A long time ago, when I was managi, er, leading Customer Service @ Lehman Bros, I came across a very seasoned, knowledgeable rep with an usually-high talk time.
Pls note: This whole “productivity arena”…ATT/Average Talk Time, AHT/Average Handle Time (talk time + after-call work), calls handled per paid hr, etc…has historically been the mainstay for many a Customer Service/call center supervisor/manager/boss/executive.
Much to my dismay.
It’s merely one of MANY excellent & insightful tools that a good LEADER uses, but it’s not the be-all, end-all.
Personally, I’ve ALWAYS believed in DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR THE CUSTOMER, first & foremost.
Once you got that down, then we can focus on how efficient you are in completing that task.
System navigation. Owning the call. Using your tools properly. Knowing when to ask for help. Mastering the products & services and being familiar with all policies, processes & procedures. Keeping your unproductive, after-call work to a minimum.
But CUSTOMER SATISFACTION always comes first.
To properly lead an organization, you must maintain a balanced approach between effectiveness & efficiency.
Between speed & results.
You must know how to handle the employee who is great at satisfying customers, but lags behind everyone in productivity.
Conversely, what do you do with the incredibly-efficient representative who only garners average satisfaction scores?
Usually (but it’s certainly NOT a hard & steadfast rule) is that service results & production results usually trend in the same direction.
If you’re good at one, you’re usually good at the other.
And, of course, if you’re not very adept at one, the other usually suffers as well.
Customers want employees who can quickly assess their situation…provide a solution that’s understandable & easy to execute…tie any loose ends together…prevent recurrences (if a problem arose)…and then send them on their way.
Do that & your employee will be both efficient & satisfy/exceed the customer’s expectations.
Fail at any aspect of the call & usually both quality & production will suffer.
But there will come times when you’ll notice an anomaly.
High quality results, but poor productivity.
Or vice versa (low Q, high P).
The latter situation points to an employee who’s not providing the right or complete solution to the customer. They’re more interested in pumping out calls than they are in properly assessing the customer’s issue/need…or they’re making too many assumptions as to what the customer really needs & wants.
Or they’re taking shortcuts.
A stronger emphasis on quality, on satisfying the customer’s needs, is desperately lacking.
(Note: In MANY cases, it’s actually an overemphasis on that “beloved” AHT/Average Handle Time by management which causes many employees to concentrate on speed over quality.
1. NOTHING is more important than fully satisfying the caller. Nothing. Ever.
2. You manage people’s behaviors, not their numbers.)
And that’s one reason why you’ll hear so many call centers end their calls with “By providing you with XYZ & doing ABC, have I satisfied the reason for your call today?”.
The situation with “great customer satisfaction, but poor productivity” is a totally-different matter.
In almost-all cases, you’re dealing with a very experienced, knowledgeable service rep. That’s why the customers are so satisfied with the service they’re receiving.
Now you’ll hafta look more closely…BY LISTENING TO THE ACTUAL CALLS THEMSELVES…to determine why it’s taking so much longer than the norm to complete the interaction on average.
Is the rep effective in managing the call? Too much unnecessary chit-chat? If the talk-time is acceptable but the AHT/Average Handle Time (talk time + after-call work) is not, then it’s clear that the rep isn’t following procedures after the customer hangs up (and before the rep “makes themselves ready” for the next call).
Most functions related to servicing a customer (opening a new case, starting an investigation, taking/completing an order, noting the account, performing acct/customer maintenance functions, etc.) MUST be done ON THE PHONE WITH THE CUSTOMER.
You need NOT put the customer on hold while you do “paperwork” nor should you do it (like noting the account) after the customer has hung up.
Do that stuff with the customer there & let him know what you’re doing…they’ll actually appreciate the fact that you’re exhibiting extra care & concern for them.
“Mrs. Jones, I’m placing a note on your account, detailing the issue, so our investigator has all the information he’ll need!”
Or, perhaps, the rep is simply “taking an unofficial break”, “pacing themselves” (according to their standards, not yours)! This will reflect itself in “ACW/after-call work” (after the customer has hung up & before the rep says “I’m ready!” for the next call.)
BTW, he does it electronically, not out loud.
Sometimes, when the ATT is unusually high & the service is outstanding, you’ll need to ask yourself…”What is the rep doing that’s ‘causing additional time’ on the call?”. You’ll only get that answer by listening and observing.
If they’re more productive when you’re do a side-by-side review (vs. silently monitoring them or listening to taped calls), then it’s clearly a behavioral issue.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
You can counter that with one of my favorite sayings…”You gotta INSPECT what you EXPECT!”
Don’t assume everyone’s performing optimally. I’m NOT saying not to trust your people, but they’re human.
You’re not leading robots. Your job is to manage behaviors.
Worry about behavior (in general terms, not in the narrow scope of following rules & regulations) & the results will magically follow.
Concentrate on quality & yes, again magically, both customer satisfaction AND productivity will improve!
I’ve always pride myself in having the business with the highest customer satisfaction results AND the best productivity.
The highest customer satisfaction results AND the best employee satisfaction.
The best customer results AND the best business results.
They’re all tied together!
Concentrate always on completing the task CORRECTLY. When that’s accomplished, you can look at speed & productivity.
But not until!
Treat your employees right (that includes ensuring they’re fully-prepared & capable & ALLOWED to do a great job) & your customers will be happy.
Be obsessed with exceeding your customers’ wildest expectations & your employees will be happy.
Do that stuff & automatically, your “service metrics”, your business results, your financials will improve & your boss/senior leaders/company will be happy.
I started off this piece with saying that I had this very experienced, very knowledgeable rep with really-poor productivity.
I began listening to a few of her calls. (Pls note: As Director, I followed my own “Inspect what you expect” adage…although the issue & its underlying causes should’ve already been addressed by her manager &/or the AVP…looooong before this!)
Her ATT exceeded 9 mins, her AHT, 10 mins…both almost double the average!
In our little talk afterwards, she pulled out the ol’ “But look at my wonderful customer satisfaction scores, Mike!”
But I was prepared & trumped that with “Well, all these other reps listed here have the same great customer satisfaction results as you…but they handle twice as many calls in a day than you do!
“I’m not gonna double their salaries, but should I cut yours in half???”
That got her attention immediately…she started showing some noticeable improvement.
But I was really more pissed off at her manager.
Not only had I previously instructed all the Team Leaders to look for “significant performance gaps” in 5 different performance categories…customer satisfaction, internally-measured quality, AHT, availability & system adherence…I specifically cited a few examples (including this employee’s AHT) at one of our daily huddles.
Oh, BTW, on one of the calls I monitored (13+ minutes!!!), she was exchanging cheesecake recipes with a homeowner from Pennsylvania!
Stay vigilant, look for things “out of the ordinary” (at least, as a starting point) & don’t let your boss “catch stuff” that you haven’t already noticed & addressed.
Not expecting everything to be fixed, but, at least, plug the biggest holes first!
(Oh, BTW, had I been running a sales & service business for “high net worth clients” & she was schmoozing with a caller regarding a potential sale, then that “cheesecake call” would’ve been a totally-different situation.
But with Lehman’s mortgage-servicing customers, they had Class B credit ratings, rarely had available funds to go buy a 2nd or investment home and there were few cross-sell opportunities upon which to focus.
Besides, we serviced mortgages & didn’t offer a full array of products & services to address a customer’s financial needs.)
As always, thank you so much for listening!