In customer service, there is a widespread obsession with service level: the speed in which issues are handled or customer calls are answered. Supervisors are measured on an hourly basis. Representatives are hammered about it when their average handle time get too long. In some cases, there are written guarantees with customers to ensure a certain service level, such as 80 percent of calls answered within 30 seconds.
Service level, however, should never be mistaken for how good the service delivery was. It is merely how quickly a customer reaches a representative. It is a very important productivity metric, since staffing and scheduling decisions are made as a result. However, it is not a measure of how good the experience was in the eyes of the customer and should not be viewed as such. Unfortunately, quite a few companies make that mistake. Few companies consider how satisfaction with the contact itself impacts how customers feel about how long they waited, and instead just focus on the number of minutes or seconds. But that’s not always how the customer sees it.
Time is Relative
A very interesting study was published in the journal Perception and Psychophysicsin 1997 regarding how time perceptions were altered by emotions. Their research implied that if I am experiencing something emotional and it is a very positive experience, I tend to underestimate time. Conversely, if I have a negative experience, time slows down and feels longer. In other words, in a good experience, time shrinks; two minutes may feel like a matter of seconds. In a bad experience, that same two minutes can feel like an eternity.
Picture two scenarios. In one, you spend just two minutes doing something you love like skiing down a great slope, watching your child in a school play, or hearing your favorite song. As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun. In the second scenario, think about what it would be like to spend just thirty seconds doing something extremely unpleasant… experiencing pain, getting yelled at or being publicly embarrassed. Those thirty seconds will feel like they are taking forever.
So what does that mean for customer service? Driving representatives to get response times lower and lower can result in shortchanging the service interaction, and as a result lead to greater dissatisfaction overall. If that happens, how people feel about how long they waited might also deteriorate. On the other hand, taking enough time to handle issues thoroughly could lead to a more pleasant experience, and as a result make the time seem worth the wait, or in some cases, perceptually shorter. Of course, there is a limit beyond which it is just plain too long, but the key to remember is that the quality of the experience is just as important as the wait time itself. People don’t contact you just to have short wait times. They contact you because they need help. Setting a goal of faster and faster response times to make customers happier could completely backfire and lead to substantial extra costs in additional staffing.
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