Creating the Building Blocks for Exceptional Customer Service


When customers are making purchasing decisions, customer service is most often not a top reason they select one brand over another, but it often determines how they later feel about choosing that brand—and what they tell friends. Their experience affects their likelihood to repurchase and recommend the products to others. And it affects their overall perception of the brand. A customer's service experience directly affects brand loyalty. When you’re trying to build a long-term business, loyalty is key.

At Pella, we measure customer experience in many ways, but a key measurement is Customer Effort Score (CES). Simply put, we ask customers to rank the effort required for us to resolve their issue. Our goal is to increase the percentage of customers who say we resolved their issue with low—or very low—effort on their part. 

Using CES is vital because time is everyone’s most valuable asset. Customers don’t just want a resolution. They want it without the work. We’ve found that 94% of customers with a low effort experience intend to repurchase. The customer’s greatest emotion around issue resolution is effort required. Customers want to be reassured that they made the right purchase decision. They want the process to be easy and not take a lot of their time.

Don’t just focus on resolutions to your customers’ problems. Make it easy for them, too.

I believe Customer Effort Score can tell you a lot more about your customer’s experience and, therefore, loyalty to your brand than a Customer Satisfaction score or a Net Promoter Score. Often times, CSAT and Effort are not directly correlated. Were you satisfied with the experience? “Yes (aka it’s fixed).” How much effort did it require? “A higher amount of effort than I wanted to put into it (aka I spent too much time getting it resolved).” 

In this case, I don’t think we did anything to increase the customer’s loyalty. I believe Net Promotor Score can be, and often is, highly manipulated by how it is presented to customers, and it only measures perceived intent. Often times, I can check “likely to recommend” and all it means is that if someone I knew said they were going to purchase the product, I wouldn’t be likely to try and talk them out of it. 

On the flip side, it doesn’t mean I intend to go tell anyone that they should purchase the product, unless the experience I had was so enjoyable, so easy, and low effort that I couldn’t wait to tell someone about that. If my issue was solved and my effort was low, now I'm a "raving fan." 

It's important to balance your metrics: CES, NPS, and efficiency. If you can keep these three in balance, you will deliver such a good experience that customers will be happy to promote you, while keeping your service cost structure in line. Balancing these three metrics will ensure your company is going to be successful for a very long time.

Keep a keen eye on your CES, NPS, and efficiency metrics. With these three in check, you'll keep customers happy and costs down.

Pella has been in the business of windows and doors since 1925. We are passionate about what we do. We care about the little extras and have a relentless commitment to finding a better way, exceeding what's required and achieving more for our customers and for each other. We know our customers have such a personal connection with our products in their homes, and that drives us to go beyond what meets the eye.

That’s why we want to support every part of the customer journey:  from the craftsmanship in our factory, to the network of distributors who sell only Pella products, our carefully chosen big box and retail partners, and the knowledge of the sales reps, installation crews, and service technicians. Our unique advantage over the competition is that we take care of the customer from nurturing to production to service.

A Framework for Consistency

My role at Pella is to work with our business partners to improve Pella's customer experience today, while also keeping an eye to the future. Looking back to when this project began, we were just beginning to shift or focus from CSAT to CES. Historically, we’ve scored highly in customer satisfaction, but we wanted to take that to the next level. 

When we took a step back, we realized our customers had a lot of what I call “random” experiences. Many of our customer service reps were jumping through hoops and otherwise going out of their way to help customers. You might wonder: Where’s the problem? 

The downside to that behavior is that, because our rep worked outside a consistent process, the next customer might not get the same care, or the person who got great care might wonder why it took so long. Without a system that drove consistency in place, we couldn’t guarantee that all of our customers got the same level of care—with minimal effort on their part. 

As part of our customer experience journey, we're focusing on moving from random experiences to desired experiences. Making this type of change in an organization is definitely more of an evolution than a revolution. We couldn’t just make the jump from random to desired experiences. We needed a framework. Consistent processes and technology solutions could provide a reliable experience in which we would be able to meet every customer's expectations. Only once we built that foundation were we ready to move to delivering more exceptional, desired experiences.

