George Strait Has the Answer to Your Customer Experience Woes

Brian Cantor

One might not typically think of country superstar George Strait and Internet sensation Zynga in the same breath, but when it comes to the customer experience, the latter has no problem drawing inspiration from the former.

In his 1995 smash hit, Strait reflected on the directness of his fictitious childhood crush’s courtship. "Do you love me, do you want to be friends?" asked EmmyLou Hayes, before prompting Strait for a straight answer. "Check Yes or No."

At the 13thAnnual Call Center Week in Las Vegas, NV, Zynga’s Ramon Icasiano and TELUS International’s Jeff Puritt shared the importance of approaching customer satisfaction from that same binary perspective.

The duo was not advocating a limited, simplistic, one-dimensional perspective of the customer, but it was definitely asking the audience to remain focused on the very core of its customer experience effort.

In the interaction, did the agent help the customer reach a satisfactory, desired resolution? Did the agent delight the customer? "Check Yes or No."

Too often, customer service agents and leaders complicate their objectives with emphasis on metrics and internal strategies, and the result is that brands begin striving towards goals that are not immensely relevant to overall customer satisfaction. They create this culture that somehow believes it is possible to perform effectively and efficiently in the call center without necessarily giving the customers what they want.

Newsflash: it is not.

Sure, by relying on process improvement initiatives, introducing better metrics, overhauling technology and simplifying the organizational hierarchy, customer service functions can make dramatic improvements to their bottom line. They can free up agents for increased phone time with more difficult customers, minimize hold times and empower agents to answer questions across social and mobile media.

All organizations should be benchmarking their organizational efficiency, and they should assume that all outsourcing partners and vendors are taking cost containment and productivity every bit as seriously. If they have to argue with call center partners about poor average handle time and speed-to-answer rates, they should have long since fired that partner. Inefficient call center operations are unacceptable.

But customer service is not a hard science, and rigid, statistical metrics almost never inform the success of a customer interaction. Factors like first call resolution and average handle time contribute to the overall customer experience, but they rarely define it. And for a customer service engagement to work, the agent must score on every point that matters on the customer’s satisfaction rubric.

Did the agent help the customer reach a satisfactory, desired resolution? "Check Yes or No."

Agents and their management need to determine what it takes to get that "Yes" check. If a customer appreciates the rapidity with which his call was answered and the availability of social support but could not get the refund he demanded, odds are strong he is not checking "Yes." He is not praising the brand’s operational efficiency as a sign of its customer-centricity.

The reciprocal scenario will often hold equally true. If a customer received the outcome he ultimately wanted but had to endure a slow journey full of poorly-informed, discourteous reps, odds are strong he is not checking "yes." He is not praising the brand’s resolve as a sign of its customer-centricity.

Customer experience and call center leaders must manage for results, and that philosophy absolutely could involve a reliance on operations strategy and performance metrics. If success in those areas signals an ability to give the customer what he wants, it is wise to manage with those benchmarks in mind.

But it is the customer, not the agent, who is always right, and so no amount of meeting or exceeding efficiency benchmarks is suitable until the customer confirms it is such. This is not a debate in which a brand can downplay customer dissatisfaction by pointing to great average handle times. It is a debate that the customer wins every time; the brand’s only option is not losing, and that means assuring it did everything possible to deliver the experience the customer ultimately wanted.

Organizations need to operate with an open, wax-free ear to the voice of the customer. That voice, which has a tendency to vary and evolve as marketplace conditions and expectations change, is the rubric that determines whether agents are doing it correctly or incorrectly. That voice, and that voice alone, is the one with the power to assess the efficacy of a customer experience endeavor.

That voice is the one that will answer "yes" or "no."

Image credit: MCA