Answering the Call: The Subtle Art of Reducing Customer Call Volume

Reducing customer service call volume is a frequently cited objective for many businesses. When your customer base is in the neighborhood of 100 million subscribers, like that of a major US wireless carrier, those challenges are amplified dramatically. Contact with live agents is expensive, particularly when compared with self service options such as an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system or digital service platforms. ClickFox worked with the customer to discover which customer journeys drive high call volumes.

The chasm between perception and reality

Intuition might suggest that the more times a customer is transferred between agents, the more likely that their issue would be solved, thus reducing the need for that customer to call again. The implication is that the customer is being handed to progressively more skilled or empowered (not to mention more costly) resources.

But when the company used ClickFox to look deeper into the customer journey, they found that customers with calls that transferred to more than one agent were more likely to call again within three days: a completely counter-intuitive result.

This finding prompted a follow-up question: what were these multi-agent calls about? Digging deeper led to the discovery that the more representatives a customer spoke with, the higher the likelihood that the customer was calling to inquire about some type of non-recurring charge.

Make it Rain: Save money by giving it away?

Were these big charges? On the contrary, when the company used ClickFox to look into the charges, they learned that many were for $10 or less. Digging in deeper on the discovery about repeat calls, the company used ClickFox to also discover that a customer who called in for a charge of $5 or less, but spoke with five or more agents on the first call, was likely to call back 44.3% of the time - significantly more likely than if they had only spoken to one or two agents. This represented a staggering source of call volume and, prior to journey analytics, one that was all but invisible while costing the company millions of dollars.

This is when things got interesting. As it happened, this company itemized the cost of a call with one of its agents as…$10. In effect, if a customer called to get $10 back for a charge, it would cost the company at least $10 to handle the call, for a total of at least $20.

ClickFox made it possible to explore this situation in detail and find the break even point between saving and losing money. It turned out that by giving money away early in the customer’s journey, the company could deflect additional transfers, reduce repeat calls, and thus save money. One proposal was to find a solution that would enable fees up to $10 to be refunded via the IVR, stopping the service interaction before ever reaching an agent.

The Journey Starts with the Right Questions

For decades, key metrics in call centers have been things like average call time and call back rate. Savings have been measured in fractional changes to those measures. Journey analytics changes the scale and scope of these efforts and forces different questions to be asked due to looking at the entire customer journey.

This story started with the premise that reducing calls was the primary goal. Some conclusions seemed to require no analytics. A company could save money by preventing calls to agents. It is possible to make customers happier by shortening the steps to get to a satisfactory outcome, such as a minor refund.

The reality about calls, however, is more subtle. Journey analytics enables a company to differentiate, for example, between “bad” calls—ones with high cost and little return—and “good” calls, where agents are able to add value.

Eliminating All Calls Is the Wrong Call

Reducing costly low-value calls is a worthy goal, but not every call has the same cost. Companies tend to look at service channels—digital, retail, IVR, and contact center to name a few—in isolation from each other. This is not surprising as those customer service functions are often separate organizational structures.

To explore this particular set of customer journeys, ClickFox was unleashed on data from across both the IVR and live agent channels. This was an important first step. A millennial may resent having to pass through an IVR and on to three different agents to resolve their issue. They may welcome any opportunity to avoid agent contact and be glad to accept a $10 refund generated through a mobile app, or the IVR. However, driving baby boomers to utilize the latest mobile app for customer service may not yield the best customer experience. They may need to speak to someone. Getting rid of all calls is not always the answer.

A customer’s journey in seeking resolution very often ranges across multiple channels. Per McKinsey, 50% of customer interactions happen during a multi-event, multi-channel journey. By expanding analytics to look across silos at the holistic customer journey, ClickFox helps companies change their mindset and thus broaden their understanding of customers. Expanding beyond IVR and the contact center to add in mobile, for example, has the potential to reveal divergent customer journeys that can then be better managed. For this wireless carrier, instead of trying to reduce call volume by managing 100 small projects that might each reduce 300,000 calls, journey analytics can help identify major projects that could each eliminate several million calls, while at the same time highlighting the calls that are worth having.

Journey analytics helped this wireless provider identify which phone calls were both costly and negative customer experiences, while also identifying areas where calls were needed for the best experience based on individual customer need.  Personalizing the experience and meeting customers where they want to be met is certainly an art, but it can be effective in improving both the bottom line, lifetime loyalty, and the overall customer experience.

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Case Study - Understanding Digital Effectiveness 

Written by Addison Howard

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