Customer Experience

5 Contact Center Trends to Watch

Contact centers have a lot of contradictory goals to juggle: focusing on both employee and customer happiness; modernizing while still utilizing helpful legacy systems; and upholding security while being open-minded enough to evolve. Contact centers are almost always in some sort of transitional phrase, with late-2017 being no different. Here are five trends you should either be familiar with or keep an eye on moving forward.

1. Omni-channel, not multi-channel, service.

Some contact centers mistakenly think that offering multi-channel service means they’re immediately able to deliver omni-channel support, but the two are quite different. Omni-channel services takes those multiple channels and seamlessly integrates them. Agent-customer interactions can be switched to a different channel mid-communication without losing any relevant data.

2. New digital channels.

Customers want convenience, which means being able to interact with customer support when they’re on-the-go. Emerging digital channels have to be adopted by contact centers, including mobile apps and web chat. These channels must be adaptable and easy to use, too, and they have to make it simple for customers to troubleshoot on their own and, when needed, get in touch with a live support agent.

3. Additional performance metrics.

Most contact centers have strategies in place to measure voice and call quality, but since digital channels are still relatively new, measuring them isn’t as commonplace. Understanding how agents perform on digital channels, including mobile, live chat and social media, can help to increase agent productivity and improve the customer experience.

4. Dependence on the cloud.

Though many contact centers have switched over to the cloud, others are still relying on their antiquated legacy systems. According to Customer Think, reliance on the cloud is about to increase dramatically, particularly over the next four years. More contact centers will move to the cloud, allowing them to scale globally, improve their data security and increase their efficiency.

5. Two-way conversations on social media.

The ways customers want to connect with brands on social media has changed – they now want to engage in a back-and-forth conversation with support instead of just observing the content a brand posts. Contact centers will need to train agents in how to chat with customers on social media platforms, both publicly (like on a Twitter thread) and privately (like on Facebook Messenger).

 

5 Must-Ask Questions When Choosing a Cloud Solution for the Contact Center

When was the last time you took a good look at your contact center and vowed to give it the update it needs? Regularly taking the pulse of your contact center, particularly when it comes to the software you use and how efficient it is, will help you remain competitive in the industry and relevant to your customers. Once you know the improvements that need to be made, you can find a cloud solution that meets your needs. Ask yourself the following questions when choosing cloud software.

  1. Will it support our omni-channel strategy?

Any software your contact center uses will need to support all of the channels your customers use to interact. This includes text, voice, web and social media. Additionally, these channels need to work flawlessly together so that you can provide omni-channel, not just multi-channel, service.

  1. Will the cloud solution remain up-to-date as time goes on?

The last thing you want is to be under contract with a cloud software provider who lets their service become antiquated. A quality cloud solution vendor will regularly add new features so that your contact center can remain on the cutting edge and continue to serve customers’ changing demands.

  1. How is uptime ensured?

A cloud solution that has too much downtime is going to be a major problem for your contact center. Ask your vendor about their service level agreement (SLA) for uptime. A certain amount of uptime should always be ensured.

  1. Is the vendor reliable?

Problems are bound to occur. When they do, you want to know that your vendor will be available to help you sort them out as quickly as possible. First, make sure the vendor has plenty of availability. Then, ask about the process they use to problem-solve.

  1. What will happen as the contact center expands?

Your contact center is going to change and, hopefully, grow with time. The cloud solution you choose will need to evolve and adapt along with your contact center. It should also be able to scale so that you won’t have to find a new cloud solution as you grow.

Have you hit a wall with your current software solution? It may be time to move to a cloud-based solution. Your contact center will get the modern functionality needed to quickly and properly serve today’s customers.

 

The Importance of Chatbots for Customer Service

Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable interacting online with artificial intelligence.  As a result, more and more brands are using chatbots and, furthermore, chatbot technology is evolving. According to Adweek, it’s possible that a majority of customer service queries will be answered by chatbots instead of humans by the end of the year.

Big companies see the value in chatbots: Facebook now allows for Messenger to work with third-party chatbots and Microsoft’s Bot Framework is a tool for building chatbots. Retailers, customer service departments and contact centers all recognize the importance of chatbots and must keep up with emerging technology to ensure their AI is as up-to-date as possible.

