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How many calls does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?

Remember the timeless tootsie pop commercial? A little boy has a problem: “How will I ever get to the gooey center of this tootsie pop?” He asks around, and finally the wise owl tells him he’s been going about it all wrong. Licking the pop may get you there, but not very quickly. The best way to get to the core of his problem? To bite!

I can identify with what the little boy went through. In college, they used to call me “The Great Complainer.” If friends had a service problem with a business, they came to me to help navigate the process. I was especially known for frequent calls to the cable company, whereby pretending to be one of my friends and demanding escalation resulted in a problem solved.  I was the wise owl. The outcome: instant access to the gooey center of the tootsie pop (or a smaller cable bill).

These days, my “owl” approach doesn’t seem to be getting me any closer to the center of the problem  As someone who works with interaction centers as part of my profession, this intrigues me.

Take a service interaction I had this morning with the cable company. A reoccurring problem with the internet is back, they’ll send a tech out to fix the issue in a few days, but as I’ve seen, the internet will likely be broken again in a few weeks. I’m over the lick approach – I go for the bite. “You’ve been great, but can I speak to your manager?” I ask the agent. This is followed by a long wait time, a cranky supervisor, and little concern about my reoccurring issue.

If I could ask the wise tootsie pop owl how to get to the root of this problem, what would he say? He might say that I’m not the only one who’s had a bad experience this year. According to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2012, only 37% of brands received good or excellent customer experience index scores this year. 64% of brands got a rating of “OK,” “poor,” or “very poor” from their customers. What’s up with that? Have organizations given up on their service departments? Don’t they know that 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience (RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report 2011)?

“Ok Wise Owl,” I would say, “You’re telling me that brands know they are giving poor service leading to a loss of business, but continue on a path of self-destruction?”

The owl might say that this isn’t a problem of businesses not understanding the importance of successful interaction centers, but instead a problem of consumers expecting more from their service centers. Maybe there’s an oversupply of “biters” who want an instant answer to their problem, and less “lickers” who are willing to wait months. We’re an instant gratification society, and we expect our brands to comply.

As a self-appointed wise owl, I know that technology can help these businesses align with the smarter, more knowledgeable customer. Here are my top three recommendations for brands who want to use technology to improve the call center service experience and customer retention:

  1. We know you know our history, but sometimes you aren’t accurate. Consumers aren’t wowed by the fact that you know our address before we tell you. In fact, we expect that. Successful service centers take it to the next level, providing consistency through one repository of sales and service data, and proposing answers to problems before we’ve even asked them.
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of the automated menu. Many companies begin their call time measurements as soon as the agent has begun interacting with the customer. They feel that the less time the agent spends per customer, the more efficient their call center. Many times, consumers are fed up before they even get to the agent. In an era of high quality voice recognition and deep psychological consumer understanding, navigating automated menus still isn’t as easy as it should be. An extra investment here could seriously improve proper call routing and ultimately customer satisfaction and retention.  (If the government can do it, so can you.) Which brings me to…
  3. Are you inflating your customer sat numbers? If you are relying on consumers to stay on the line and answer a post-call survey without any incentive, then your answer may be “yes!” This makes sense, given that over 60% of customer service managers select customer satisfaction as the key metric for determining the success of their support organization according to Ovum Customer Service Experience Whitepaper.  Who doesn’t want their department to look good? But these inflated projections may be affecting the bottom line. Provide incentives or create outbound call lists with customers who’ve had reoccurring problems to get a well-rounded sense for satisfaction and resolution. Organizations that are compensated through this metric may see short-term losses, but ultimately an accurate view of customer sat will sustain business growth in the long-term, giving service departments the ultimate return.

The great news? SAP’s CRM platform has the ability to drive complex business rules and processes to accomplish all of the above.

Some businesses need a wise owl to point them towards a unified service platform and CRM strategy. Otherwise, their customers will be more than willing to take a few licks and a bite out of their competition.

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