Customer Service Trends 2018: 10 things we learned at the Forum's National Conference for Quality & Customer Experience

The robots are already here. Photo by  Alex Knight  on  Unsplash

The robots are already here. Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Each year, The Forum brings together a community of customer service champions at their national conferences. The Conference for Quality & Customer Experience took place on 29 November, and as you'd expect, conversations revolved around what happened in the last 11 months — and what's going to happen in 2018. We listened carefully and took plenty of notes, so you can learn from others even if you couldn't make it.

1. Complaints are still a big issue.

Although customer satisfaction is higher than ever before, more customers now experience problems after buying a product or service, and customer effort is rising. On average, each complaint takes 2.8 interactions to resolve, and 70% of those interactions take place on the phone. With 9.9 million complaint calls every year, UK businesses lose £28 billion in productivity. Even just shifting a proportion of those calls to email, or training advisors to better handle those calls, could make a significant difference to your bottom line.

2. Quality Assurance teams are moving away from the tick box approach.

The entire conference was very "quality heavy", as teams were excited to share new ideas about monitoring the quality of advisors' communications. It was inspirational to hear teams at Student Loans, AXA Direct & Partnerships and RS Components tell stories of how they "chucked their old tick sheets in the bin" to start from scratch and build frameworks that really work.

Bye bye long Excel sheets with 280 criteria — hello simple guidelines, advisor toolboxes and showcasing excellence.

3. Companies are reaping rewards for employee happiness.

In his keynote, The Forum founder Paul Smedley told us that each point in employee engagement equals 0.4% higher Customer Satisfaction. Or if you measure Net Promoter Score instead, each point increase in employee NPS equals 1 point in customer NPS. These are good reasons to make sure teams are happy, feel involved and love coming to work. No wonder then that massages in the workplace are becoming more popular, as Donna from Therapy Solutions told us. With employees' general satisfaction ranging around 60%, there's still lots of room for improvement!

4. Email contact channels need some TLC.

As companies shifted their focus to newer service channels such as social media and messenger apps, email has become slower and less available. It's still popular with customers though, and many attendees said they were going to work on the quality of their email service next — after they'd worked mainly on phone calls this year.

5. 'Surveyitis'

Customers are tiring of being surveyed. This is becoming a real issue for businesses, and not just in customer service. (Those of our readers who've subscribed to our newsletter may recognise a theme...)

Part of the problem is that companies have 'done surveys wrong' for too long, which has turned people off. They sent looooong surveys with gazillions of questions that weren't relevant, and they kept sending snotty-sounding reminders every other day. The feedback then disappeared into a black hole, and nothing ever changed based on the comments left in those surveys.

Fortunately, we can still turn things around by getting feedback loops right. Mats Rennstam from Bright UK had the following advice:

  1. Survey instantly, so it's not intrusive.

  2. Tell customers that you're listening and what you're doing based on their feedback.

  3. Don't overdo it — customers should only be asked for feedback every 6 months or so.

Results of group exercise: What opportunities might present themselves for your quality framework to be developed?

Results of group exercise: What opportunities might present themselves for your quality framework to be developed?

6. Advisors increasingly shape customer experience and quality strategy. (Yay!)

As part of the conference, award-winning teams get to tell their story so we can all learn from their experiences. This year's winners, Student Loans, AXA Direct & Partnerships and RS Components, had all involved their advisors in their quality projects right from the start. And every single company we spoke to was at least planning to take that approach, too. Which makes a lot of sense — after all, "The only person who listens to every single call is the advisor", to quote the Forum's Quality & Customer Experience specialist, Pete Dunn.

We spent the afternoon in a workshop, reflecting on what makes a good quality framework. Collaboration, team involvement and breaking down silos kept coming up as opportunities and strengths of developing a shared vision of customer experience — as in the flip chart notes on the right, for example.

In our experience, advisors are hungry to share their front-line experience and have fantastic insights into what makes customers happy. Involving them can raise employee NPS, which in turn increases customers' likelihood to recommend your company. So this is definitely a development we're enthusiastic about.

7. The age of transparency

To continue the themes of feedback and involvement, Quality teams are shedding their bad rap as "traffic wardens of the contact centre" by putting transparency first.

  • They recruit Quality Champions in every advisor team, score calls and emails with the advisor in the room and use technology to annotate call recordings with details of what the advisor can improve.

  • They sit in the chair themselves, answering customer queries to show they can actually do the job they're assessing.

  • They encourage advisors to "bring out their dead" and ask openly for help with difficult cases — with no fear of being assessed for a scenario they're struggling with.

As more teams are creating learning opportunities by taking a transparent approach to managing performance, we'll probably see the atmosphere and culture of contact centres improve over time.

8. Thanks to robots, we'll finally find some time to think.

A robot is a piece of software that repeats tasks that a human has taught it to do — for example, copying data from one app to another or identifying high-value customers for special engagement. In contrast to AI, robots can't teach themselves anything or make decisions themselves; they're much less intelligent. But they're powerful: they run 24/7 and do the work of 3–4 humans, while costing just ⅓ of a human's salary. Their output is consistent, and they never get bored.

There's a lot of dull, repetitive admin work in any business, and many processes don't require a human brain. To quote Bob Stella, Head of Best Practice at The Forum:

"We're ALL paid to think. Sometimes we don't."

— With robots, that'll change: "We're ALL paid to think. That's what we do."

Like any transition, driving robot adoption will at times be painful. But a contact centre in which nobody's fingers hurt from too much CTRL+C, CTRL+V is also an exciting prospect!

9. Coaching will play an ever stronger role in QA.

Quality Monitoring and Quality Assurance no longer just feed into performance management (aka 'if you fail too many calls, you're fired'). Teams are planning their frameworks with coaching in mind. Coaching sessions take place more often and more regularly than in the past, with more and more companies making them 'non-negotiable'. And they try different coaching techniques, too.

10. Mindfulness is making its way into the contact centre.

One of the best moments of the day was Richard Abdy barefoot on stage. He spoke about anxiety, stress and tension in the workplace, and how he's used mindfulness techniques to work better, not harder. He told us that mindfulness had made him a better listener and more open to change. He'd seen teams open up to each other when they were asked to take their shoes off at the start of a meeting. And he reminded us that "being fully present is the best guarantee for a bright future."

That's the kind of future we're looking forward to.