What’s Your Time-to-Smile Number?

Customer success and support execs often are the bearers of bad news for an organization. When things go wrong, they are the proverbial “one throat to choke.” In an enterprise, this is particularly galling because many of the issues are not within the control of the customer service/support person. Buggy products, incorrectly calibrated expectations during the sales cycle and disruptions anywhere in the delivery process can cause frustration for customers. It’s no wonder that “customer satisfaction” is not a measure they like, particularly if too much of one’s bonus is tied to this measure.

To help the organizational silos better understand that everyone exists to care for the customer, there is a new metric that requires your attention. We call it “Time-to-Smile.”

It’s rooted in the idea that “we’re all in this together.”

For example, when a car needs to be repaired, the car owner doesn’t care that the average car contains 30,000 parts, many of which are from different suppliers. She doesn’t want to figure out which supplier made the faulty part and research the warranty, then contact the supplier directly. She wants to take her car to the dealer or repair shop, have the car fixed in the shortest amount of time possible, and drive back home with a car that runs as good as new. She doesn’t want to know every step of the mechanic’s process and she definitely doesn’t want to hear about how the mechanic had to argue with three suppliers before purchasing a replacement part. The car owner just wants to be able to drive her car again and get on with other important parts of her life.

That’s where “Time to Smile” comes in.

“Time to Smile” is the total elapsed time between when the customer experiences an interruption in the use of your product/service and the time when the issue is resolved. I believe this is an optimal internal service and support measure, because it holds the entire organization accountable—not just the front-line person who interacts with the customer, but employees in other departments who are needed to help resolve the issue. This organizational metric lessens the onus on a lone service representative by sharing their burden—effort is dispersed throughout the organization, so a team works to lower the customer effort score rather than one lone employee.

In this scenario, “Time to Smile” can be a proxy for many of the other less human-centric measures: time to respond, time to escalate, time to relief, time to mitigate, time to resolve, and internal service level agreements.

To understand this better, consider this example of the typical resolution process in an enterprise when departments work in silos rather than in concert with other teams:

  • 0.5 hours in customer support (getting context and initial troubleshooting with customer), then
  • 4 hours internal to customer support (recreating the problem and researching possible solutions often going back and forth with the customer), then
  • 24 hours in engineering (by the time they were able to get to the root cause and answer), then
  • 0.5 hours in customer support (as we close the loop with the customer)

If you’re keeping score, that’s a total of 29 hours.

Each department is measuring its “success” against its own acceptable amount of time for completing its step in the process, but no one is thinking about the total amount of time the customer is unable to use the product or service. That is, no one except for that very last support employee who will close the loop with the customer; that employee likely receives an earful about how far behind the customer has fallen because they’ve been without the product/service for 29 hours. That service rep’s customer satisfaction rating will likely be very poor. The customer is likely to have felt it took too long and they had to expend way too much effort with multiple interactions with the company to get the issue resolved.

There’s still hope, however.

If the organization were to view the entire customer experience holistically and examine each step as it relates to the overall process, the end-to-end process could be improved. Improving the end-to-end process will shorten the time it takes to resolve the customer’s issue and put smiles on the customer’s and employee’s faces, making the entire interaction a simple, joyful experience for both.

Our company once worked with an institution that had very long, complex processes to follow when reprocessing someone’s paycheck. Then we introduced “Time to Smile” and helped them slash inefficiencies where the customer (internal employees) were being bounced around from one department to another, waiting for answers and resolutions that were slow in coming. One thing that truly humanized the process? We added a picture of the customer (based on their customer persona) to remind everyone why they had to think from the “Time to Smile” perspective.

And in these crazy times, who doesn’t need a smile?

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