About 20 years ago, an interesting shift took place in contact centers around the world: executives started to realize that efficiency was ruining effectiveness.  In an effort to expedite customers through the queues and off the phones, companies ended up driving an inordinate amount of repeat contacts.

Customers were simply not achieving the thing they set out to do—frequently because they were being rushed off the line—and, thus, the concept of first contact resolution (FCR) took center stage.

Solving the customer call back dilemma

Organizations shifted their focus toward effectiveness, and saw some immediate results in reducing repeat contacts.  But then came the plateau, and executives wanted to know how they could drive their teams to the next level.  The common refrain that our research team at CEB (now Gartner) heard was “How do we get beyond 70% FCR? We are stuck.”  Our team decided that the first question we needed to answer was “well, why do customers call back?”.

It turns out that most executives who were managing to FCR made assumptions that customers callback for very explicit reasons, such as not receiving the right information the first time they called.  Interestingly, what we found in the research was that explicit issues (human error or process error) only accounted for about half of the drivers of repeat contacts.  No wonder these companies were stuck on a plateau—they were only solving for half of the equation.

The other half of repeat contacts were driven by two types of more implicit issues.  First, there were communication disconnects between reps and customers that caused customers to call back seeking a different answer from a different rep.  Second, there were adjacent or downstream issues.  These were the situations where the original rep had solved the specific thing the customer asked about, but had failed to consider what the next likely problem would be.

As it turns out, to move beyond the FCR plateau, organizations need to consider how to practice Next Issue Avoidance.

Implementing the art and science of Forward resolution

Next issue avoidance—or forward resolution—is the art and science of knowing what’s going to happen next for the customer—and giving them very targeted information to avoid that next call.  Not only does this save the customer the pain and effort of contacting you again, but it saves the company the cost of handling the call.

In this light, we see companies beginning to focus on “total time to resolve” rather than outdated metrics like average handle time (AHT).  For example, if a rep takes 45 extra seconds to forward resolve today, many executives would say “wait a minute, this is going to destroy our AHT.”

Leading organizations, however, realize that those extra 45 seconds are saving you a second 5-minute call next week.  Your net total time to resolve goes down when you take those extra seconds to forward resolve.

This skill can and will go horribly wrong if you simply ask your reps to start forward resolving issues they think may arise for your customers.  Your reps are experts on why customers might call back, so they will see MANY opportunities to provide additional information.

The danger here is that you end up with an overwhelmed customer who is now guaranteed to call back because they’re confused with this extra information about a problem that they didn’t know they were going to have.

Becoming experts on the customer

This is where forward resolution becomes both art and science.  Art is knowing how to position that extra information in the right light and science is knowing what the most likely next issue will be…solve for that one thing that drives 80% of the callbacks—not for the thing that only happens 5% of the time and not for the thing that is so complex it’s going to take 15 minutes to explain (advice: send that customer a well-written email with further information).

To get this right, you need to know the science too.  Specifically, you’ll need to determine your most frequent drivers of repeat contacts.  You also need to train—and then coach—your reps on how to spot the right opportunities to forward resolve as well as how to position them naturally to avoid unnecessary confusion.

This skill will not develop overnight, so make sure to give your reps lots of practice along the way.  Challenger can help you implement this using our Effortless Experience Capabilities Builder, which you can learn more about by contacting us.

Challenger, Inc.

Challenger is the global leader in training, technology, and consulting to win today’s complex sale. Our sales transformation and training programs are supported by ongoing research and backed by our best-selling books, The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer, and The Effortless Experience.