Contact Center Satisfaction Reaches Lowest Point in 9 Years

CFI Group has just released its 2016 Contact Center Satisfaction Index, and the results aren't pretty.

The report reveals that consumer satisfaction with contact centers has reached its lowest point since the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI) was created in 2007. 

The latest report covers the 2015 year and shows an overall score of 68 on a 100 point scale. That's down from 72 in 2014.

The main culprit?

Contact centers are making it hard for their agents to deliver outstanding customer service. This post dives into some of the specific reasons why and suggests some solutions.

CCSI Report Overview

Let's first take a look at the CCSI and how its compiled.

CFI Group surveyed more than 3,000 consumers who had interacted with a contact center in the past 30 days. The survey asked people to rate their overall satisfaction and also a series of follow-up questions designed to help identify the key drivers of those satisfaction ratings.

The process is modeled after the American Customer Satisfaction Index. You can download the entire report or keep reading this post for some highlights.


Top Dissatisfaction Drivers

Three dissatisfaction drivers jumped out immediately:

  • Contact Process
  • Policies & Procedures
  • IVR

Here's a little more detail on each one.


Contact Process

This was the biggest driver of customers' dissatisfaction with contact centers. One major issue was the time customers felt it took to resolve an issue.

Self-service plays a big role in the perception of time spent on an issue.

In theory, self-service is great because customers can help themselves faster than by contacting a live agent and companies can spend far less money per contact.

Unfortunately, self-service doesn't always work well. When it fails, customers now have to spend extra time moving to a second channel such as phone, email, or chat. Now, it feels like the issue is taking too long to resolve.

There's a stark difference in overall satisfaction between customers who are successful and unsuccessful when first attempting to use self-service.

Poor self-service and an annoying IVR (more on that later) can put customers in a sour mood when they reach a live a gent. A 2015 study by Mattersight concluded that 66 percent of customers who call a contact center are frustrated before then even speak to a customer service representative.

This means customer service agents often serve customers who are upset about two things - their original problem and the process required to solve it.

Action item: Test your self-service channels

  • Employ user testing to check for self-serve problems
  • Review the topics customers search for on your website (and the results they get)
  • Make self-serve options as convenient as possible


Policies & Procedures

Many customer service agents are hamstrung by ineffective policies. There was a large dip in consumer satisfaction in this category:

A 2015 research report from ICMI found that 74 percent of contact centers admit to hindering their agents from providing the best service possible.

Part of the challenge is contact center leaders don't know how to empower their agents. Many contact centers have tightly controlled systems that work for normal situations, but quickly unravel when there's an unusual situation.

Action Item: Expand Empowerment

Make a list of the top 10 issues that require an escalation. Identify the processes, procedures, and authority that agents need to resolve these without escalating the contact. You can use this empowerment guide to help you.



Consumers were least satisfied with IVR or Interactive Voice Response. IVR refers to those annoying phone menus that make it hard for a customer to reach a live person.

There are a few reasons for this.

One stems from a primary reason contact centers use IVR in the first place. The aim is often to encourage a customer who calls to solve their problem via self-service without routing the call to a more expensive live agent.

The problem here is customers are often calling because they've already tried self-service and failed. 

That 2015 Mattersight study I referenced earlier found that only 28 percent of customers use the phone as their primary channel. That means most people would rather solve their issue another way. They don't want to call.

The 2014 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer took a deeper look and discovered that the complexity of the issue influences a customer's decision to call. Not surprisingly, customers are more likely to call when an issue is more complex.

IVR is best suited for handling simple issues, the very type of issue customers least want to call to resolve.

So, the typical customer calls because he or she has a complex issue or has already tried and failed to use another channel. Then, they encounter IVR, which feels like a giant roadblock standing in the way of a successful resolution.

From the CCSI study:

  • 64 percent of callers encountered an IVR system
  • 1 in 5 tried to use the IVR, but it failed to solve their issue
  • The overall failure rate for IVR was 32 percent

That last figure should be eye opening: IVR fails 32 percent of the time. Can you imagine subjecting your customers to any other product that failed that frequently?!

Action item: Get rid of your IVR system.

Customers are calling because they want to talk to a human. Don't make that difficult. Invest your resources in building better self-service systems that will prevent more calls to begin with.



Customer-focused organizations make it easy for their agents to deliver exceptional customer service. Here are a few examples from this post highlighting the next wave of customer service stars.

  • REI's 100 percent satisfaction guarantee makes returns and exchanges easy.
  • Safelite Autoglass has a live person answer their customer service line (no IVR)!
  • Zendesk empowers robust customer communities to enable effective self-help.

