Why is my channel shift project creating more work?

And more customer dissatisfaction?

Ad Esse Channel Shift illustration

The situation (anonymised)

“We delivered a channel shift project* as part of our digital transformation programme over a year ago. The objective was to reduce phone calls into our contact centre and find new online ways for our customers to contact us, therefore creating a 24/7 service for our customers.  However, since introducing channel shift for a number of our core processes, two problems have emerged: 1) We now have more complaints about our services and 2) When we add up the volume of contact from our customers, there is more than there was before and it’s taking up more staff time not less. I don’t understand how this is possible.”

*Channel shift is the process by which organisations seek to encourage (or push!) customers to access or interact with services via channels other than those to which they normally choose (e.g. using a smartphone app rather than calling in).

*Channel shift is the process by which organisations seek to encourage (or push!) customers to access or interact with services via channels other than those to which they normally choose (e.g. using a smartphone app rather than calling in).

The problem

In this instance, the organisation’s channel shift project had analysed customer calls coming into the contact centre and identified the top five reasons for contact, which accounted for over 40% of the organisation’s customer demand.

Armed with this information, the IT transformation team set up webforms and customer portals with new functionality that allows customers to complete parts of the organisation’s processes for themselves, therefore eliminating calls and front-end work required by the contact centre. The contact centre manager, using the data they had gathered, reduced the workforce by 40% believing that they had reduced the workload by that amount.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of things wrong with this, which when combined created the additional demand into the organisation and customer dissatisfaction.  

  1. The organisation doesn’t fully understand their demand (or the activity required to deal with it)

Firstly, the data analysed looked at the types of calls received on their CRM system, but they hadn’t examined why their customers were making contact. Had they analysed this data (which is rarely captured in any IT system and therefore would have required a bespoke analysis), they would have discovered that more than half the contacts received by the contact centre were failure demand*.  

Common examples of failure demand include the customer getting in touch to chase an appointment/letter/contact, to clarify information that they have received, to complain, to correct a mistake. 

*Failure demand is caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer. This results in additional demands being made by the customer (e.g. complaints, queries, chasing calls, etc) and further organisational resources being consumed to manage the additional demand. Eliminating failure demand gives an organisation increased capacity to manage value-add demand. 

The portal and webform solutions that had been put in place only addressed a small number of  This meant that the organisation hadn’t redirected nearly as many contacts as they thought they had, and therefore now, thanks to the subsequent restructuring of the team, had fewer people available to handle calls from already frustrated customers, creating a worse customer experience.  

  1. Not knowing how much of the process to digitalise

There are many different reasons an organisation might want to introduce channel shift; the type of channel shift you introduce should be informed by your drivers, but unfortunately, they often aren’t.  What happens as a result is that channel shift is dictated by what options are available, or rather what can be done rather than what should be done

In this specific situation, enthusiasm to offer 24/7 digital contact channels for their customers resulted in the portal and webform that customers could use; in other words, the organisation implemented a digital front end.  Whilst this did mean the customer could complete some key tasks at any time of the day or night, it only provides an illusion of 24/7 self-service, as the contact often sits in a mailbox somewhere for someone back in the office to process.  More times than not this webform email contact requires a member of staff to call the customer back to complete the processing. The result is the process actually takes longer for the customer than if they had called the contact centre to book a repair in the first place. Often customers, upon finding they need to wait for contact from the organisation to progress their needs, will phone up the next morning anyway to move things along. The organisation cannot always link the two contacts and therefore ends up doing the work twice.  The result is additional work that needs completing. 

The learning points

If you want to pursue successful channel shift in your organisation check out our tips below. 

Get an understanding of your demand

Very few organisations routinely collect information about whether the demand hitting their organisation is failure or value add demand.   Initially, collating this information will be a manual monitoring exercise that involves logging the customer contact type against a category that then allows subsequent analysis to identify not only whether it is value or failure demand, but also what the cause of the failure demand actually is.  Once you have mastered this exercise as a manual exercise you can configure your CRM system (or equivalent) to record this information routinely when contact is received from customers.  This information can be used to inform your service improvement priorities and will inform what processes need to be in place to effectively handle each type of contact received. 

Be clear whether you are eliminating or shifting demand

All the demand you identify in your demand monitoring exercise will fit into one of three categories; demand that can be left as it is, demand that needs to be eliminated or demand that can be shifted.  Largely failure demand will sit in the second category.  Your objective should always be to eliminate failure demand contacts, but it isn’t possible to eliminate 100% of failure demand.  Demand that can’t be eliminated needs careful managing and should be shifted onto an appropriate channel.  E.g., ‘when is my next appointment?’ type queries could be managed via the customer portal that displays all the customers personal appointments, therefore reducing chasing calls into the contact centre.

Focus on customer experience

Any demand we are shifting has to be done with the objective to make services more convenient for the customer (e.g., a more convenient contact method, a reduction in time taken to receive a service, a reduction in time taken to complete a task, the ability to complete it outside of normal working hours, more control over the process etc) and/or easier for the organisation in terms of capacity/effort required to manage the demand, or workload management. Remembering of course that customer experience should never be made worse for internal improvement gains. 

Technology is a powerful enabler of better processes and a better customer experience. Just because you can do something digitally doesn’t mean that you should.  Our advice is always to map out your desired customer experience first, and then work out how technology can enable or enhance that experience. Avoid implementing digital solutions unless it represents an improvement to the overall customer journey.  

What next?

If any of the above resonates and you would like some help to analyse and reduce failure demand, to design processes ready for your digital solutions, or to map your customer journeys then drop us an email on hello@ad-esse.com.

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