I have been involved in many discussions surrounding the “best KPI” metric for Customer Experience. In my first Tuesday Morning CX Thoughts for 2021, I decided to make a declaration on the worst KPI for CX. Interestingly, this metric also applies to Employee Experience. However, let me start with a short story from last week.
Earlier this week, I had to call an airline to get support on an issue that I’d normally take care of by myself online. However, the website would not let me complete the transaction, referring me to the customer service line. Kick in my fear of maneuvering through an automated voice-response system, sitting on hold for an extended period and the concern of having to repeat the story multiple times as I get transferred around.
Due to weather cancellations, I had been through a few of these transactions over the week. Hotels, airlines, rental car agencies…some I was able to accomplish online, others I had to jump through hoops.
With the airline, there was a reason I did that one last. After being connected, the first comment from the airline representative was an apology that I was not able to complete the task that I’d normally accomplish online. That acknowledgement showed empathy and understanding of my experience as a frequent flier. The next comment was casual, but it built rapport. The representative made it personal, that he’d be arriving in Denver the day after I was leaving.
This led to a longer conversation about the best ski areas, restaurants and places to visit. Since I had been a former resident, the representative was thrilled to learn some insider information about the area to make his family vacation even more enjoyable. I also enjoyed talking about my old stomping grounds, bringing back some memories and feeling like I made someone else’s day just a little bit better or enjoyable. Even customers like to make those that help them more comfortable. By the time the call ended, my phone timer read 29 minutes, 59 seconds.
The Cost Of Service
As you read my opening lines, you probably had thoughts of NPS, CSAT or even CES as the possible “worst KPI”. While each of those have their own value in each situation, the metric I am thinking of is specific to support centers: Average Handle Time.
Do not misunderstand my assertion, it is a great operational metric for support centers, but it does little to support the customer experience or the employee experience and – I would contend – actually harms both experiences. Having grown up in operations, I probably had even used the argument that it minimizes Average Handle Time will reduce wait times for other customers. It is a fair enough comment, but I’d also contend that you have other dials that can adjust average handling times – such as improved self-service options and increased staffing. Average Handle Time is really about cost – not experience.
During a recent CX Forums Connext Live! networking discussion, I had the opportunity to be discussing this very topic. In the virtual room was a CX practitioner (from a competing firm) and someone interested in support center experience metrics. As I mentioned my thoughts on Average Handle Time the practitioner (and competitor) applauded my stance. Probably the first time I had a standing ovation in a virtual networking room during an online forum. However, most support center leads would probably disagree.
Experience is About Emotion
If you have any doubt that measuring Customer Experience is mostly about customer emotion, then ask yourself why we seek to examine sentiment analysis and do not ask customers to just simply respond to audit-type questions. Customer Experience and the Employee Experience are identified as key focus areas by many companies, however the introduction of other metrics and KPI tools often contradict that. None more so – in my opinion – than Average Handle Time.
Certainly, customers want a quick resolution to their problem, but they don’t want a robot. If they did, you could accomplish it with a web process. Customers want a human interaction, now more than ever, and expect to hear empathy, understanding and interest. The employees will thrive in an environment where they are allowed to be human, allowed to take interest in their customers’ lives and don’t have a clock running in their head with every customer interaction. As many more processes and services move online with less interaction, it is important to recognize that those transactions that require a human interface should be more….human.
As for the representative from United Airlines that engaged me in an interesting conversation, quickly solved my problem (even if we stayed on the phone for much longer) and reminded me that we are both humans, I hope you don’t get into too much trouble with your Average Handle Time and I hope you enjoy your vacation in my former home state.
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