Chatbots seem to be most effective when combined with social messaging, where many of today’s consumers are spending their time, even more so than on social media itself. Additionally, young consumers prefer text and messaging for communication, which makes chatbots even more appealing. The key is to present them with interactive chat where they already are – on the social media or social messaging applications they’re already using. Customers are hesitant to download and learn new applications when they already have their preferred messaging apps.

What exactly do customers want from chatbots, other than accessibility? Chatbots Magazine published the results of a Bentley University study on the topic and found the following:

· Face or icon for the chatbot.
· Single search bar where all questions can be asked.
· Single chatbot instead of one for each department.
· Comprehension even if a question is asked in a “lazy” way.
· Simplistic speech that is still highly useful.
· Anticipation of what the customer’s next question will be.
· Patience no matter how complex the query is.

It’s expected that a growing number of brands will build their own chatbots to ease the burden of customer service on their live agents. Social messaging is expected to continue growing, too, which will make those new chatbots even more prevalent in daily customer-company communication.

4 Trends that Improve the Customer Experience

When customer service teams want to differentiate themselves from the rest, they focus on improving and optimizing the customer experience. Companies are more than willing to go above and beyond for the sake of meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Here are four trends that will help distinguish your contact center.

Relying on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere, from video games to the automobile industry. Customer service has been impacted by the increase in AI, too. This technology can be used to chat with customers about easy-to-solve issues, which frees up live agents for more difficult and complex matters. Automation with AI can reduce customer wait time, interact with customers and collect important data for the contact center to later analyze.

Implementing an Omnichannel Strategy

One major gripe that customers have is repeating themselves to various customer support agents in order to get an answer or have a problem solved. Channel integration isn’t the same as omnichannel service. Today’s companies can’t just respond to a customer, they have to know as much as possible about the customer and their problem beforehand in order to provide customized, relevant support. Customer service requires empathy and a human touch in order to connect meaningfully to the customer.

Analyzing Big Data

While much of the customer experience is about interaction and communication, big data still has a pertinent place in understanding customer behavior. Big data can actually help the contact center connect on a more personal level with customers. There’s so much information that can be tracked now, from customer behavior at every point of the journey to customer preferences regarding any number of attributes. Data helps customer support do things like figure out what a customer is going to want before they even ask for it and determine the best way to reach a customer on the channel of their choice.

Providing Real-Time Communication

Using things like AI, which can automate several processes, and ominchannel strategies, which can cut down on the length of time it takes to solve a problem, gives customer support agents the extra time to handle some queries personally. Real-time communication, specifically via mobile and social media, is in demand, especially by younger generations who are used to communicating in these ways. Being able to provide immediate support improves the customer experience and builds trust in customers.

Learn from this Sample Customer Journey: Booking a Flight to Boarding the Plane

Today’s customer journey considers the beginning-to-end experience that the user follows to complete a task. Often, the journey involves numerous channels and devices that all must interact with the customer wherever, whenever and however they want.

Air travel can be exhausting, both physically and mentally, especially if the many plans that have to be in place don’t come together. Delayed or canceled flights, difficulty scheduling backup flights, lost luggage and missed connections are just the beginning of the travel headache. Done correctly, the customer journey of a person who’s traveling can be greatly eased with intuitive messaging and thoughtful touch points. Consider this modern customer journey for the traveler:

• Book your flight online well in advance to secure the best ticket price.

• Receive a push notification from the airline’s mobile app that allows you to check-in the night before your flight.

• Choose the way you’d like to receive your boarding pass (saving it to your phone, via email, etc.).

• At the airport, visit a kiosk to scan the boarding pass on your phone and then print your baggage ticket.

• Show security your digital boarding pass.

• Receive immediate flight status updates through your preferred contact method (text message, email, app push notification, etc.).

• While on the flight, go to the airline’s website on your phone, tablet or laptop to watch movies.

Traveling of the past was often rife with long lines to get to an agent at the airport, paper boarding passes that can get easily lost and difficulty keeping up with the latest flight changes. The reason the new, digitally-enhanced customer journey flows so well is because the airline (or booking service) the traveler uses offers online and mobile access; remembers personal information, allowing the company to send customized alerts to individual travelers; has multiple digital options for doing necessary travel tasks, then syncs those options (saving the boarding pass to your phone then scanning it at the luggage tag kiosk); and generally keeps travelers in-the-know regarding their trip. Once on the flight, the company is further able to keep the traveler happy and entertained by offering in-flight Internet service and other types of free entertainment.

This type of customer journey takes into account the cornerstones that customers need: consistent and proactive service, optimized features, collaborative options and seamless transitions.

