Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Improving the customer support experience

February 2, 2014 -- Gerry McGovern

How do you know your customers are getting their problems solved quickly and easily? This is a question that has challenged many support websites. The traditional approach has tended to involve customer satisfaction and visitor volume metrics.
 
Unfortunately, visitor volume is one of the most potentially misleading metrics available, particularly for a support website. The harder to use a product is, the more likely there will be high volume of visitors to the support website. The easier to use a product is, the lower the volume. Isn’t it thus better to have as few as possible visitors to support? Following this logic, the less time a customer spends on support, the better.
 
“Short time on page, for example, can indicate that users leave the site too quickly,” a 2013 ClickTale study states. “When combined with low bounce rate, however, it actually indicates that users find what they are looking for faster.” This goes to the heart of the volume metric problem. It could be a good thing. It could be a bad thing. We don’t know. We know what happened but we don’t know why it happened. We need metrics that tell us why things happen and what we can do to make things better.
 
At Cisco, “we were driving the site experience by measuring 'customer satisfaction' with a survey monthly,” Bill Skeet, Senior Manager of Customer Experience for Cisco Digital Support states. “This metric was a lagging indicator at best. It was very difficult to see the effect of our changes in that metric as customer 'satisfaction' is a reflection of a conglomeration of experiences.”
 
Being able to impact such a general metric as “customer satisfaction” has long been a challenge for organizations. If there’s a price increase, then customers may well be dissatisfied even though they’ve had a perfectly good support experience. If you ask about satisfaction on a Monday you can get worse scores than if you ask on a Friday.
 
“Decisions were driven primarily by what customers said and not what they did,” Bill explains. “Of course, that sometimes didn't yield great results because what users say and what they do can be quite different”. Indeed.
 
What organizations need is a more definitive way to measure whether customers are able to solve their problems. It has to be a metric you have the ability to impact; to move the needle on. So, for example, if you make it much simpler and faster to download software, when you next measure the download software task the metric should show that the task is completed faster and more easily.
 
This is what the Top Tasks Management metrics model is about. It has two essential steps:

  1. First, you identify the top tasks of your customers by getting them to vote.
  2. Second, you take a representative sample of these customers and get them to carry out examples of these top tasks. You identify the problems. Fix them and test again and again and again, rapidly evolving your website with a continuous improvement model based on evidence of actual customer behaviour.