Why You Should Stop Being So Eager to Please

Customer service professionals are naturally eager to please.

They want to make their customers happy. It's what fuels them. My research suggests it's the biggest thing that motivates employees.

This eagerness can also cause service failures. 

There's such thing as being over-eager. Too much eagerness can cause people to stop listening and jump to conclusions. It can also lead to an employee telling little lies in an effort to make a customer feel temporarily happy. 

Here are three examples of how being over-eager can lead to poor service.


Less Listening

Our brain naturally detects familiar patterns. It recognizes a few details and then instantly completes the picture. We use this skill constantly. In fact, you're using it right now -- it's how we're able to read written words.

This same function can get us into trouble.

Let's say you're trying to help a customer solve a problem. They start describing a situation that you've heard a hundred times before so your brain instinctively stops listening and the solution flashes into your brain.

Unfortunately, your brain mis-recognized the pattern. Even worse, you missed important details when the customer continued talking while your brain shut off listening.

We can detect and override this instinct if we're working slowly and methodically. It becomes a lot harder to do when we're under pressure to work fast.

That's where an over-eager desire to please causes problems. It's an internal pressure to work quickly.


More Assumptions

Less listening can lead to more assumptions. Here's an example:

Two couples were traveling together. They arrived at their hotel and attempted to check-in. The front desk agent assumed they wanted adjoining rooms since they had booked their reservations together.

An over-eagerness to please caused the agent to jump into solution mode. Rather than confirming the couples' room preferences, she assumed that's what they wanted.

She scanned her system for two adjoining rooms that were both clean. There were none. Dejectedly, she told the couples they'd have to wait another two hours before they could check in. 

What the agent missed was there were plenty of clean rooms that weren't adjoining. The couples never requested adjoining rooms and it wasn't really important to them. The agent's over-eagerness caused her to miss this critical opportunity and instead caused a service failure.


Prolonged Misery

Nobody likes to deliver bad news.

Customer service professionals who are too eager to please will sometimes tell small lies to help customers stay temporarily happy. 

  • They'll say, "maybe" when they know the answer is "No." 
  • They tell a customer they'll look into it when they know it won't happen.
  • They'll say "I'll get right on it" when they know it will take awhile.

These over-eager pleasers don't lie maliciously. They just have a hard time sharing the truth. Unfortunately, these little lies create unpleasant surprises in the long run.

It's a much better policy to tell the truth up front. Customers might not be as happy right away, but they'll be less angry over time. It's the classic under promise, over deliver approach.


A Little Less Eager

Being eager to please isn't inherently a bad thing. Just be sure you aren't so eager that you miss out on the opportunity to actually deliver.

Customer Satisfaction vs Delight: Why You Need Both

Customer Satisfaction and Delight: Which will it be?

Customer Satisfaction and Delight: Which will it be?

Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog. Check out my latest post on the Salesforce blog, "5 Signs Your Customer Service Survey is Missing the Point."


In the world of customer service, a lot of attention is given to the concept of customer delight. There are books written about it and training classes offered on how to do it. Influential customer service experts tell us we’ve failed if we don’t delight every customer every time.

Legendary tales are breathlessly retold around the customer service campfire. Did you hear this one? A store once gave a customer a refund on a set of tires despite the fact that the store didn’t even SELL tires.

There are also valid arguments against trying to delight everyone. Giving one customer a refund on set of tires you don’t sell is the stuff of legend, but you’ll go bankrupt if you do it for everyone. Something that delights one customer may annoy another. What delights a customer today may simply satisfy that same customer tomorrow as they become accustomed to a new level of service.

So, is customer delight truly a business imperative? Or, is focusing on customer satisfaction enough?

The answer is somewhere in the middle. Delight and satisfaction actually co-exist quite nicely. In fact, they need each other. 


Satisfaction and delight defined

Customers’ perceptions of service are based on how the experience matches their expectations:

  • Satisfactory service occurs when expectations are met
  • Delight occurs when service exceeds expectations
  • A service failure occurs when service falls short of expectations

The rub is that we only really notice experiences that are different than what we expected.  

Imagine you walk into a room and flip the light switch. You expect the lights to turn on. That’s exactly what happens 99% of the time, so you hardly pay any notice when they do. Satisfactory service is a lot like that.

What if something different happens?

You’d be sure to notice if the lights came on to reveal a room full of people shouting, “Surprise!” A surprise party would be an unexpected delight.

Delight is great, failure is bad, but most of the time the lights just come on as expected and you go about your business.

