If consumers knew how much effort and resource organisations spend on deciphering what customers actually think of them, they would be confused as to why their encounters don’t always go smoothly.  

When phone numbers are buried ten clicks deep, requests for 16 digit credit card numbers are repeated, and you need to resort to contacting the CEO for a response, it feels like all the effort sits squarely with the customer.   

Some organisations are built around a proposition of low effort, and for them it has become a hygiene factor rather than a measure of enhanced satisfaction. For the vast majority of companies however, knowing how customers interact with their brands and the effort they expend in doing so is an essential challenge; consumers now demand the same swift service across all sectors, comparing traditional brands to the prowess of the Amazons of the world.  

Everyone has a tale to tell everyone else about a bad experience, and the frustration is increasingly about the time taken to get something done. CCA consumer research last year highlighted our desire for speed, knowledge and resolution above all other factors on offer.  Responding to these demands, organisations are adapting their processes and operations, to spread the load. But what about our front-line agent colleagues? Does the Board understand the effort required for them to serve customers well?  

The benefit of making it easier for your agent colleagues to do business with your customers is common sense, however findings from our recent project in association with Plantronics highlight some opportunities for improvements. (Click here to download the report.)  

We all know how difficult it is to hold a meaningful conversation, whilst texting or searching the internet, and yet we expect our colleagues to do just this as a matter of course.  7% of respondents juggle between a staggering fifteen plus screens to adequately answer enquiries, and 78% of respondents believed that the number of applications used hinders performance at the customer interface. 

Respondents from 75 organisations were very clear about the skill sets required for the new mobile, social, virtual world, where technology will play an increasingly dominant role. The resultant needs will be complex, technologically challenging, emotional and increasingly from an older demographic, who may demand more time. 85% contended that emotional intelligence was a crucial skill for a new age, confirming that 'being good on the phone' is simply a prerequisite to greater skills, rather than an end in itself. 

Encouragingly respondents report a shift in measurement metrics from the supposedly dead, but still kicking average handling time (AHT), to more enlightened measures of resolution as experienced by the consumer. However when the chips are down, many organisations will revert to an AHT default position, a comforting simple number which is essential for finance to know, but in isolation tells us very little about satisfaction. 

The report has some interesting findings and recommendations; informing customers about how to navigate services and what to expect, in order that there is real choice rather than 'last resort'.  

Few people set out to disappoint customers, however organisations can unwittingly set them up to fail by underestimating the complexities involved. Today's conversations are unlikely to be the first contact with a brand, but rather as a result of failure or a need for support. Equipping colleagues with the systems and skills to match these needs is a priority. 

At the end of the day technology rarely compensates for poorly equipped personnel, but great people can often rescue technology issues.