How to Improve Your IVR System

In theory, an IVR system is a great idea. Customers can get personalized support without having speaking with a live agent. When you break the cardinal rules of creating a user-friendly IVR system, though, you risk irritating customers and overloading your agents with live calls.

Simplify Options

Too many options are impossible for callers to remember. Menus within menus are confusing and long-winded. Customers will default to speaking with a live agent or choosing options that sound close to what they want just to get on with it.

Name the Department First

The department should always be named before its associated number You may think that a caller will easily remember to “press 1 for sales,” but “for sales, press 1” is much more fool-proof. This makes it easier for the caller to associate the number with the department. Otherwise, they’ll have to repeat the menu or just opt to speak to a live agent.

Allow Extra Time

It’s great when an IVR system can access detailed customer information, like an account number or tracking information. However, it’ll take the customer a moment to jot that number down. Give them a few extra seconds, say the number twice and offer a way for the customer to have the information repeated. If the customer misses the one detail they called in for, the IVR system hasn’t done its job.

Don’t Hang Up

Some IVR systems will automatically disconnect the call if the wait is too long. Even if there’s a lengthy queue and the caller will need to wait for a long time, it can be more frustrating to get hung up on. Some callers prefer waiting instead of having to call back at a future time, even if the wait time will be shorter. Offer a callback option that will hold their place in line and ring them when an agent is available.

Maintain the Same Voice

The same voice – a human voice, not a robot one – should be used throughout the entire IVR system. Switching voices is distracting and the caller may not focus on what is being said as much as the new voice. Maintaining the same voice throughout each menu and option is the most professional option.

AI integrations like IVR can be incredibly helpful for the contact center, so long as they make less work for agents.

How Real-Time Analytics Monitoring Improves the Contact Center

Real-time data helps businesses run smoothly. Being able to see the truth about how your company is performing moment-to-moment lets you understand the reality of your business. When you know where you’re losing as well as where you’re winning, it’s easier to appropriately adjust and monitor the contact center’s daily functions. When day-to-day functions are made more efficient, productivity can increase. Here are six benefits of real-time analytics monitoring

1. The quantity and quality of calls can be tracked.

Real-time monitoring allows the contact center to know exactly how many calls are being handled by agents, plus how many calls are currently in queue. The supervisor can see how many calls are being worked on and resolved by specific agents, and conversations can be listened in on to find out how they’re being handled. At any point, the contact center can track a call in real-time and then step in if the agent seems to be struggling. By closely monitoring calls, you can determine where a specific agent or a group of agents need more work.

2. Assess the changing value of a customer.

Customers will change their value to a company as they continue to purchase items or as they become dissatisfied with the products or level of service they receive. When a customer changes how frequently they purchase, real-time analytics can immediately update the customer’s status. The next time the customer contacts an agent, the agent will know how valuable the customer is. If the customer has been purchasing more frequently, they can be moved to VIP status. If they haven’t been purchasing as frequently as in the past, they may need an incentive in order to trust the company more.

3. Analyze waiting and idle time.

The amount of time a customer has to wait to have their problem resolved is a huge part of the customer experience. The longer the wait time, the more upset the customer may get, getting the customer-agent conversation off to a bad start. While an agent may need extra time to resolve a problem, the customer only cares about how long the process is taking. With real-time analytics, the wait and idle time for each agent can be assessed.

4. Quickly manage long queues.

At times, the contact center will be understaffed or inundated with calls, live chat requests, and emails. During these times, real-time monitoring can show you which agents are idle, allowing you to redirect calls that are currently in queue to those agents. Team members can quickly be reallocated in order to meet a surge in demand.

5. Find out how long it takes for agents to handle queries.

Contact center agents are tasked with resolving issues in the quickest way possible without lowering service quality. With real-time analytics, you can see how long agents are spending on each customer. You can then work with the agents who regularly take a long time with customers in order to lower their average resolution time.

6. Take advantage of cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

When a customer has recently bought a product or service, the contact center agent has an opportunity to cross-sell or up-sell. Real-time data can track what the customer has recently purchased and then automatically populate other products or services that they may be interested in. The system may also prompt the agent to offer the customer a better version of the product they’re ready to purchase at a higher price point.