Customer service is the same way. We get satisfactory service most of the time but we don’t really notice it because that’s what we expected. The delight and failure outliers are what we notice and remember. 


Why we need satisfaction AND delight

Our tendency to only notice the unusual plays an important role in customers’ perceptions of service. If a customer has four satisfactory service experiences with your company and one delightful one, their overall perception will be heavily influenced by the delightful encounter.

Imagine a frequent flyer who settles into a comfortable routine with her preferred airline. The flights are generally on time, the flight attendants are friendly, and her elite status provides a few extra perks that make travel easier. One day, a severe storm cancels all departing flights and the traveler must wait until the next day to fly home. While other passengers scramble for accommodations, an airline employee seizes the opportunity to be a hero and books the frequent traveler in a nice hotel room at no charge.

These hero moments don’t happen every day, but they’re the experiences that are remembered.

It’s impractical to create hero moments like this all the time. It’s also not necessary. Providing satisfactory service most of the time and delightful service in the right moment is often enough to make your service stand out.

Companies that seize these hero moments benefit from another quirk of human perception called "confirmation bias." When people have a strongly held belief, they’ll selectively filter information based on whether or not it supports that belief. 

If the frequent traveler pledges her unwavering allegiance to her favorite airline after they put her up in a hotel, she’ll unconsciously find herself biased by this experience. Good travel experiences become further proof in her mind that the airline is great. An occasional poor experience is dismissed as an anomaly and quickly forgiven.


The opportunity and danger of service failures

Strangely, service failures also represent an opportunity to delight customers. Service failures can and will happen in every company, but what happens next separates the great organizations from the rest.

By definition, a service failure is an experience that falls short of a customer’s expectations. This puts the customer at a crossroads. The service failure is amplified if the company fails to fix the problem. It might even negate the impact of previous satisfactory experiences and cause the customer to dwell on the one service failure. The customer can develop confirmation bias where they expect the company to provide poor service and selectively filter information based on whether it supports their opinion.

But, what happens if someone seizes the hero moment and quickly fixes the problem with style and grace? Now, the feeling of delight is amplified because the customer started out feeling so poorly.

Note: This wasn't mentioned in my original post, but it's worth mentioning that Jenny Dempsey provided an outstanding example of the impact a negative experience can have in a recent post she wrote for the Communicate Better Blog. Up until a recent service failure, her opinion of a certain airline was very positive. Now, she's a bit concerned about future experiences.


Start with consistency

If you want to delight your customers, start by being consistently good. Fix chronic problems. Get the basics right every time.

Do this well and your hero moments will stand out and delight your customers. 

The trouble with magic metrics

Executives like the idea of using a single magic metric to evaluate customer service because it’s so simple. “Do well at this,” the thinking goes, “and you’re doing well.”

Unfortunately, the real magic happens when you start peeling back the layers of your data to find out what’s really going on. If you look carefully at so-called single score metrics like the Net Promoter System, you’ll realize the score is just a starting point for evaluation. It’s the underlying analysis and continuous drive to improve that’s really important.

For example, a few months ago I blogged about my experience with Verizon’s Global Traveler Program. I’d rate my likelihood to recommend their service as a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, but this rating doesn’t reveal that my score is really a sum of good, great, and poor experiences. A closer look at experiences like mine is needed for Verizon to clearly understand how to make their service truly exceptional while cutting down on costly calls to technical support.

Not All Promoters Are Loyal
I really enjoy reading the Wall Street Journal. Their informative articles help me stay on top of the news I care about while their style really captures my attention. I follow them on Twitter to get the latest updates on their news coverage and I consider it a plus when I stay at a hotel that provides free copies to their guests.

So why did I recently cancel my subscription?

Simply put, subscribing to the Wall Street Journal had become a hassle. You could classify me as a “Promoter” if you used a Net Promoter System because I would certainly recommend that you read their news coverage. However, I’d give the Wall Street Journal low marks on the amount of effort required to subscribe to them via my iPad.

Customer Effort Score
One of the latest magic metrics to gain popularity is called the Customer Effort Score. It essentially gauges how easy or difficult it is to do business with a company. According to research published by the Corporate Executive Board, Customer Effort is a better predictor of loyalty than a Net Promoter Score.

Reducing effort is where the Wall Street Journal could have saved my business. I subscribed via my iPad because I liked the promise of reading the paper wherever I went and getting updated content throughout the day. However, they frequently released updates to their iPad app, which meant that I couldn’t read the paper until I performed the update. This got more and more annoying until I finally decided the price of the subscription wasn’t worth the extra effort.

