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Weird Research: The Most Dangerous Time for Customer Service

By Jeff Toister on Feb 21, 2019 07:55 am

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What time of day are you at your best?

It's just after 7am as I write this post, because that's when I'm most productive at writing. It would take me forever to write the same thing if I tried to do it just after lunch.

We all have a circadian rhythm, which causes us to experience different levels of energy throughout the day. This can impact us in innocent ways, such as productivity.

Time of day may have even graver implications. I recently read about a 2011 study that examine two parole boards in Israel. The researchers discovered judges ruled in favor of prisoners 65 percent of the time when the prisoner's hearing was the first of the day. That number dropped to nearly zero for the last hearing before lunch.

This made me wonder if there's a similar effect in customer service. Can time of day influence service quality? The surprising answer is yes.

An office worker sitting at her computer, yawning.

How Time of Day Influences Customer Effort

To test my theory, I ask a contact center leader to share customer survey scores with me, with the results divided by time of day.

This particular contact center uses a version of the Customer Effort Score. After a transaction, customers are asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, "It was quick and easy for me to resolve my issue."

I was able to look at the results of 1,009 surveys from a one-month period. They were roughly divided between customer interactions that occurred in the morning (523) and interactions that occurred in the afternoon (486). 

The results show a clear difference:

Graphic showing Customer Effort Score by time of day.

It looks like this contact center's customers are generally happy. But there's an eight percent drop off in "strongly agree" responses in the afternoon. There's also an uptick in "strongly disagree" responses. Customers are apparently finding it slight more difficult to resolve issues later in the day.

It looks like the time of day thing is pretty real, but there are a few caveats that need to be mentioned. 

The first is this is data from just one contact center. And it's not controlled for other variables. For all I know, a single surly rep clocks in for the afternoon shift and single-handedly torpedos the results. (That's not really true, but you get the idea.)

The second caveat is the survey itself has a few flaws. For instance, the statement asks customers to consider two dimensions: quick and easy. Survey questions should ask just one thing or else it can create confusion. What if service is not as quick in the afternoon due to higher volume, but service quality is consistently easy throughout the day? Hard to tell.

So yes, there are flaws. But the results are still eye-opening!

What Can We Do About It?

I'm reading a terrific book by Daniel Pink, called When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It contains some fascinating research that helps explain why we might be making things more difficult for our customers in the afternoon.

Pink also provides a few suggestions for overcoming these challenges.

  • Take a micro-break (less than one minute) to do something different.

  • Get moving. Stand up and stretch or walk to get a drink or a snack.

  • Go outside. Nature helps us restore our focus.

  • Socialize. Take your mind off serious business and chat with a friend.

  • Shift mental gears. Watch a funny cat video or just breathe deeply for 45 seconds.

Some contact centers have created quiet rooms, where agents can enjoy a peaceful break or even take a nap. Other companies provide healthy snacks to encourage employees to replenish spent energy throughout the day.

Of course, these tips may be more difficult to implement in some places than others. For instance, a zip line tour guide is already out in nature, while a contact center rep might be measured on how few breaks they take. 

So you'll need to see what can work for your specific environment.

Take Action

Try looking at your own customer service survey data to see if time of day influences your service quality.

If it does, try getting your employee to experiment with some of Pink's suggestions. And please drop me a line if you do. I'm anxious to find more data!

Finally, if you’d like to find more examples of unusual or counterintuitive obstacles to customer service, check out my new book, Getting Service Right. It’s due out on April 2, but you can download the first chapter.


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