Voice of the Customer: Beyond Feedback Surveys

Voice of the Customer (VOC) is important for contact centers that want to improve the customer experience. Many contact centers associate VOC with feedback surveys, but there’s a lot more to it than that. VOC has many facets that help brands learn about customers and not every type of data collection has to be announced. Here’s how VOC strategies can help you learn what customers want and need, plus how you should be giving it to them.

Conduct Interviews and Focus Groups

Interviews and focus groups, especially those that are in person, are excellent ways to test new products and services. This type of direct feedback is also a good way to understand the current perception of a brand. If interviews and focus groups can’t be conducted in person, virtual meetings are a useful alternative.

Ask for Input from Contact Center Agents

Nobody communicates as frequently with customers as your agents. A contact center’s own employees can provide a great window into customer expectations. Real-life scenarios, especially those that seem to occur frequently, can help you pinpoint areas of success as well as areas of failure.

Talk to the Marketing Team

There’s a lot of customer insight that can be gleaned from marketing and advertising analytics. The marketing team will be tracking the nitty gritty of their campaigns. You’ll be able to find out things like which colors are most appealing to customers, which images social media users are reacting to and the wording that has worked to get people engaged.

Listen to Social Media

Even brands that don’t have social media accounts may still have an influential presence online. Consumers often talk about products or customer service experiences by writing reviews on Yelp or posting on social media. Brands should be monitoring the internet for mentions of their company, products or services, and responding publicly to negative feedback.

VOC is an integral part of your customer experience strategy. Feedback surveys can be helpful, but they’re not the only worthwhile pursuit. It’s not always possible to get honest feedback by asking for it. Think of how many times you’ve been unsatisfied with the food or service in a restaurant but still smile and say, “Great!” when the server asks how everything is. When it comes to virtual brands, observing how people engage with products or services can provide a lot of insight.

Is Your Company Making One of these 5 Tragic Customer Service Mistakes?

 Guest Blogger – Dana Brownlee

If you’re like me, you’ve had more than your share of horrible customer service experiences leaving you scratching your head in frustration at the fact that companies seem to make the most glaring customer service mistakes (that could be so easily remedied)!!!! I’ve certainly wondered….

  • Why does the automated phone system ask me to punch in my account number a zillion times if the representative’s first question will be “Account number please?”
  • Why is it so hard to find an actual customer service phone number for many companies these days?
  • Why can’t you just apologize up front if you made a mistake and act like you care while you’re at it?
  • Why can’t you listen to what I’m actually saying????
  • Why can’t I get a number to call you back if needed – YOU, the agent I’ve neem talking to for the last 30 minutes, not the main 800 # where I’ll have to start all over!
  • If you know you have times when you can expect “higher than normal call volume”, why can’t you staff up for those and not leave me on hold for 15 minutes?
  • Why does it seem like I’m talking to someone who’s hired just to read a script instead of someone who is really knowledgeable and equipped to solve my problem?Having analyzed real customer feedback from the 2016 Professionalism Matters “What Customers Really Want Survey” (see full report here), I’ve identified 5 TRAGIC Customer Service Mistakes too many companies are making!
  1. Most customer service efforts are focused on “fixing” the problem instead of eliminating it. What’s the difference? Eliminating the problem is about identifying the root cause to ensure that problem never occurs again while “fixing” it is about addressing that specific customer’s complaint and moving on to the next call. When I ordered a tie for Father’s Day with my infant son’s picture on it and realized that the company put the wrong baby’s picture on my tie, I immediately called customer service. Although the CSR (in a very matter of fact tone), immediately offered to refund my money, I was more disconcerted to see that she had ZERO interest in figuring out why this happened and what steps she should take to ensure this problem didn’t happen to anyone else. In contrast, I read that in an effort to truly find/fix root cause problems one company had decided to eliminate traditional “customer service” and instead have their developers/engineers take all customer service calls. This approach not only ensures customers can talk directly to the person who can fix the root cause problem, but it also encourages a broader set of employees have direct customer interaction.

 

  1. Most companies have a “customer dissatisfaction infrastructure” where CSRs are low skilled, poorly compensated, or not highly valued.