Ironically, cancelling my subscription also required more effort than necessary since the only way to cancel a subscription is to call. Their website states this is for security reasons, but the truth is they want to take one more shot at keeping your business by making you speak to a retention specialist.

So, just make things easy, right?!
Not so fast. Let’s compare one of my favorite examples, McDonalds vs. In-N-Out Burger. Getting a burger at McDonalds is relatively easy. The drive-through line moves pretty quickly and most orders placed at the counter are delivered almost instantly. On the other hand, there’s always a wait to get your food at In-N-Out.

If we judged the two by Customer Effort alone, McDonalds would win hands down. The problem with that assumption is that you’d then be stuck with a McDonalds hamburger which consistently scores poorly in consumer taste tests. As legions of devoted In-N-Out fans will tell you, getting a tasty In-N-Out burger served by a cheerful employee in a clean store is absolutely worth the extra effort.

There Are Three Kinds of Lies
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

My take-away is data can be very useful, but it can also obscure the truth. Customer service metrics like Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort Score are fantastically useful tools, but achieving a certain score should never be the ultimate goal.

If all you want to do is achieve a certain Net Promoter Score, I can show you a dozen tricks to make that happen. For instance, one enterprising store manager at the Gap offered a 20% discount in exchange for a 10 on their Net Promoter survey. That will certainly improve the score but not necessarily the service.

The most successful companies first ask, “How can we do better” and then find the right data to help them continuously improve.

The hidden dark side of good service

I recently traveled overseas and had to get a loaner phone from Verizon since my iPhone wouldn't work in the UK or Ireland. If Verizon had sent me a net promoter-style customer satisfaction survey about their Global Traveler Program (they didn't), I'd probably give it a 7. You can get an overview of Net Promoter scoring on the Net Promoter System website, but a 7 is a relatively neutral score.

It may be tempting to classify my service experience as good, but not great. However, my slightly positive overall perception of Verizon's Global Traveler Program is really a rough average of elements that were truly fantastic as well as some frustrating service failures that greatly diminished my enthusiasm. In other words, Verizon was one step away from either turning me into an enthusiastic promoter or an angry detractor.

What is Good Service?

Customer service is a function of each individual customer's expectations and experience. Outstanding service happens when experience exceeds expectations while poor service is the result of experience falling short of expectations.


What happens most often? Good service. This is when the experience meets expectations. There's nothing wrong with good service per se, but it isn't memorable. We only tend to notice, and remember, service that's outside the norm.

A Collection of Experiences

My perception of Verizon's Global Traveler Program was really a collection of experiences. There were at least seven distinct moments of truth that shaped my overall impression. 


My overall impression of Verizon's Global Traveler Program wasn't just impacted by the average of each moment of truth, but by their sequence.

Starting Perception. This signifies where a customer's perceptions are at the start of the experience. Good, or neutral, impressions are relatively easy to sway but strong perceptions are not. That's because a phenomenon called confirmation bias causes customers to selectively filter out information that doesn't match their existing beliefs. If they're a raving fan, they'll look for evidence that Verizon is awesome. If they hate Verizon, they'll look for any little nitpick to justify their feelings.

Primacy. My first two experiences with the Global Traveler Program were outstanding. Since my starting position was neutral, I was easily moved into a 9 or 10 position on a 10-point scale. It's also important to note that first impressions are much more memorable than what happens next.

Mid-point. The two frustrating experiences were sandwiched between neutral or positive experiences. This, combined with an outstanding first impression, likely prevented my perception from being in the 4 or 5 range.

Recency. My last moment of truth was good since it was relatively easy to return the phone. Customers tend to remember their first impression and their last impression, so a good beginning and end can help overcome a few negative experiences in between.

What can we learn?

I see a few take-aways here:

  1. Good service can hide distinct opportunities to be either great or terrible.
  2. Companies should fall all over themselves to make a great first and last impression.
  3. It's a good idea to collect data to help you spot the strong and weak points in your service delivery system.

What other lessons can companies learn from this experience?

Jeff Toister is the author of Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It. The book is scheduled to be released on November 1. You can learn more about the book at or pre-order a copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell's Books.

What are we really talking about when it comes to service?

P.T. Barnum famously bet on his customers getting confused by fancy words when he wanted to pump up profits at his museum. Barnum posted signs marked “This Way to the Great Egress” that led people towards what they assumed was the museum’s latest attraction. Gullible patrons were surprised to learn that "egress" is really just another word for exit when they followed the signs straight out of the building.

