The term "first call resolution" is commonly used in customer relationship management, especially with call centres, and refers to an employee's ability to service a customer without the need for follow-up calls.
In other words, get it right the first time.
Here's an example of how easy it is for a business to go astray.
I called a local small business to have some equipment serviced. The person who answered the phone was very pleasant but it took him a while to call up my purchase history. I didn't mind: It saved me from having to find the receipt, model and serial numbers and previous service history.
After calling up my information, he told me that the company's business was really growing, and it now had a full-time person responsible for scheduling service calls. I was told that this dispatcher worked from another location and would call within three days to book an appointment.
Really? You are growing your business so fast that you centralize booking, can't transfer my call to the dispatcher and want me to wait three days? Hmmm. It is 2012, isn't it, where call forwarding is a reality, and an online shared calendar can create scheduling visibility, if not appointment booking in real time. (I said this to myself, and I knew it was me because I recognized the sarcasm in my voice). I didn't argue and left my cellphone number.
Five days, including a weekend, passed, with no call from the dispatcher. I called my local store again and was promised a return call that day. The call came the next day instead, but the dispatcher called my home number rather than my cellphone, so he had to leave a voice mail, which I didn't receive until the evening. I called back the next day and we booked a service appointment.
That wasn't easy. I was trying to spend $119 with this small business and it burned most of its margin and a bunch of my time with a lack of appreciation for the value to me, and the cost savings to it, of obsessing about first-call resolution – and getting it right the first time.
Since I think a business should value its customers' time, let's combine my efforts with the company's and look at the net effect of this transaction.
What could have taken one phone call between one employee and one customer on one day that should have lasted 10 minutes, tops, actually took six phone calls (including checking my voice mail), an estimated 22 minutes and was spread over eight days. That was eight days to get an appointment, which didn't take place until a week later, so, in my mind, it took 15 days to give me the opportunity to spend $119 with this vendor.
What can you take away from this experience?
The transaction took six times the number of phone calls and more than twice the amount of labour minutes than it could have to book my appointment. It's not just about the time on the phone, it's also about the opportunity cost: Those employees could have been generating new sales with the time they spent back and forth with me.
As a customer, I was frustrated and disappointed. Thankfully, the service technician showed up on time and did a great job. So the problem wasn't the product or service, it was the management systems – or lack of them – that support the product and service.
Small business owners managing growth often fail to see these individual instances of wasteful tasks as meaningful places to look for cost savings, not to mention customer-service improvements. In sum, there is real money to be saved here.
I got the strong sense that the employees I interacted with were all intelligent, polite and thoughtful. What felt missing was the recognition of the importance of getting it right the first time.
The value of getting it right the first time starts with recognizing waste in your business.
And if you or your staff are so busy that you don't have time to get it right the first time, where do you find the time to do it over?
Thinking about this out loud with your team is a chance to make your customers, and your bottom line, happier.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.
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