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Image by wwarby via Flickr

Here’s an interesting one. Go into a contact centre and ask the manager if there’s a target for how long advisors should spend on an inbound customer service call (I don’t know….180 seconds in banks might be about right).  

The manager will probably wince, tell you that no such target exists and that advisors have as long as it takes to deal with customer issues.  

I’m not always sure that this measure should be so readily written off. Take the emergency services.  

Someone ringing for an ambulance needs to know that their request is being dealt with quickly. Governments agree and set targets for advisors – get the location and the problem and do it in so many seconds.  

If the call isn’t dealt with speedily and accurately people die; a few seconds is the difference. Advisors need to get the details and be sure that the processes and technology are there to get the right kind of help to the correct location. They are polite, re-assuring and calming….but there’s no room for a repeat call.  

I suppose the lesson is that if your processes and technology are geared up to deal with customer requests, you’ll probably know how long calls will take. (OK, agree –  in emergency services calls may vary because advisors, once they have the information, sometimes stay on the line to comfort the caller – but that doesn’t often happen in financial services).  

I went to a contact centre at a large retailer. Processes weren’t very well-defined or understood by advisors. There was a custom that advisors dealt with customer requests when they were on the line, to make sure they didn’t have to ring back. Advisors put customers on hold while they consulted with other departments, walked across the room to speak to colleagues and wandered off to see their team leader or product specialist. If the customer was put on hold listening to music for more than two-minutes, the advisor would have to apologise.  

I sometimes think contact centres that don’t have a target for call length often fall into the same group as my retailer. Best have an efficient operation with good processes and technology aligned – (and a 180 second call target) – than one where we’re all ‘mucking in’ to give a high level of customer service. Indeed, advisors themselves probably prefer being in places where things work rather than where they know they are failing the customer.