The Answer to the Contact Center Debate Over Efficiency vs. Customer Satisfaction

Okay, I admit up front that this isn’t an either/or discussion – efficiency OR customer satisfaction. That said, I’ve found that most contact centers swing one way or the other. They are either primarily focused on improving efficiency and driving down costs (oh yea, we want to satisfy our customers too); or they are all about the customer experience (oh yea, we try and be as efficient as possible too). One of the two is usually the primary objective and the other an after-thought. An experience I had recently helped me better understand the cross-over point between the two – and it had nothing to do with the contact center – or did it?

I was on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. For those of you who fly internationally, you know that these flights are staffed with… let’s call them the “most experienced” flight attendants. Unfortunately, they aren’t the nicest of the bunch. The flight attendant who caught my attention was the model of efficiency. So much so, that as she went up and down the aisle serving drinks, that she would ask the person on her left what they wanted to drink, and while pouring it and handing it to the passenger, she was already turned to the person on the other side of the aisle asking for his or her drink order. I think she could have dropped the drink on my lap and never had noticed, because she was already on to the next order for the next passenger. I said, “thank you” each time but got no reply, because she had already moved on to the next task, the next drink, the next passenger. This was the model of efficiency! She probably served drinks in 2/3 the time of the normal flight attendant. But where did it leave me? Feeling ignored and unimportant as a paying customer.

So translate that to the contact center. I would propose that the proper balance is this… “Efficiency should be sought after up to the point that the efficiency begins to detract from the positive customer experience.” Essentially the drive for a positive customer experience holds veto power. Yes, we want to be efficient. Yes, we want to drive down costs. However, this should never come at the expense of the positive experience for the customer. With this as the overarching guide and the constant standard by which efficiency measures are put into place, you’ll have a good shot at getting the best of both worlds.

Joe Staples – million mile traveler and chief watching for great service organizations officer