When customers reach out to your business for help, just one experience with your employees can determine whether they stay or go.
Behind the scenes, if your people, processes and business model aren’t geared towards customer-first, technology won’t prove transformative.
Contact centre solutions are essential to being able to engage in the right way, at the right time and with the right information.
Contact centres get a bad rap, often synonymous with annoying dinnertime cold calls, or hours on hold waiting for customer support. But they are much more than that. From the dental clinic receptionist, to the social media team pithily answering tweets, to your bank’s fraud hotline, there is a much more expansive way to think about ‘contact’. Given the importance of getting customer engagement right, it’s time to think about it more strategically.
The contact centre (in this article, we’ll refer to contact centres as the point or points in your organisation where customer enquiries are managed, from any channel) is more than just a point for sales and support.
"Customer service can be a significant differentiator for organisations, and contact centres are often the primary channel for most of the interactions customers have with a company. Organisations that want to transform their business need to have a system that is super simple, personalised, agile, and supports innovation to provide a differentiating customer experience," said Rada Stanic, Principal Solutions Architect, AWS Australia, which has been in the contact centre software business since 2017.1
It is, in fact, the proof in the pudding. Customer satisfaction and brand trust can all come down to this one area. Almost a third of all customers will stop doing business with a brand after just one bad experience, and yet on the flip side, 16 percent are willing to pay a premium for products and services if their experience is good. The stakes couldn’t be higher — customer experience leaders outperform the broader market, generating total returns 108 points higher than the S&P 500 Index.2
When customers reach out, it is because they need help. They have lost confidence in an aspect of interacting with your business or are unsure of a decision to make based on their own knowledge. It’s a pivotal moment and the worst possible time to give them a bad experience.
We’re all familiar with what a bad experience looks like — the customer service rep doesn’t know you, needs to verify through multiple questions or gather data you have already provided. You reach out via email but they want to call you instead, and when they do, you have to re-explain and re-verify. When they don’t have the information you need, or aren’t authorised to make a change, you'll be transferred to another department (to go through it all again). Your issue isn’t fixed.
In this (far too common scenario), not only do your issues not get fixed, your time has been wasted. Chances are you won’t be a customer much longer — and you’ll tell your friends. With the right technology, operational model and processes in place behind the scenes, however, great customer service can lead to customer growth, greater premiums and the ability to upsell products and services.
In a good scenario, the customer chooses their interaction channel and their answer is given there. Voice authorisation verifies who they are, and due to good flow management and AI suggested assistance, they’ve gone straight to the person with access to the data, tools and training needed. All this occurs in real time, when the customer needs it, wherever they need it, fixing their problem as well as providing a delightful experience.*
It’s fair to say that a lot of organisations have not kept up with changes in customer preferences and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the trend. What customers want, and how they access it, has been irreversibly altered. Everything needs to be faster and online,3 and customers are fully versed in what ‘good’ looks like.
Yet even as businesses were forced (or took the opportunity based on customer preference) to close face-to-face channels, not all have stepped up their game elsewhere — and they have not made the hard choices necessary to succeed when they do.
Too often, customer engagement is hampered by a mismatch of business processes. Silos have the unintended consequence of employees thinking department-first, instead of customer-first. Inevitably, this leads to roadblocks that customer service agents can’t (and shouldn’t have to) clear on behalf of the customer (or worse, they don’t even try).
All digital transformations (including vision and customer experience approach) need to be strategic. Your operational model, people development and processes must be optimised to enable great customer service and make the most of technology. At a minimum you’ll need a relevant digital goal, to understand your customers, to unwind the complexity that is stopping progress, to build digital skills across your organisation and put a premium on trust.
Stanic agrees, highlighting the importance of data to these goals, “businesses need to use the data they are safely collecting to predict behaviours, preferences and anticipate needs — and then build trust by using that knowledge to provide excellent customer service.”
A number of aspects will need to be addressed in regards to customer engagement specifically, such as: a central or dispersed operating model, number of contact centres, operational hours, metrics and real-time feedback to develop agents, onboarding, agile multi-skilled teams, structure, process, methodology and more. Without these things, the magic won’t happen and cutting-edge tech will be underutilised.
With the above under your belt, technology will prove essential to enabling the best experience for your customer service representatives and your customers. Here are some of the things to look for when evaluating the solution you’d like to go with:
Good feng shui — The contact flow, or journey through which the customer will travel when contacting you is essential. Look for platforms that offer natural, dynamic, customisable flows that will route the customer to the most appropriate point of contact. This could be as simple as how the interactive voice response (IVR) telephone prompts are arranged and where a customer is sent on selection. (A digital twin could help map the most productive journey for this.)
In channel, not omni-channel — Customers don’t choose the channel they reach out on without reason, and that needs to be respected by replying in that same medium. Look for software that can handle the requirements of different channels. For example, will your chatbot text be recorded? Can your agents interact with a Tweet from your contact centre application? Does everything meet regulatory and privacy requirements?
Ecosystem harmony — As with any technology, how well your application plays with others will define how flexible your system will be. Does the vendor have modular options that you can plug and play into the main platform as you learn what your business needs? Will the solution operate with your existing software such as your CRM?
Cost considerations — Many contact centre solutions on the market operate via a pay-by-seat model, meaning that you pay for as many agents as you have. This can make it hard to scale up and down with the needs of your customers, so if you’re in an industry where customer engagement levels fluctuate, a pay-per-use model could make a huge difference to your cost outlay.
Continuity in the cloud — Cloud-native solutions on cloud infrastructure are robust, flexible and capable of scaling to handle the most demanding contact centres and ensure your tech doesn’t go down when you most need it. The agility cloud brings will also allow you to react and make changes to your setup in real time.
Artificial intelligence — Far from an add-on, AI is becoming integral to good contact centre environments. Not only can it reduce speed-to-resolution by surfacing the information that agents need in real-time, it can make suggestions by predicting customer needs and anticipate opportunities to upsell via sentiment and speech analytics. All this allows your employee to spend less time doing the heavy-lifting, and more time providing higher value responses to your customer.
No matter what your business, whether you have dedicated small customer service teams, large offshore centres, or provide support, sales or a service, there is an opportunity to transform your business to be digital-first, customer-led, technologically-mature and provide exceptional, consistent experiences.
This isn’t a matter of being pleasant or reducing the cost of serving your customers (though it accomplishes both) — it is fundamental to the growth of your customer base, the reduction of retention costs and ultimately, meeting your strategic goals for the future.
The right contact centre technology will be critical to your success, helping you understand how your customers wish to interact, identifying the moments that matter most and helping your employees to make them delightful. Ultimately, by strengthening the loyalty of your customer, you will build their trust and get out in front of your competitors.
* Even better, if you have an optimised self-service channel as well as assisted channels then customers can not only solve their own problems, when they do need to speak to a human (a much more costly interaction) they are doing because their needs are complex, emotive and deserve higher quality support from your company.4
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