Traditional customer service call centers, regardless of the industry, measure their effectiveness by standard metrics, such as: How quickly do customer service representatives answer calls? How many calls do they handle in an hour? In a day? How many abandoned calls do they get?
While those measurements are important, they are not a barometer to tell you how well you are doing your job as a call center. Those measurements simply reflect the daily service every call center should provide. The more important thing to measure is: Are we satisfying the customer by successfully dealing with his or her problems or questions? It’s customer satisfaction that counts, says Mary Beth Jenkins, chief operating officer with UPMC Health Plan.
Smart Business spoke with Jenkins about high-touch customer service and how it increases overall customer service.
How would you define ‘high-touch’ customer service?
Traditionally, customer service at a call center is defined as waiting for people to call in with a question and then answering the question or solving the caller’s problem. A high-touch approach to customer service is to begin a proactive approach, to anticipate what questions or issues callers will have down the road.
Also, a high-touch approach means evaluating ‘first-call resolution,’ which is resolving the caller’s issue the first time he or she calls.
How can a company anticipate the problems or issues its customers will have?
You can only do this by gathering data that you accumulate over time, which is based on the types of questions for which the customers contact the call center. By studying the call data, you can learn what areas of your program require more detailed descriptions and information. As a response to the data gathered, call center employees can reach out and educate members or customers in a more personalized and proactive way telephonically about the services or programs offered.
When you anticipate in this way, you reduce the odds that you will get the same calls or those types of calls in the future. If you educate your customers on the front end, you are improving customer satisfaction and warding off issues before they develop.
Does high-touch service make sense in this high-tech era?
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. You must understand that in this era you have to be able to service your customer in multiple ways. Needless to say, you need to provide the kind of online or automated 24-7 service that customers demand, so they can perform tasks when and where they want to, and which do not require interaction with a customer service representative.
However, no matter how advanced and user-friendly the technology is that you offer, you will still have a vast majority of people who want to call in and talk to a human about an issue. This requires an investment in terms of human capital on the part of a company to maintain the people needed to provide that service. But in customer service, we understand that member retention is costly and keeping members happy has a direct correlation to retention.
What are examples of high-touch service?
One good example is to monitor ‘first-call resolution.’ To achieve this goal, you need to empower your call center employees. That is, give them direct access to supervisors and direct access to other departments. This enables them to get the help they need to solve the caller’s problem without having to pass the caller on to someone else. It is also important to streamline the number of customer ‘touch points.’ The whole key is to minimize hand-offs. If you need to, you can promise to give the customer a call back after the issue is resolved.
We have formalized this process and refer to it as the ‘close the loop’ program. This ensures that we do not overpromise and underdeliver.
Having first-call resolution means spending more time on each call and handling fewer calls per hour, but it is also part of a more important value: service excellence.
Is high-touch service worth the investment from a business standpoint?
When you look at things like first-call resolution, you see that by solving a member’s problem on the first call you will prevent future calls from the member on that issue. That’s a cost benefit right there. If you spend more time on a call and you get it right, you avoid added calls down the line. That’s not only the right thing to do; it is also the cost-efficient thing to do.
High-touch service means exactly that. It’s the right thing for your customer and for your business.
MARY BETH JENKINS is the chief operating officer for UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at email@example.com or (412) 454-7764.