You can learn a lot from customer service benchmarks. You just have to be willing to conduct a little analysis.
Two retail sector customer service benchmarks were published earlier this month. The results are a mixed bag. One thing is for certain - smart retailers will take note of a potential problem.
First, the good news. Retail customer satisfaction is up overall.
The 2013 American Customer Satisfaction Index for the retail sector was 77.9 percent, up 1.7 percent from 2012. This score was bolstered by supermarkets, drug stores, and specialty retailers all posting gains in satisfaction. Amazon boasted a 4 percentage point gain in satisfaction while Netflix continues making a comeback with a 5 percentage point gain. Then there’s Charles Schwab, whose satisfaction rating grew a whopping 9 percentage points.
There were also some ominous signs.
The 2013 Q4 Zendesk Customer Service Benchmark for retail customer satisfaction declined 6 percentage points from Q3. A slight decline in the fourth quarter is normal in retail when sales volumes and crowds increase with holiday shopping. However, the Q3 to Q4 decline was three times larger in 2013 than it was in 2012.
Zendesk’s analysis pointed to growing agent workload as one potential culprit.
They are a customer service software company, so they were able to analyze their clients’ aggregate ticket volume. (These interactions are typically contact-center based, rather than face-to-face in a retail store.)
Customer service departments typically get busier in Q4 due to holiday shopping. In 2012, the average number of tickets handled per active customer service agent increased 13 percent in Q4 from Q3. This spike grew larger in 2013 when the increase was 17 percent.
This bears repeating. In 2013, customer service employees had 17 percent more work to do in Q4 than they did in Q3. That's nearly a full day of extra work, based on a typical five day workweek.
Mo' work equals mo' problems.
Problems take longer to solve when workloads increase. Longer wait times lead to increased customer aggravation. Too many aggravated customers can cause customer service employees to feel burnt out.
Higher workloads for customer service employees can also lead to inconsistent service for individual customers.
Employees look to cut corners when they feel pressured to get more work done. Rapport-building diminishes. An emphasis on speed can actually hurt first contact resolution.
It can become a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle that leads to even higher volumes.
Customer service employees often modulate their effort level during busy periods. They work faster when volumes are high, but they also work slower when volumes are low. Temporarily low volumes are seen as an opportunity to rest and recover before the next onslaught begins.
Managers have a hard time keeping up too. The extra volume means more issues demand their immediate attention, leaving less time for coaching employees and solving problems.
Will 2014 Be the Same?
It’s admirable to try to avoid the Q4 madness from 2013. So, what will you do?
I’d focus on three things if I were in your shoes: