Solutions to Common Resolution Obstacles
Three key methods to increase satisfaction from resolution
In part one of this paper (see “The resolution holy grail”) we described how problem resolution is normally a customer's main goal when they make contact. The paper discussed how hard it is to measure resolution and repeat contacts. This paper takes that idea further and looks at common obstacles to resolution and how they can be addressed. Whilst the first paper described how few organisations can measure resolution, that doesn’t mean that organisations can’t look for ways to address some of the issues identified here.
We are known as advocates for a world in which problems are minimised. This in turn reduces the need for customers to make contact. However, we recognise that no organisation is perfect. Problems will occur and every organization will have customer contacts driven by these problems that need to be sorted out and hence resolution is a critical outcome. This paper will look at ways to increase resolution and therefore satisfaction, when problems happen rather than getting rid of the root causes (see the footnotes for our ideas on getting rid of the need for contact).
In part 1 of this paper, we demonstrated that greater resolution is a "triple win strategy" that benefits the company, customers and staff. Customers want resolution to avoid added effort. Increased resolution reduces the cost of follow-on contacts, complaints and other forms of escalation for any business and is therefore cheaper. The organization also prevents re-work and costs such as “Make good” or external complaint body fees and charges. Resolution is satisfying for staff as they resolve the customer’s problem and in doing so, often get positive feedback.
It's easy to write that resolution is a good idea, but we recognise that it is harder to achieve in practice. This paper will use real world examples to illustrate solutions that can improve resolution. Each of these solutions is an antidote to problems that prevent resolution. We will highlight the inhibitor to resolution first before describing the possible solutions. The three solution areas we’ll describe are:
Resolution focused structure and process models
Omni-channel enabled resolution process design
Resolution focused measurement and management
1 Resolution focused structure and process models
1a. Structure and process trends that prohibit resolution:
A number of major structural trends can work against resolution. Offshoring, for example, tends to separate the customer facing request for processes (please send my bill) from execution of the processes (sending the bill). For example, one utility had moved 90% of administrative processes offshore and in doing so reduced resolution in one customer facing contact centre to below 40%.
Customer facing staff had to request process completion from offshore teams for most contacts. If everything worked smoothly, the customer’s request did get resolved by this model, but not immediately. Time delays meant that customers called back to chase the process. In other instances, the back office offshore teams would reject the requests or seek extra information which further delayed resolution. In this example, offshoring created a low-resolution model and in doing so offset the labour arbitrage benefits of using offshore staff.
A second structural obstacle to resolution is breaking processes down into too many specialised areas. This can occur where organisations adopt a “factory” like approach to the execution of processes in the “Back office”. In this model, staff are trained in narrow specialisations so they, in theory, get up to speed fast and know the process well. In one business this idea resulted in the creation of over 100 separate work queues for different parts of the process. There was no automated workflow software to “glue” the different process specialisations together and so it was a resolution disaster. Items got stuck or were interdependent and customers were constantly “chasing” the work. Delays and rejects of work items caused large volumes of repeat calls and complaints.
A similar structural problem is the creation of too many customer contact “skills” in the “front office”. Some vendors promote “skill-based routing” as a panacea. In theory it can mean that front line staff can be deeply specialised in their skill and should be able to resolve customer queries. However, problems can include that:
Customer problems span the skills making resolution harder
As some skills are entry level, staff are not given the authority and access to resolve problems
Customers get lost navigating across skills and struggle to get to the staff they need for their issue
Staff get trained on what should happen rather than what does happen. So, a new agent is trained to “move a customer in” but not trained on “fixing moves that go wrong”
Once a staff member is deeply trained, any staff turnover creates big gaps to fill.
In one Telco they had over 60 skills, so rates of transfer were very high (measured at over 25%) and resolution poor as customers were given the “run around” trying to resolve their issues and find the right person to initiate resolution.
1b Fixing the Structural and process trends that prohibit resolution:
Given the structural and process “trends” that have lowered resolution, it is no surprise that the solutions often reverse the trends. Re-design of processes to enable resolution often means giving front line staff access to additional systems and functions that have been moved offshore or to the back office. For example, in a utility, one change was as simple as letting contact centre staff send a duplicate invoice rather than request the billing team to send the invoice. The irony was that in many instances it was quicker for the contact staff to complete the process than make the workflow request. The net result was almost thirty processes changed to enable front line completion. Many were “no brainers” because it was faster and cheaper for the front line to complete. Others needed a more careful calculation because it was more expensive to have onshore staff complete the process but there was still a net gain once reduced follow up work was built into the overall equation.
An effective structural “fix” to highly specialised or broken up (we call it “balkanised”) structures (such as the 60 skill Telco), is to create a consolidated structure aligned to complexity. This can use intelligent routing combined with “human triage” to get the right work to the right people. In a model designed around complexity, more experienced staff can be given access to the systems and processes that help them resolve more. In these revised models the team of experienced staff often get named “the resolution team”.
The picture shows an example of this in practice. A business had 16 different skills and as a result many unplanned transfers and low resolution. Many customers needed to deal with multiple skill areas and inexperienced staff in each skill didn’t know how to solve complex issues. The combined outcome
was low resolution. The new operating model shown in blue, moved to a much simpler complexity-based model enabled by smarter routing. The change combined new structures with process reform, greater authorisation levels and smarter routing based on what was known about the customer and contact history. The processes were re-thought to enable greater and faster resolution in all parts of the model. The resolution team were given access to more systems and what had been team leader authority levels. In this model, resolution went from 40% in the old model, to well over 80% in the new. We admit that structure isn’t a universal solution; it needs careful design and alignment of IT, processes, training and coaching. Offshoring and well-organized back offices can be valuable structures but when they get in the way of resolution, it can be worth a re-think.
2 Omni-channel enabled resolution process design
2a. Mono-Channel wars as a barrier to resolution
The proliferation of contact channels has sometimes hindered resolution. Many organizations use specialised teams to handle contacts in each channel, but they often work solely in that channel. We have seen many instances of queries arriving in a channel in which resolution is almost impossible, but staff tend to trap the customer in that channel. Staff don’t recognise that this isn’t the best way to solve the problem and haven’t been trained to move this problem to another channel.
A second channel barrier is that staff don’t know how to help customers get things resolved in self-service mechanisms like apps and customer portals. All too often the service team lack access to the app and training on what it does. Many front-line staff aren’t customers of the company they work for and therefore don’t use the app. So, when customers ask for help and support, paradoxically, the staff can’t help.
2b Taking down the channel barriers
Increased resolution can be achieved by redesigning the processes to address channel barriers. Defining “the best way” to resolve customer requests includes being clear on when it is necessary to change channels or exploit them. For example, in one chat team, it made sense to call the customer or get them to call for certain problems so that they could be resolved. It can be obvious in certain email and message exchanges that a “voice” conversation will be more successful than an endless message exchange. We saw one exchange with 26 emails over three weeks. One phone call would have sorted it! Unfortunately, many teams are set up with a “mono channel” focus. Enabling these mono channel teams to talk to customers or showing them when to encourage customers to call, saves a lot of work.
A second improvement to cross channel resolution is to ensure staff have access to and can support self-service channels. They need to know what is possible in portals and apps and be able to guide customers to the right parts of the solution. Ideally, they are more expert in these tools than customers. Customers love resolution which starts with phrases like “I can show you how to do that now”. Guiding the customer to sort this current issue and be equipped to do it themselves in the future is a great form of resolution. Increasingly we are seeing better service IT integration such as app emulation in the contact centre (in lieu of static or video guides) which are becoming invaluable to link service personnel to app capability and resolution.
3 Measures that promote not hinder resolution
3a. Measures and rules getting in the way
Poorly structured productivity measures get in the way of resolution even if they are well intentioned.
Basic cycle or handle time measures can encourage staff to cut corners and create false economies. In one example, a back-office area measured productivity tightly. As a result, staff had learnt to reject as many items of work as possible that had missing information or ambiguous customer responses. They sent 30-40% of the work back to the customer. Rejecting items made them look productive as they got productivity credits for managing a case. However, in some cases the staff could have looked up the missing information or called the customer to solve the problem. They could have resolved the customer request but that took longer and got less credit than rejecting the form. The resolution behaviour wasn’t measured or encouraged and so many items weren’t resolved. Worse still the contact centre ended up with more work because customers called in to find out why things hadn’t been completed or for more detail on why applications and forms had been rejected. It was a classic example of measurement driving against resolution.
Another resolution barrier is that many organizations have business rules that force escalations and approvals that get in the way. For example, refunds over a certain value often need higher levels of approval and in some cases have to be handled by a separate payments or finance team. That creates a resolution barrier. It’s amazing how often these apparent controls don’t really act as a control. In one service area, all the items escalated (and therefore delayed) were approved. Nothing was ever rejected and so the rules just delayed resolution and didn’t act as any form of control.
3b Resolution focused measures and rules
Fixing broken “anti-resolution” measures and rules takes some careful design and may need to go beyond measurement. It’s not as easy as just setting a resolution goal to act as a counter to poor productivity measures. Changing the measure alone won’t work if staff don’t know how to get the desired resolution or if business rules get in the way. So, it can involve the three headed solution of first rethinking the process, then retraining staff and finally re-aligning measures. It can mean resetting or even removing poor productivity measures and having measures that encourage adherence to the desired resolution process instead. If the processes are well defined to deliver resolution and staff are trained well and motivated to follow the process, then resolution emerges as an outcome without a need to measure it explicitly.
Similarly, getting rid of escalations or hand offs that prevent resolution may need an amalgam of solutions. In one organization, setting up an experienced resolution team meant that escalations to back-office areas were no longer needed. The resolution team was given the tools and authority to complete things like customer credits that were previously seen as high risk and handed off. The net result was an increase in resolution by over 20% and a freeing up of back-office staff. In an insurance claims team, resolution was improved by recognising low risk or fast track claims that could be processed on the spot. This saved the time of experienced assessors and claims officers and made the work of claim receipting team more rewarding because they approved a range of claims on the call.
Resolution remains a key objective for customers but can have many barriers inside organizations and therefore needs a matching range of solutions. The issues we’ve raised, and answers we’ve proposed, are just some of many that we could have described and applied. If you’d like to discuss improvements to resolution, we’re always keen to, so please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438652396.
Footnotes: For our ideas on getting rid of the need for contact see our book, The Best Service is No Service (Josey Bass: Price and Jaffe 2008) and our upcoming book, The Frictionless Organization, (available in 2022). See also the white papers “The Year of Demand” and “Omni channel best service”.