Do you, like me, believe that customer service is the new marketing: that exceptional service to our customers is the best way to generate the kind of word of mouth (or “word of thumb,” as I like to all it, when it’s delivered via our customers’ mobile devices) that can help a company both grow and sustain that growth.
If so, consider a contrarian look at what is considered efficiency or productivity in our contact centers. Do you really want to reduce the AHT (average handle time)? Do you really want to tighten up the seat occupancy? These are places where lack of efficiency can really build customer connections.
Certainly, if AHT is growing because your agents don’t know their material, aren’t supported properly by AI and other tools, or aren’t fully trained in the technology at hand, that’s a negative. But if AHT is significant because they’re taking the time to connect with customers, then it’s a positive, albeit one that is alloyed by the additional cost. (Just consider that cost to be part of your marketing, and you’ll consider the positive to be completely unalloyed, I’d argue.)
Zappos, which has long used customer service as a key part of its marketing, runs at 60-70% agent occupancy rather than industry norm which is somewhere in the 80’s. (Agent occupancy is the percentage of time that agents spend–or are predicted to spend–actually handling calls, as a percentage of the time they are on the clock.)
Why is this contact center “overstaffing” a positive? When your absolute bottom line is, as it is at Zappos, to make an emotional connection with each caller, it creates great variability in call length. An emotional connection can take just a moment (maybe a quick second of bonding “over both being named Megan without an ‘h’—which is the sensible spelling, of course!”), an example that Megan Petrini, the Zappos Insights facilitator, is fond of sharing from her personal experience. Or it could be a longer discussion of a personal tragedy shared by the customer; this situation crops up more often than you’d expect, particularly when a Zappos employee ends up on the line with a grieving spouse who’s not sure what to do with recently ordered shoes that were intended for a now-deceased spouse.
What do you think? Those of you out there already subscribing to (or advocating and leading for) this mindset shift, I’d love to hear from you--as well as from the naysayers!
Author • Forbes Senior Contributor • Customer Service Consultant
President and CEO, Four Aces Inc.
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