• The role of skills and training in first-point-of-contact resolution

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    Martin Ellingham, Product Director at Aptean Respond, looks at the role of skills and training in first point of contact complaint resolution…

    As we know all too well, when it comes to complaints, first-point-of-contact resolution is the holy grail. Resolving complaints at the initial interaction without having to escalate further not only results in more satisfied customers, but takes less time. It also mitigates against the inevitable errors that occur when a complaint is passed on to a different team, ultimately costing the business much less in terms of both monetary value and brand damage. However, to reach this first-point-of-contact nirvana is both complex and extremely difficult to achieve, with a number of factors at play. With a view to achieving this, more and more businesses are turning to skills and training for help. But, what shape should this skills training take, and is training enough to make that all-important first-point-of-contact a daily reality rather than a nice-to-have?

    Recruitment challenges

    Before deciding what training is needed, it’s first necessary to look at what a first-point-of-contact agent looks like. It’s not uncommon for frontline complaint handling to be a first job and it’s very rare to find candidates who are seasoned professionals with vast experience in complaints. The role is often a stop-gap job, competing not only with other employment opportunities, many of which are less mentally challenging, but also up against education, gap-years and other more practical-skilled career routes.

    For the industry, it’s not only hard to attract the right people to the role, but the sheer numbers required to fill positions is an ongoing challenge as well. Typical employees are in their late teens or early twenties, with limited life-experience, which, for many, can make it difficult to empathise with the issues that a customer might be raising, putting in place another hurdle to first contact resolution.

    A good investment?

    One aspect that does make the role appealing to some is the fact that it equips employees with transferable skills, which, although of benefit to the employee, often makes for a more transient workforce, with customer service agents having one of the highest turnover rates in industry. So, although there is a huge tranche of employees in need of specific training to equip them with the skills and knowledge to strive for first-point-of-contact resolution, some businesses see this training as a wasted investment, simply furnishing their workforce with skills that they’ll use to gain employment elsewhere. In reality, however, rather than questioning why they should invest in someone if they’re only going to up and leave the organisation, businesses really should consider what will happen if they don’t invest and that person stays.

    In an ideal world, businesses would hire the best and train them well with a view to nurturing them as long-term employees, but this isn’t a realistic prospect. While it’s nigh-on impossible to train every employee in every skill, particularly considering that the nature of the work is continually shifting, with no two customers or customer issues the same identical, there are definitely steps that employers can undertake to build up a solid set of skills and knowledge across its entire front-line workforce. By addressing employee retention levels and morale, empowering employees to make sound, timely decisions, this will have a positive knock-on effect on the customer service they deliver.

    Tools and skills

    So, how can this be achieved? Well, a combination of tools and processes can provide the skills and knowledge required for first-point-of-contact resolution but it’s vital that it’s an ongoing, evolving process. The majority of businesses have training programmes but a one-off session is rarely sufficient, and there’s a real need to ‘on-board’ people with real world experience, pursuing a risk-based approach to how often work is quality controlled. For example, new starters typically have 100% of their work reviewed. But when does this end? With the right tools in place, it’s possible to ensure that as work improves or quality rises, the QA process begins to step away, with managers winding down intervention and becoming less intrusive as confidence in the employee and the employee’s confidence in their own ability increases. Similarly, it works in reverse too, with the right QA process highlighting where QA intervention needs to be tuned up to reinforce best practice and optimise outcomes.

    And, what about those employees who excel in the role and progress to a back-office role, ready to deal with those more complex complaints which end up being escalated? If first-point-of-contact resolution is the holy grail, moving experienced complaint handlers away from the front-line could be seen as a potentially damaging move but, if you don’t, you run the risk of losing valuable employees completely.  Rather than looking at these ‘back office experts’ as the next step for complaint escalation, they should be seen as an additional resource for front-line staff, on-hand to offer expert advice and guidance to enable that crucial first-point-of-contact resolution, making full use of this knowledgeable, highly trained resource.

    Technology and training

    However, this all depends on front-line staff being empowered to know when to ask for help, privy to a comprehensive, single view of the customer through an integrated case management platform to ask the right questions at the right time to facilitate a swift, effective resolution. The right combination of skills training and technology is the only way to achieve this, providing the knowledge and confidence to resolve complaints quickly and with the right outcome for that particular customer. Not only does this lead to increased customer satisfaction but it has a huge positive effect on morale too for the good of the business and the individual employee.

    First-point-of-contact complaint resolution is a common challenge across the industry and it’s not unusual to find competitors working together to share best practice. Investing in technology certainly does help, providing access to the tools and information needed to support timely resolutions, but having the right skills in place to take full advantage of the available technology is paramount. As we see increasing digitisation across the industry, it’s more important than ever for businesses to maximise the human element that will potentially soon become the one key competitive differentiator. The crux of the issue is how people and technology work together, with businesses needing to leverage technology with well-trained, motivated employees to avoid costly, time-consuming and risky complaint escalations.

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