What’s the difference between happiness and satisfaction?

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Andy Moorhouse 17th July 2019 5 minute read

What’s the difference between happiness and satisfaction?

Potentially, the future of your business, argues Blue Sky Director of Insight Andy Moorhouse.

Everyone is fascinated by happiness.

The UK government has commissioned studies to fathom which individuals in the UK are happiest, and why. There have been endless investigations into the secrets of happiness, with a fortune waiting for anyone who can truly determine them. (No claimants for that prize just yet).

But what’s certainly become clear in the contact centre environment is that happy customers do not necessarily equal satisfied customers, even though many presume that to be the case. It isn’t. Happiness and satisfaction are linked, but distinct.

Part of this assumption is a hangover from the nineties when Learning & Development materials were all about being polite and personable – that old concept of ‘smile when you dial’. The legacy persists today, with several FTSE100 firms recommending that advisors place a mirror on their desk so they can check if they are smiling! But being polite and personable isn’t enough nowadays, because while a customer might feel happy about the way the advisor dealt with them, if their problem wasn’t fixed then they won’t be satisfied, and that’s a very different outcome.

At Blue Sky we’ve really dug down in to the data, going in search of the specific behaviours that drive satisfaction. Almost universally, being polite and personable are no longer differentiators in the conversation. Advisors are polite and personable today, almost without exception, yet customers can still be dissatisfied, so clearly something else is going on.

Training advisors to keep customers happy is not the same as training them to keep customers satisfied, and it’s surprising how many large organisations don’t get this. You can still find FTSE 100 businesses telling their advisors to use buzzwords like ‘fantastic’ or ‘amazing’ in the belief that it somehow rubs off on customers. When we analyse the results, we see no evidence this increases satisfaction at all.

Instead, what does boost satisfaction are three very specific behaviours – ownership, reassurance and clarity on timescales.

“Ok, don’t worry. I’m going to sort this for you. I’m not going to leave you on hold. I’m going to get an answer; then I’ll call you back within 30 minutes. Even if I don’t have an answer I’ll still call you to let you know what the next steps are.” Conversations like that are full of those behaviours. When we analyse the data, it’s the calls without those behaviours that register the highest levels of dissatisfaction.

It’s about time

Surprisingly – because it sounds the least sexy of the three – clarity on timescale is the really interesting one here, where organisations could make the greatest improvement to customer satisfaction if they could get it right. It’s a good example of a small change making a big difference.

Often agents are good at outlining what’s going to happen next, but horrendous at clarifying the timescale, and these are two discrete behaviours. “We’re going to send out an engineer who’ll be with you soon.” Well how soon is soon? Ten minutes, an hour, a day?

This is a particular problem in telecoms and utilities where there are a lot of field-based visits. Often the work is contracted and there may be specific teams to dig the hole, to fix the pipes, to reinstate the tarmac, even a separate team to take away the barriers afterwards. Invariably they  do not all work for the same company, and the call handler often has very low levels of confidence around the timescale of when that work will happen.

But even so, what’s wrong with at least at explaining that situation to the customer? Perhaps if they knew there was a separate barrier team involved, they might not be on the phone saying: “your engineers have left all their bollards behind…” If you can’t set a timescale, at least explain and manage expectations.

The emerging expectations of the happy customer

So where are the future hot spots for customer satisfaction? If customers now demand clearer estimates of resolution timescales, what will be the next expectation for them to harden their attitudes around?

I think we are going to see extra pressure on right-first-time with customers questioning more vocally why it took two calls to fix a problem, not one. Despite much effort, this is an issue that still exists and has a major impact on customer satisfaction. We see organisations where right-first-time is running at 61% meaning that 39% of calls are not fixing the customer’s issue and they’re needing to call back. That’s a horrific figure.

This is where having a strong permission culture in a contact centre is vital. Let’s take the example of a password reset. It’s a short call, a reset email is sent to the customer, but it will say something like ‘insert a special character or a unique symbol’. Older customers might not be sure what that means, so they’ll put in another call two or three minutes later to check.

What we’ve observed is that the agents who stay on the call until the customer has successfully logged in have the absolute highest satisfaction and Net Promoter scores. Yet they can be criticised for spending longer on the phone so their handling times are not on target.

But what’s better? Having one 400 second call, or two 300 second calls? Call centre leaders are slowly coming round to the view that delivering the best service involves empowering your staff to ‘do the right thing’. If you’re looking to create satisfied customers – and genuinely happy ones – then ‘do the right thing’ is a rare but amazing mantra for contact centres. It’s one that will never get you into trouble!

Blue Sky is a division of Capita. Find out more about the company here.

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