An open letter to all CMOs on customer service

Subject: An open letter to all CMOs on customer service
From: Kelly Atkinson
Date: 4 Mar 2015

Dear CMO,

As a measure of customer satisfaction, most KPIs are useless. I especially dislike the key performance indicator emails answered per hour, which is particularly dangerous for your customers. It’s KPIs like this one that lead to low customer satisfaction, resulting in angry posts on social media and blogs.

On the face of it, it seems like a great idea. What’s wrong with encouraging your staff to respond to customers as quickly and succinctly as possible? Customers get quick replies, your staff are fast and efficient, and you keep your staffing costs down (because you need fewer staff).

The problem lies in the fact that a fast answer is not necessarily a good one. Yes, speed is important. Customers who write to you with simple questions don’t want to wait forever for an answer. However, not all questions are created equal. Some of them require careful reading, not just a quick glance and then a macroed response to what you thought they were going to say.

So if you are using an answers-per-hour KPI, you’re penalising your staff members who are ‘unlucky’ enough to be allocated the more complex questions. If they read and answer those questions thoroughly, they’ll get through fewer emails per hour in comparison to their colleagues.

Stats versus true service

I know how customer service works. And I know just as well as you do that it’s not uncommon to get customers emailing for the nth time on the same issue. When you get such an email, you can sometimes see the string of quick and dirty answers from colleagues. Cursory, incorrect replies, forcing the customer to either give up or write back yet again.

In other words, you are setting your employees up to fail. If they actually take the time to help your customers, you will haul them into a meeting and tell them that they need to get their stats sorted or else risk losing their jobs. If they give fast and unhelpful or irrelevant replies, you praise them. And that’s what you call customer service?

Dear CMO, do us all a favour. Ditch your other KPIs in favour of FCR.

First contact resolution

Whatever you call it – First Time Fix, First Time Right, First Contact Fix – we strongly urge you to start measuring how many of your company’s customer interactions are resolved on the first contact. Give your employees some breathing space; allow them to read a customer email carefully, including any attachments or forwarded emails that may be part of the query. Then give them enough time to formulate a thorough reply that will give a decent answer to the question.

Most questions won’t require that much time. But the more complex ones – which are more likely to come from customers who have put a bit of time and effort into formulating their queries, and who are also more likely to put energy into taking things further if they don’t get a satisfactory reply – will get the attention they deserve.

Your job, dear CMO, will become that little bit harder, of course. ‘Emails per hour’ is such a nice, snappy, easily measurable metric. It sounds so good on paper. But it’s completely useless, and that’s a shame. It’s time to start rewarding answers that are useful, not just fast. Please? Do it for the customers!

Yours sincerely,

Kelly Atkinson