That sort of trick wouldn’t pass muster with today’s customers (imagine the Yelp reviews!) but there’s still plenty of confusing language used in customer service. Clearing up this confusion may be one of the keys to preventing service failures in your organization.

Here are a few examples:

Customer Satisfaction. What is it? Is it good? Or, is aiming for customer satisfaction setting our sights too low when we really should be achieving customer delight? And, if customer delight is the goal, should I scrap my C-Sat survey in favor of a C-Del metric?

Employee Engagement. It seems to be a matter of fact that positive employee engagement is strongly correlated with high levels of customer satisfaction. Or is it correlated with high levels of customer engagement? What exactly is employee engagement anyway? Even the top employee engagement consulting firms don't agree (see my post).

Outstanding service. This is good, right? Just ask five people and they’ll all agree. Then ask them what outstanding service looks like and they’ll all give different answers. None of them will be necessarily wrong, just different. (See my simple explanation.)

These are really rhetorical questions in an effort to highlight the need for a common frame of reference, though I wouldn't mind you sharing your answers in the comments section below.

Practical Application
Here are a few simple examples of how you can establish a common frame of reference when talking about customer service.

Training. Before conducting customer service training, I work with my clients to create a clear definition of outstanding service using a Customer Service Vision tool.

Surveys. Before writing your survey questions, take a moment to think about what you really want to learn about your customers and what you will do to act upon that data. (See "C-Sat: So what?")

Strategy. Frame customer service or employee engagement initiatives around SMART goals rather than writing fuzzy objectives like “improve customer service.” 

C-Sat: So what?!

Question: Let's say your business engaged in a process that was mildly annoying to your customers and provided absolutely no value. You aren't quite sure how it got started or who in your company owns it but the process continues simply out of habit. What would you do if you found about about this process?

For many companies that gather customer satisfaction (C-Sat) data, the answer is, "We'd keep doing things the same way." 

Sports talk radio personality Jim Rome has a favorite saying for his callers, "Give me an A or give me an F." If your company gathers C-Sat data, I hereby challenge you to do the same. Either make sure your C-Sat process earns an A, or stop wasting time and annoying customers with a process that yields no value.

How can you tell if your C-Sat process gets an A?

I propose three simple tests to get you started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but if you answer "Yes" to these three questions you are probably doing OK.

#1 Do you know why you're asking what you're asking?

Forget your survey questions for a moment and ask, "What do I want to know?" Now, ask, "Why do I need to know that?" If you can't think of a really good reason to ask the question, don't.

I recently received a survey after getting my car's oil change that contained 36 questions (see "Customer Service Survey Mistakes to Avoid"). Does it really take 36 questions to find out if I was happy with my oil change? Of course not!

Surveys of any sort consume your customers' time. The shorter you make them, the better. As a rule of thumb, if you can't get the information you need in five questions or fewer, you are probably asking the wrong questions.

#2 Do you do anything with the data?

The whole point of capturing C-Sat data shouldn't be getting a good score. It should be using the data to improve actual customer satisfaction. If you aren't acting on the data you receive, you aren't extracting any value from the process.

In most cases, you don't have to be an expert in statistics to find value in your C-Sat data, provided you are asking good questions (see #1, above). For example, a client of mine recently grouped the comments attached to their C-Sat survey and discovered that the majority of negative feedback was attributed to one particular process. My client used this insight to fix the process and make it more customer friendly. Customer satisfaction immediately jumped and many people commented on how pleased they were with the improved process.

#3 Do you close the loop?

C-Sat instruments usually collect individual data points and combine them into an average. That's helpful for an overall score, but what do you know about each individual customer? A good system allows you to follow-up with people to either thank them for their business or fix a problem. It can be as easy as asking for their email or phone number at the end of the survey, but it's essential that you follow-up if you request this information.

Here are two examples that highlight the value of closing the loop:

A shipping company recently left a case of wine on my front doorstep. Not only did they fail to get an adult signature for the wine, they left the wine outside where the wine might have been ruined if it had been a hot day. They never asked for my opinion, so they never got my feedback. However, the next time I ordered wine from a winery that used them, I shared the story and asked the winery to use UPS instead.

One of my favorite hotels, the Napa River Inn, sent me a survey after my wife and I stayed there last year. The visit was terrific overall, but there were a few things that weren't up to their usual standards. The General Manager emailed me in response to my survey, thanked me for my feedback, and assured me she would correct the problems I had noted. She also invited me to let her know the next time I visited so she could personally ensure I had a wonderful stay. I took her up on her offer and on my next visit my wife and I had an absolutely amazing time. And, the problems we had noticed on our previous stay had clearly been corrected.