Optimizing the Exceptions
Illustration By Alejandro Capellan

Contact centers deal in volume. That’s obvious in the 20,000-seat center, and on a relative scale, it is just as true in a 20-seat operation. In both cases, the contact center is gobbling up a large percentage of the customer contact workload, and the number of service transactions per employee is higher than anywhere else in the organization.

The ability to profit from economies of scale is a key part of the value proposition contact centers offer the enterprise. The downside, though, is that “economies of scale” and “customized, personal attention” do not naturally go hand in hand. In our drive to maximize efficiency, we risk becoming blind to the 10% of contacts that don’t fit in those nice neat boxes we have built.

So in this third installment of our differentiator series, we are going to honestly evaluate our service design to see how effective we are at meeting the needs of our “non-standard” callers—those with a different profile, or a unique need or an undefined expectation. What does it take to impress these callers, while simultaneously delivering low-cost service to the masses? (Be sure to read the previous posts in this series: Part 1, Balancing the Contact Center Brain, and Part 2, Valuing the Agent.)

Generating Buy-In Through Loyalty

Suppose we build a contact center that does an excellent job at handling the 90% of contacts that are routine. That’s no small feat, and there are plenty of operations that would be happy to just get to that point. Knowing that the final 10% is going to be the hardest to satisfy, it is understandable to question the wisdom of making this final push.

And here’s why we have to take on this challenge. Let’s ignore for a minute the cultural and leadership drivers that should encourage continual improvement. Even with those good points aside, the critical factor here is that volume is normally inversely related to importance from a caller’s perspective. The moment of truth interactions are not the “What’s my balance,” “I want to make a payment,” “Can you send me an ID card” kind of calls. They are the “I just lost my mobile phone with all those pictures I now wish I hadn’t taken,” “A moose ran through my front window, am I covered,” “I just completed the great American novel and my computer flashed the blue screen of death before I could save anything” kind of calls. Yes, they are 10% or less of call volume, but they could well be driving 50% or more of customer loyalty. And for that reason, you can’t get to the top tier with just a 90% focus.

Accepting the Shortfall

OK, so the final 10% is important. But if we have built an organization that handles the 90% effectively, isn’t it possible that it also delivers great service to the outliers?

Possible, but not likely. Intentions don’t guarantee results. Results are a complex blend of people, processes and technology. In most cases, the blend that works for common, ordinary requests misses the mark for unique, customized service. And a customer does not need to get far into a call to experience the difference. We welcome our customers through an IVR that is designed based on volume. The most common transactions get the best self-service applications and occupy the top of the menus. Atypical requests are relegated to the back and to obscure sub-menus. These callers have to endure longer waits and often must repeat themselves to natural language systems that simply weren’t programmed to handle the “a moose broke through my picture window” command.

The frustration for these customers often does not end when exiting the IVR. A non-standard caller is less likely to get through rigid authentication protocols (consider the plight of an executor of an estate), less likely to get someone uniquely skilled to handle their need (since the need isn’t common enough to be a skill), and far more likely to end the call with the issue unresolved (we drive up FCR by addressing the common call types, not unusual ones).

Designing for 100%

Meeting the needs of all callers means rethinking many of the decisions made in the past. It’s as simple as identifying some of the least common calls and asking if what you are doing works for these contacts. Some examples of how to get from design-focused on the 90% to the 100% approach are in the table below.
Service design for nonstandard callers


The last 10% is the hardest. There is nothing wrong with focusing first on the common cases. But if you want to differentiate based on service, you have to adopt the approach that everyone counts, and your people, processes and technology have to be built to support that approach.

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