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Call Centers: When to Choose Speed, and When to Choose Service?

Gaby call center long

In call centers, there are two schools of thought about the importance of speed. Each has its merits — and at first glance, they can seem impossible to reconcile.
One mindset says it’s best to prioritize speed and efficiency — policing call lengths and adherence to routine in order to reduce average handle times. It might be tougher for agents to resolve customer issues, but any consequences are balanced by reduced spending on staffing.
The other mindset, meanwhile, takes the opposite approach. Here, speed is de-emphasized in order to give employees more freedom to take their time and resolve issues — ultimately aiming for greater customer retention.
So which strategy is the strongest?
According to our research, the answer is both — and neither.
Unsurprisingly, we have found that an all-out pursuit of speed can detract from a good call center experience. When the Medallia Institute analyzed call center data from a North American financial services company, we found that the biggest driver of customer satisfaction — “providing a thorough answer” — required time and patience from agents:
REAL gaby call center blog graph
But there’s a more nuanced story underneath. After all, this driver doesn’t indicate that call center agents should be patient and methodical at all times. Rather, it refers to a specific step in a call center experience: explaining the resolution of a problem after the fact. In fact, the above data shows that customers respond well to speed during steps like problem resolution — a finding confirmed by verbatim customer comments. We even found that 30 percent of written comments indicated that additional speed would have made the customer’s experience better.
As a whole, these findings show that the best call center experiences happen when agents have time to understand problems and to explain resolutions, but complete the actual resolution very quickly. Put another way: call centers shouldn’t simply choose between speed and patience, but rather ask customers where both qualities are helpful and structure operations around those preferences.
It sounds obvious – but get it right, and the impact is significant. As the above data shows, improving your performance in each of these time-related drivers has a sizeable impact on overall customer satisfaction.
So how do you go about gaining these benefits?
To start, it’s important to dig into your own data to confirm which steps in your call center experience agents ought to handle quickly or methodically. Combining operational data — e.g. average handle times and contact quality — with customer feedback is a particularly helpful approach. It allows you to determine exactly how various agent behaviors impact customer satisfaction.
From here, you’ll be able to brainstorm improvements — training agents differently or changing restrictive policies — to enable the right balance of patience and speed. The latter is tactic is particularly important, as our research has found that 40 percent of customer satisfaction with a call center is unrelated to the agent’s performance. It’s even helpful to ask high-performing agents which policies are hindering helpful behaviors, and, if possible, get rid of them.
These are the best kinds of customer experience improvements – when the customer and the company both benefit.

Photo Credit: Artiom Gorgan