Our random experiences largely came from the disparate systems we used for customer service. They created a disconnect. Our corporate contact center had one service system, and our Pella distribution network used a different service system. 

We had some data sharing on the back end—but not entirely. And one call center couldn’t easily transfer or share customer data to another. We also had a challenge with our field service technicians, as we lacked the technology to really enable them to be mobile and to share data in real time. The technicians didn’t have easy access to information, so, for example, they couldn’t see the customer's history, or sell an additional part during a home visit. We pride ourselves on being with the customer every step of the way, but that meant our technology disconnects were with the customer every step of the way, too.

A Solution That Matched Our Complexity

We needed a system to help build our new customer experience (CX) foundation. We looked at a few systems, and when I saw that one of them, RightNow, had been bought by Oracle, it caught my eye since we already used several Oracle products. RightNow became part of Oracle B2C Service (fka Oracle Service Cloud)

We had several needs with a new CX platform. One was configurability. There’s some built-in complexity to our business due to the number of SKUs we have, and our wide range of customers and applications. We’ll build a custom solution for anyone, so you can imagine the number of products we’re tracking. We needed a system that would configure to our needs and not make upgrading a nightmare. It’s hard to find CX solutions that have both sides of that equation.

We also needed to add channels easily. Oracle B2C Service would allow us to have multiple channels all funneled into the same workflows. So whether the call came in over the phone, email, web, or chat, we could run those all to the same workflow in the system. This would bring an important consistency to the way we operate.

Any solution needed to be cloud-based, because we have different locations with information to share. We also have several integrations. We have an Oracle EBS system where we store our master customer database, which gives a 360-degree view of the customer, so we needed the cloud solution to allow access from our various systems. We could do that with Oracle B2C Service.

We also needed to integrate with Oracle EBS to create service requests and Oracle Install Base to track the products as they’re manufactured and what warranties are tied to each of our products. It also had to support a few other integrations for payments, invoicing, and our product configurator. That would help give our agents and customers a view of the product’s attributes and any warranties it carries. 

With an eye on optimizing service, we needed to integrate scheduling and routing our technicians, and provide a mobile solution to them as well. We found Oracle Field Service to be the best option for these requirements, and its integration with Oracle B2C Service made it a great option.

When we added all of that up, it was obvious that Oracle was the best option to integrate everything we needed.

Building Our CX Baseline

We purchased Oracle B2C Service in May 2013. With a company as complex as ours, we realized we couldn’t do it all at once, so we broke it into phases. The first rollout was to our corporate call centers. 

At the corporate call centers, we began to build our framework. Whether a customer contacted us via a phone call or an email, we could create an event and capture a lot of data from that. 

Up next were our subsidiary branches. We started adding the integrations our Pella Distributed Sales Network of Branches needed. We added Oracle Field Service and integrations to Oracle Finance. These locations had used their previous system for 18 years. It was a home-grown system and very customized to their needs. It meant a lot of change management involved in this process. One of the best things we did during this implementation was to create an advisory board from members of those branches. 

An advisory board might be the simplest way to lead change management.

Once a month for several months, we showed them the latest design of how the system would work and got immediate feedback—with developers making changes on the fly. It was mostly configuration changes related to how they interacted with the system, but it got their buy-in and ultimately gave us a better solution.

Once we understood the training cadence, we rolled out to our independently owned branches, which went live every other week for 18 months. It sounds daunting, but we learned so much from working through the subsidiaries that we could run the training like clockwork through the independent branches. Our upfront work paid off.

Facing Our Reality

With Oracle B2C Service in place, we had to solidify formalized processes. We couldn’t have agents running around trying to be superheroes. We had to gain some consistency so we could move to the next pillar in our customer service journey. 

But with our newfound insights, we saw how random those experiences truly were. Honestly, before Oracle B2C Service, we didn’t fully comprehend the lengths our agents were going to make customers happy. Everyone seemed to have their own ad-hoc processes. There was also an inevitable learning curve as our agents switched over to our new systems and processes.

