5 Hidden Costs in the Customer Service Process

5 Hidden Costs in the Customer Service Process

Most support leaders tolerate inefficiencies in the case management process. But how do you know when you need to make changes? Small tasks increase the cost of resolving cases and hurt a business's bottom line.

Something as benign as searching for an attachment in a case in Salesforce may not seem like a big deal. But when it happens on an ongoing basis, these unnecessary tasks accumulate across your team. Here are a few hidden costs of customer service that nibble into your budget:

1. Agent Idle Time

As agents work on cases, they navigate the CRM, read information, gain context, and respond to customers. They may also update field data and customer information. As they perform these tasks, they perform multiple clicks and wait for web pages to load. Frequent and slow-loading screens compound idle time over the lifecycle of a case.

Another example of idle time is the swivel chair effect, defined as the movement between filing cabinets and desks. Thomas Jefferson was among the first to suffer from this, as he used a primitive swivel chair while writing the Declaration of Independence. (Think of how much faster the U.S. could have achieved independence if Jefferson could have all the necessary information on one convenient screen.)

Thankfully, in the era of digital transformation, we no longer rely on cabinets to store files (or write with quills). Yet modern customer service teams still use multiple screens and swivel between email inboxes and Salesforce. One screen provides information, and the other helps respond to customers. Time spent switching screens lowers the volume of cases agents can close.

2. Case Prioritization Overhead

How do your customer service managers know which case to assign next? A well-defined customer support process empowers agents to work on the right cases at the right time. If your workflows lack intent, they can cause productivity hurdles.

Lack of automation leads to agents working cases at a whim. Agents may cherry-pick their next case, leaving Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) at the mercy of how different agents sort case queues that day. The more time agents spend thinking about which case to work on next, the less time they spend helping customers.

A lack of standardization leads to skewed KPIs, causing managers to misidentify high-performing and struggling agents. For example, one agent may pick cases that are easier to close. They will rank higher on case closure metrics than an agent using a queue sorted by priority. Who's the real hero here?

For multiple-contact cases, determining which customers are waiting for responses is tricky. Representatives can track this down by clicking into individual cases, but this increases idle time. Responsiveness without direction adds another layer of KPI volatility for your support team, which can lead to cases slipping through the cracks and frustrated customers. A lengthy customer service experience is a primary driver of low retention.

3. Looking for Needles in Haystacks

As agents and customers correspond, files attach to the case object. Images like social media icons from email signatures serve no purpose other than cluttering cases. When agents need to find attachments, they often have to sift through a stack of files ambiguously labeled image001.

A customer of ours calculated how much time they wasted searching for attachments. Each agent worked roughly 14 cases/day. Each case contained about 30 files. Identifying the relevant file took about 30 seconds. Deleting irrelevant files took another 5 seconds.

This calculation uncovered 42 minutes per day per agent just for finding attachments. Over a week, this was 3.5 hours of work time. Multiplying time spent on low-value tasks by each agent's salary, you can quickly put a dollar figure on this problem. Reducing low-value tasks for your team provides a better user experience.

P.S. - As of the publication of this blog, Salesforce storage isn't free. Each unwanted attachment eats into your budget by taking up valuable real estate.

4. Case Escalation Expenses

Improper escalation means higher-salaried employees work on cases beneath their scope of responsibilities. Does automation solve unnecessary case escalation, or is automation another cause of case escalation? It depends.

Some companies use automation to escalate cases at risk of violating Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Escalated cases come at a higher total cost of resolution due to higher salaries for specialists or managers.

An increase in improperly escalated cases can cause delays for properly escalated cases. Compounded, this issue contributes to churn and decreases customer satisfaction. Other companies optimize escalation at the agent level. Preventing improper case escalation at its root means a lower cost of resolution.

5. Agent Turnover

Agent compensation is often tied to meeting performance targets. If your agents don't feel they have the tools to meet their goals (or are struggling with any issues mentioned in this article), they may seek better opportunities. 

Hiring to backfill agents can be a time-consuming process for managers. They must recruit, interview, onboard, and train new hires on products, systems like Salesforce, and in-house operations. This hidden cost doesn't even consider whether a new hire has a higher salary than the agent they replace. 

Employee turnover hurts morale. It takes an average of 44 days to make a hire. Until you fill vacant positions, remaining agents have an increased workload. More work can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and lower customer satisfaction. A great customer experience starts with a great agent experience.

Have you been tolerating these hidden costs of a customer service team? 

Check out our Live Stream on November 2nd at 1 p.m. E.T. We'll show you how to put together a Business Impact Analysis to help you identify real-time areas of focus and reduce your total cost of customer support. Lowering your cost of support makes decision-making and forecasting easier.

Build an Impact Analysis to Uncover Hidden Costs in Your Service Process. YouTube Live Stream, November 2, 2023, 1 PM ET.

October 12, 2023