Support Teams: Stop Being Distracted by Faster Response Times

"Get em' in and get em' out" is likely the unspoken motto of many customer support departments, but should we as consumers really complain? After all, we do want to minimize our time in the service queue, right?

On the surface this may seem to be the case, but when we look at the reactions of consumers in relation to support, we see a very different story unfold—while speed is certainly important, it is generally not a customer’s biggest concern when communicating with the service team.

In fact, consumer research makes a strong argument that spending a little more time with customers is the way to go.

Many notable entrepreneurs have already stated their case for slowing down service through how they run their companies. Zappos is the obvious example here, as CEO Tony Hsieh's philosophy is always focused on the happiness of the customer and the community built both in and around the Zappos brand.

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby (which he later sold for $22 million), holds similar opinions on service. His stance is that the kind of service that keeps people coming back simply cannot be rushed. He was so concerned about this aspect of the customer experience for his company that he coached employees on taking their time with customers, as he explains in this interview:

"I used to request all my employees to intentionally take a little longer on customers calls.

I would ask them to pull up customers’ albums and catalogs; have a look at their pictures and gears--to learn a bit about them.

Imagine how powerful it is for a customer to know that he is listening to somebody who is a musician that gets him, rather than something like, Thank you customer 4325. How may I quickly handle your problem?"

It's a great sentiment, but as any entrepreneur knows, long-term strategy also needs to be dictated by results. Is there any data to show that slowing things down with customer service is the right move to make?

There are certainly a few noteworthy pieces of consumer research that entrepreneurs should know about. Consider, for instance, this Gallup analysis on a study that examined customer engagement with a bank. The Gallup researchers wanted to find out which elements of the service experience affected engagement ratings, and their results will likely surprise those obsessed with service efficiency:

Gallup consultants found that the level of engagement felt by the bank's customers was affected by the speed with which these customers were served--a finding the company expected.

However, customer perceptions of the tellers' courtesy and their apparent willingness to help were far more important than speed of service in generating customer engagement. Customers who gave the bank high ratings on those "people" attributes were nine times more likely to be fully engaged--Gallup's definition of an emotionally engaged customer.

Author William J. McEwen, Ph.D., notes in this analysis that despite this evidence, many companies tend to solely focus on the speed of their service because, "Speed is easy to measure, and it seems easy to manage."

Companies often equate the fastest service with the best service, but ticket times do not show how well customers are being treated or if the interactions are creating any sort of goodwill and loyalty.

Similar findings are apparent when we examine why a customer might leave a business for a competitor. According to RightNow's Customer Experience Impact study, consumers cited "rude, incompetent staff" as the No. 1 reason why they would abandon a business, 18% more often than "issues weren't resolved in a timely manner."

Rushed service translates to rude behavior, so what’s the real cost for aggressively cutting down time-per-ticket?

With support, 15 minutes in Heaven is always better than 5 minutes in Hell

As these studies shows, there is definitely a connection between quality and speed, in that quality service cannot be slow or inefficient. However, correlation does not equal causation—just because service is fast doesn't mean it is good, as it overlooks customers’ feelings on how well they were cared for.

In addition, the Jim Moran Institute published data from Lee Resources in 2010 that stated the following:

Seventy percent of complaining customers will continue to do business with you if you resolve their complaint. Ninety-five percent will continue to do business with you if you resolve the problem immediately.

The marriage between speed and service quality is apparent here as well. Customers are forgiving, but they care deeply about your ability to get issues resolved the first time around. When speed is placed as a priority, can you really be sure that your support team cares about competent service and first contact resolution over ticket times?

While company efficacy measurements may label a ticket time that's less than a minute as "excellent" service, customers don't always agree. Although they certainly care about an efficient process, the research shows that customers care far more about feeling welcomed and being treated well by competent, friendly employees.

Tunnel vision around reducing the ‘time per ticket’ metric leads to poor decisions. If you pressure your employees to get customers out the door as fast as possible, you lose assurance that accuracy and quality aren’t being sacrificed in the name of an impending time limit.

As McEwen would so elegantly put it:

"What builds a stronger tie to Arby's may not be whether a customer receives a sandwich in less than three minutes. Speed won't compensate for a cold, tasteless sandwich or for rude and incompetent service."

Make sure your service isn't leaving a bad taste in customers' mouths, either.

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