Distributing customer service tickets by variation of complexity of query and abilities of agents

Deciding on a method for distributing customer service queries depends on an analysis of the tickets to understand how much variation there is the complexity of the queries and analysis of the agents to understand the variation in their ability.

Assigning agents in customer services

This analysis isn’t to understand how complex the queries are, but to understand how different the queries are. If some of the queries are simple and some very complex, this is a high variation in complexity, and if all the queries are simple or all complex then this is low variation in the complexity. If the analysis of the difference in agents ability shows that some agents have lots of knowledge and ability whilst others have very low level of knowledge and ability then that is a high variation, but if all the agents are equally knowledgeable then the variation is low.

High variation in the complexity of queries and high variation in the abilities of agents

If there is a high degree of variation in the complexity of the queries, meaning some can be resolved easily in a few seconds whilst others take days or even weeks to reach resolution, and if the variation in the ability of the agents is high, due to some agents having lots of experience and others having a lower level of knowledge, then distributing tickets across the team using a load balancing method is best. This means that agents with more ability can be assigned and resolve more tickets than agents with lower ability who will be slower.

High variation in the complexity of queries and low with variation in the abilities of agents

If the queries the team receive have a high variation of complexity but there is a low variation in the abilities of the agents as they all have similar levels of knowledge and experience, then manually triaging tickets can often be the most efficient method of assignment. The second most efficient method would be load balancing as complex tickets will take longer to be resolved by a one low ability agent as much as any other low ability agent.

Low variation in the complexity of queries and high variation in the abilities of agents

If the majority of the queries are of a similar complexity (high complexity or low complexity) and there is a high variation in the abilities of the agents, because some are new to the role whilst others have more experience for example, then using a Skills based approach to assign tickets is an effective option. Agents with particular knowledge will be assigned tickets that require their expertise whilst agents with less experience will be assigned the tickets that only require more general skills.

Low variation in the complexity of queries and low variation in the abilities of agents

If the type of queries the team receive are mostly of a similar complexity, e.g. all about similar topics and the abilities of the agents are all approximately the same, which means they all resolve tickets at a similar rate, then using round robin to distribute tickets equally across the team is the most efficient method.

Closing the loop in Customer Service

No customer contacts Customer Service for the sake of it. They do it because they have hit a barrier somewhere else in the organisation that is stopping them from achieving the things they set out to do, and they turn to the Customer Service to offer solutions.

When this happens customers want:

  • To be able to contact an organisation in ways that suit them.
  • To have their questions answered quickly, accurately and in language that suits them.
  • To feel listened to and understood.
  • To get back to doing the thing that they wanted to do in the first place. (Sometimes this is impossible and there is no solution, sometimes the customer journey goes into a dead end, what then?)

Organisations need:

  • Tools/systems/processes/teams to facilitate these outcomes for the customers.
  • To have a process for understanding the barriers and dead ends and deciding what to do about them.

Customer Service in isolation helps the problems to keep occuring.

Customer are the best testers an organisation could ever have. They’ll break every process, introduce every edge case, overcome every barrier and dead end. The challenge is to get that feedback from customers, through the Customer Service team, and on to the teams that can use it to make improvements. Close the loop.

Why I love customer service

The majority of my role is focused on improvement projects. Only maybe a sixth of my time is spent on the operational side of the business. And maybe only a sixth of that time is spent on answering customer service queries.

But, I think customer service is the most important part of what I do. I look at customer service queries every day, not because I’m necessarily the best person to answer them, but because it’s a good way to see what’s going on for our customers.

‘Getting closer to customers’ is one of the principles I think a lot about in how we improve and grow the business, and of course providing excellent support for our customers is a vital part of that, but more than that, our customers tell us how we should improve the business so we should definitely listen to them.

Customer Service Systems: Not just another inbox

Thinking about how to implement a Customer Service System to avoid the system being used as just another mailbox, as just a different way to receive emails from customers and send replies. A customer services system should be so much more, and with some consideration it can be. And I think that consideration starts with agreeing some principles.

Good Customer Service starts with principles

Four principles that are important to me for customer services are ‘Presenting one organisation to the customer’, ‘Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility’, ‘Aiming for the fastest route to resolution’, and ‘Building capacity for information sharing across the organisation’.

Presenting one organisation to the customer

I heard a stat from some customer services research that said that companies that have three ways for customers to contact them only answer the same question with the same answer 23% of the time. Three channels of communication and the giving customers the same answer falls to 8%. And if a company has four means of speaking with customers the same answer is provided 0% of the time. A good customer service system coupled with an organisational shift to wanting to be customer-centric is important for presenting one organisation to the customer. And presenting one organisation to the customer is simply what customers expect.

Customer Experience is everyone’s responsibility

This is a favourite of mine. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the organisation writes replies to customers (although that is one way to go) but it’s vital that everyone in the organisation understands how they play a part in the experience a customer has of the organisation. Making the aim of providing excellent customers experience the responsibility of the finance clerk who banks cheques, the warehouse picker who double checks he’s got the right items, and the customer service agent who takes an extra few minutes to properly understand the issue the customer is facing helps the principle to filter throughout the entire organisation.

Aiming for the fastest route to resolution

Speed is important but competency is more important. There is little point being fast if the answer doesn’t resolve the customers issue as they’ll be back with further questions. Aiming for the fastest route to resolution involves understanding and optimising the route. This means being able to analyse reoccurring issues to fix the cause and identify barriers to resolution, so it isn’t quite as simple as just answering the customer as quickly as possible, it requires a lot more thought and even more action.

Building capacity for information sharing across the organisation

Answers found for one customer should be available for other customers and for other agents. This principles is important for optimising the discoverability of answers and encouraging self-serve. For the agents it means having a comprehensive knowledgebase that is kept up to date with new answers added by people from all across the organisation. For customers it means having a front-end system available that gives them the answers they need when they need them.

Principles, and getting everyone bought into them, are essential for shifting people’s thinking from ‘just another inbox’ to having and using a customer service system that delivers real value to the organisation and it’s customers.

Customer Services Strategy by Martin Hill-Wilson

I went to a key note speech by Martin Hill-Wilson. Here are a few of the inspiring and insight points he made.

“Customers lead the way in expectations and it’s easy for businesses to get behind the curve.”

“Self-serve only works if the answers are easily discoverable.”

“Marketing has no currency any more, advocacy is essential.”

“Channels multiply, they seldom die”

“Solving new problems in the old ways doesn’t work.”

“Delivering omni-channel on mobile is hard, but that’s where the customers are.”

“Providing digital-only customer service is channel disruption and block customers from choosing the channel that suits them.”

“Customer Journey Mapping is the visualisation of how things fit together, and for each touchpoint it matters what happened before and what happens after.”

“If you don’t understand how the dots join up, you haven’t understood the problem.”

“Customers can be encouraged to change their behaviour by offering a better alternative.”

“Customer Experience can be understood and measured by asking ‘Was it successful?’, ‘How hard was it?’, and ‘How did it feel?’.”

“Customers don’t remember the entire experience, they just remember the beginning, the end, and the outliers.”

“By 2020, customers will manage 88% of their relationship with enterprises without interacting with a human.”

“Self serve can reduce the effort for the customer.”

“Can’t increase self serve with poor customer journeys.”

“The history of Customer Service has been about efficiency rather than effectiveness and quality.”

“The best customer service teams deliver impact immediately and in the long term.”