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Paper Customer Service

November 17, 2006
Here's an interesting response I received to my November "Last Call" column, which can be read here:

#1 fan here.  You really got wound up on this Nov. issue's Last Call.  Whew.  I can't disagree with you.  The stats. are really amazing.  I don't remember the exact source, but I read one recently where the call center workers and then the callers into the same customer care operations were surveyed on service quality.  3/4 of the workers said they were delivering good service, but only 23% of their customers reported receiving same.

Where I might slightly differ from your message is that I don't think the reasons for the disconnect are always as complex as you suggest.  Quick and true example:  A client approached us recently:  "We're getting 95% satisfaction scores.  Can we really be that good?"  Me:  "Well, that does seem awfully high.  Where is the data coming from?"  Client: "We do a survey at the end of a customer service call."  Me: "Oh.  Rather than ask the callers to stay on the line, why don't we call them back?  We'll ask the very same questions."

It seemed better just to make the suggested change than blurt out: "Excuse me?  All the disgruntled callers hung up before the survey, and since you rate agents on satisfaction, they have the incentive to just say 'goodbye' to the dissatisfied caller and wait for the caller to disconnect before releasing the line.  Your survey gets 95% sat. scores because you're only asking the happy campers!"

BTW, we did make the change and the sat. scores dropped from 95% to 55%.

Statisticians call it "Confirmation Bias"; my personal descriptor is "The Pollyanna Effect".  Essentially, humans readily accept good news when it fits what they want to believe, and will tend to reject that which "does not compute".  Combine this with the truth that customer service managers are still measured more on saving costs than serving customers, and so a cheap survey that delivers nice numbers  which no one will question has much appeal.  And since the numbers look so good, its "proof" of good service, so why change anything?

Rick Rappe'


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