Many organizations use waiting time and processing speed as key measures of service quality. This is fine – as long as they don’t become the only metrics that matter. An obsession with such ‘numbers’ can make you lose sight of what is really important: how your customers experience what you are doing for them rather than how efficient your systems and processes are.
A telecommunications provider wanted to ensure customer queries were handled quickly. As a consequence, it introduced a metric in its contact center where the performance of customer service agents was evaluated on ‘call time’ – how long agents took to ‘close’ a call from a customer. The result: whenever a call appeared to be about an issue that would take time to resolve, agents looked to either escalate the case or re-direct the query. Anything they could do to get the customer off the phone as quickly as they can.
This is similar to another metric commonly used in call centers: “average handling time”, and to many other metrics that organizations use, where the focus is on ‘how fast we can respond’. Such metrics are rooted in productivity, inward-looking and based on the assumption that all customers value ‘speed’ above everything else.
As these metrics become entrenched in an organization, they usually drive everyone’s focus inwards. Attention zooms in on eliminating waste, reducing defects and increasing productivity – in processes and systems. One well-known software company even has a jargon for getting customers off the phone – they call it “slamming calls”. Think about the customer experience on the other end of that call. Now that is real waste!
In a world where products are commoditized faster than ever before, and processes are easily copied, service is the domain where an organization can achieve sustainable competitive advantage.
Organizations should stop obsessing about what works for processes and systems in the domain of improving ‘service’. What is more urgent is the need to build a culture that emphasizes an outside-in perspective. ‘How we can improve what we do’ is only valuable when it is guided by ‘are we doing what our customers truly value?” Some customers do value time above all else, but others want patience, education, to feel appreciated, encouraged or understood. Some value flexibility and options, others want their problems solved with just one call … no matter how long it takes.
Where speed truly matters is how quickly you build a culture where everyone is focused on creating more service value. Not how fast you process the next customer.