"When first making the switch to the new system, our call center metrics looked worse. But that wasn’t the reality: it’s just that previously, we didn’t know what we didn’t know." -Traci Scott, Pella

When first making the switch to the new system, our call center metrics looked worse. But that wasn’t the reality: it’s just that previously, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. One initial area we saw this was in our Average Handle Time (AHT). Previously, because we emphasized AHT, some agents would say, “I’ll look into this and call you back,” resolving the issue in two calls instead of one long call. That might sound ok, but if the two shorter calls are both eight minutes, and the longer call is 12 minutes, that means the shorter calls used an extra four minutes of the customer’s time, and there was a risk of playing phone tag when we called the customer back. 

With Oracle B2C Service and better data, we were able to switch the focus from AHT to first-call resolution. Our agents are now empowered to take the extra time and get it right the first time. We now provide a resolution on that first call 75% of the time. This is a major boost to CES. Our initial results show a 21% improvement in our Customer Effort Score. 

"With Oracle B2C Service and better data, we were able to switch the focus from AHT to first-call resolution." -Traci Scott, Pella

Getting It Right, the First Time

With new insights in hand, and a reliable process in place, it was time to rethink everything. With the data we were capturing from Oracle Service B2C, we were able to "lower the water and expose the rocks" in many areas. It’s only when you see those challenges that you can work to resolve them. Ultimately, we were able to swing the pendulum and move past the random experience phase and onto delivering reliable customer experiences.

When we dug into other areas of customer effort, we realized customer feedback boiled down to some simple things, like us picking up the phone when they call. Now that we have all our locations connected on one system, we always have someone to take the call without making a person wait on hold.

Aiding those improvements is our new ability to shift calls. We have been able to centralize our B2C service calls to our corporate call center. Seamless routing the calls from the local branch to an agent in our centralized call center allows us to gain efficiency of a larger contact center and ensures when a customer calls, there will be an agent available to answer the phone. 

This also frees up our local branch to handle the B2B calls from contractors, builders, and architects, who are a major source of each branch’s repeat business. Not only are our customers happier, our branches are too.   

And while Customer Effort Score has always been one of our guiding metrics, it’s important to also balance that metric with efficiency. We’ve decreased agent on-boarding time by 40%, our first-time completion is up 13%, and the number of agents we need per sales $ has decreased by 30%. This integrated approach is benefiting the field as well since we've increased the number of cases resolved without a field technician by 15% and boosted the number of trips each field technician is able to make per day by 30% through optimized scheduling and routing. 

Moving from random to reliable experiences has been a journey. But we are now positioned to take a look at the future again and have begun to add exciting new features that provide customers with those exceptional, desired experiences. With the power of Oracle, we will continue to build on our foundation and take those next-level steps in providing an industry-leading CX.

Take-Aways for Planning Your Own Journey

Oracle has been a great solution because they made it easy for us to tailor the solution to our business. The configurability has been a big win for us. Now, we have a system with all this functionality, but it looks like a Pella system, which made the transition easier for our agents. It enabled us to create a reliable, consistent customer experience throughout our business. We have a much better sense of our metrics than we did before. 

When rebuilding your CX, take it one step at a time. Build a solid foundation and add complexity as needed.

For others wanting to start on a similar journey as ours, I want to highlight a few things. Take this one step at a time—you can add complexity as you progress. Build a solid foundation, in a way that allows you to keep expanding. Keep your eye on the goal: Focus on minimizing customer effort and agent effort. Align your initiatives to target experiences. And finally, know that this matters. Customer expectations are changing. Companies that want to continue to thrive must focus on improving CX in order to drive sales. Our story shows how we were able to improve an already people-focused company. You’re going to prove it to any skeptics in your own organization when you start to see results too.

Focusing on customer service is a long-term game. Pella as company has been a leader in our industry for over 90 years, because we care about our customers; and it's that dedication to continually improving the customer's experience that will keep us around for another 90.