Agent (3.94/5)

Presumed Importance to Customers: While what an agent says and does matters greatly, how he says it also matters. Today’s customers want to feel appreciated as individuals, and an agent’s friendliness goes a long way in communicating that appreciation. The fact that customers are often calling in moments of frustration, outrage or even panic places particularly great stakes on agent demeanor.

Business Imperative: Agent coaching must stress the importance of the personal connection. It is not enough to get the job done within a certain timeframe; the agent must be taught to recognize the role demeanor plays in supplementing or undermining the technical proficiency of an interaction. Praise – and rewards – should not be restricted to agents who excel from a quantitative standpoint. The business should also cherish those who make emotional connections with customers.

Consistency (3.93/5)

Presumed Importance to Customers: Customers see a given business as a singular unit, and they see their individual transactions with that business as part of a cohesive, infinite journey. In accordance with those philosophies, customers do not anticipate disjointedness as they move between agents, channels and inquiries. No matter the context or touch point, the customer anticipates experiential uniformity.

Business Imperative: Businesses must implement a three-pronged approach to the customer experience. They must eliminate systemic barriers (methods include assuring touch points have complete, instant access to knowledge bases and CRM systems, cross-training agents on multiple types of issues and in multiple channels and providing agents with unified desktops). They must establish a singular customer experience culture (where one "sits" within the organization should not affect his understanding of the business’ culture and commitment to the customer). They must establish clear, universal business objectives (any agents, systems and departments that interact with customers must be operating toward the same big picture goals).