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Best practices vs. customer expectations

Wherever I go in the corporate world these days, everyone loves talking about "best practices." I will admit that they are great buzzwords, and there is certainly nothing wrong with trying to learn lessons from what others in your industry are doing.

Experience has taught me, however, that smart companies learn to discern the key differences between industry standards and their own customers' satisfaction.

Take one of our clients for example, a financial institution, who sent their customer service management team to a industry conference for customer service contact centers. The goal was to learn "best practices" and assess how they were doing against industry standards.

At the conference they learned that the industry "best practice" was to keep abandon rates (the percentage of customers who abandon the phone call while waiting in queue to speak with a live agent) in the 5-8% range.

The management team was mortified because their abandon rates were significantly higher. They returned from the conference embarrassed and determined to lower their abandon rates to acceptable levels of the industry best practice peer pressure.

Returning from the conference, the management team worked with the executive team to outline a major corporate strategy to lower their abandon rates. The strategy included systems upgrades, new software, increased staffing levels, and longer hours of operation. The price tag for all of it was easily into six-figures and would quickly add up into seven-figures over time.

Before the strategy was implemented, however, the company wisely surveyed their customers to find out if long queue times were as big a concern to them as they were to the industry.

Data revealed that this particular company's customers were an anomaly (or perhaps no one else in the industry bothered to ask their customers).

This company's customers tended to call on their cell phones periodically during the day and if they were put on hold for more than a minute they would hang up, shrug it off, and call back.

The abandon rate had an insignificant effect on overall customer satisfaction. The customers were far more concerned with what happened on the call when they actually got through to a live person.

In the end, this company abandoned their big ticket plans to meet industry best practices and funneled the earmarked resources into quality assessments, coaching, and training that would improve the customer experience within the actual phone calls.

The result? Their abandon rate metrics continue to make them look like industry lackeys, but their customers were increasingly satisfied and loyal.

Wise business leaders beware! Make sure that chasing after industry best practices doesn't leave you abandoning the things your customers truly care about.

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