Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #148

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Be Careful What You Measure
By Craig Bailey

In these challenging economic times, when firms are looking to do more with less, the well-intended "real-life" scenario described below all too frequently results in undesirable outcomes.

Picture this scene that was shared with me today: A senior broker / trader joins a large financial services firm (that you know very well!) with the intent of helping people reach their financial goals. She enthusiastically gets started in her new role and truly feels she is providing her company's customers (the people calling in) a high level of service. However, over the course of time, she is reprimanded because her "average call handling time" is higher than that of other reps. She tries to explain to her metrics-driven supervisor that she is trying to deliver the best service and value possible to the client. He states: "You need to reduce your average handling time so that you can take more calls per day. This will improve customer satisfaction."

After continuously being reprimanded over this issue, she describes her new "mode of operation" as demonstrated by the following scenario: "I got a call yesterday from a gentleman asking a question about an investment, which I was easily able to answer and pointed him to the website to complete his investing activity. However, while on the call, I noticed that there was a restriction on his account that prevents him from trading. I didn't let him know this because it would have taken me too much time to explain the situation and help him resolve it. I figured that he'd find out about the issue when he logged into the website and then he could simply call back in to get the issue addressed."

Upon reading this, your first response is likely: "This person did NOT do the right thing. She should have dealt with the issue when it was noticed." You are correct in that assessment. The reality is, however, if your call center reps are repeatedly beaten about the head and neck regarding their average handle time, you have reps doing the very same thing to "make their numbers."

So, while you are trying to improve efficiencies by focusing on the number of calls that a rep takes per day, you have unknowingly INCREASED the number of calls that you receive because customer issues are NOT being addressed upon the initial point of contact. Truly that is NOT your intended outcome, but it is the reality of the situation.

In the environment described above, reps will receive each call with their focus on "How can I get this person off the phone as quickly as possible, so I can make my numbers." In addition, a focus solely on "production" metrics demonstrates that you are merely paying "lip service" to the mantra of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The lesson here: Never take an unbalanced approach to your metrics. While it is important to monitor your production metrics (e.g., average handle time, etc.), it is much MORE important to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty. You could have the best average call handling time in the industry, but if your customer satisfaction and loyalty rankings are going down, you are in a death spiral.

Do you have a sneaky suspicion that this scene may be happening in your firm? Ask your front-line customer service representatives repeatedly. They will ultimately tell you what is frustrating them in their quest to deliver excellent customer service. The question is: do you have the guts to ask them and then do something about it? Or, are you going to simply sweep it under the rug.

If you'd like assistance in getting customer-focused and ensuring that you don't have scenes like the above playing out in your firm, give us a call. We can help. 

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