Within a company organizational structure, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) oftentimes have the MOST regular, direct customer interaction – in many ways they are the face of the company and have a HUGE impact on not just customer service levels but ultimate customer loyalty as well. Customers may try a product or service based on the specifications of the specific product/service, but they often stay with/leave a company based on the service they receive over time. Given the fact that CSRs have SO much influence on customer impressions, you’d think that they would be highly regarded, trained, and compensated….WRONG!!! It’s exactly the opposite in too many cases. CSRs are typically among the lowest paid staff with a 2015 median annual salary (according to Bureau of Labor Statistics) of just $31,720. They’re often entry level positions requiring little education/training. The low pay most likely negatively impacts employee morale, turnover, candidate quality and other factors that can have a dramatic downstream impact on customer service levels.  Companies must not just make changes in how they recruit, train, and reward CSR staff but also shift the corporate culture to acknowledge the importance of the CSR role.

  1. Increased automation and outsourcing has resulted in decreased customer satisfaction.  

Customers HATE IVRs, phone trees, and phone automation systems but for some reason, companies seem to insist on using them. To make matters worse, customers are insulted by being asked to input account information (sometimes multiple times) only to have to repeat it again once the agent takes the call.  It just makes the “automated” system seem useless in addition to being frustrating.  Even if it’s not practical to ditch IVRs completely (particularly for large call centers), companies should seriously consider streamlining them to require a response to no more than one automated question. Another option could be providing email or IM customer service as an option for customers who prefer that to minimize the volume of live calls (and thereby minimize the need for automated support).

 

Outsourcing call centers overseas may save money short term but it also creates significant customer frustration and decreases customer loyalty.  82% of survey respondents indicated that they have difficulty understanding their service representative due to dialect.  While there are likely cost savings associated with outsourcing call centers, it’s questionable whether the savings outweigh the long term cost associated with reduced customer satisfaction/customer loyalty.  Also, the purported “cost savings” may not actually be as significant as they appear if customers are having to make multiple calls (instead of one) in order to reach a representative with whom they can effectively communicate.

  1. CSR scripts encourage a robotic, insincere experience for customers.

Many respondents commented on the “lack of empathy” they feel from CSRs during customer service interactions.  Having extensive “If they say this, you say that” scripts are the perfect recipe for robotic, sterile interactions.  Even the most well intentioned CSR is likely discouraged from actual unique, personalized connection with the customer when a word for word script is stuffed in their face and they’re told to follow it….or else! Furthermore, scripts seem to discourage active listening possibly because the agents may be anticipating what the customer is going to say (based on the options in their script) instead of actually listening to their specific scenario. Indeed, when asked how often they felt CSRs truly heard/understood their concern/issue during customer service calls, only 35% responded “Often” or “Always” (view full survey results here). Anecdotally, they frequently cited this refusal to listen as a key point of frustration.

Companies should definitely ditch the scripts and instead encourage CSRs to actively listen and pursue true, authentic customer interaction.  More specifically, CSRs should strive to achieve true “customer connection” within the first two minutes of the call.  This connection typically includes a sincere apology if the company dropped the ball in any way, reiteration of the customer’s issue (to ensure they know they were heard) and/or a statement of empathy for any inconvenience.

  1. Companies are increasingly removing or minimizing live agent customer service options even though customers clearly prefer addressing customer service issues by phone.

In today’s era of social media, chat/IM, and email, companies seem to be trending away from providing live customer service representatives.  Interestingly enough, our survey revealed that respondents overwhelmingly (49%) preferred addressing customer service issues by phone.  Text/IM came in a distant second at only 19%. Respondents were also frustrated by the increasing prevalence of companies “hiding” their phone contact information deep within the website – ostensibly to make it so difficult to find that customers will give up and opt for other less costly customer service options like email, chat, or social media.  In short, customers feel that trying to reach customer service should not feel like an episode of CSI!

As advancing technology reduces barriers to entry and industries become more and more competitive, companies must do more to keep the customers they have and gain new ones. I for one have been underwhelmed by most companies’ attempts at customer service and feel a rebranding is in order. What about “Customer Enthusiasm”? In today’s social media obsessed world where a really bad review from the wrong dissatisfied customer on the right social media site can make a marked difference in your bottom line, shouldn’t the new goal be “customer enthusiasm” – how do we excite customers and make them not just stay with us but rave about us publicly? Indeed, it seems that the proverbial “cheese has been moved” in the customer service arena and what “worked” yesterday may not be sufficient tomorrow.

Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In @ www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee and Twitter @DanaBrownlee.

How to Determine Whether a Contact Center Enhances the Customer Experience…or Detracts from it

It’s no secret …every time that a customer is involved with a company, they are evaluating whether to continue doing business with it. This makes every interaction critical, whether it’s a simple transactional exchange or high-impact conversation. Each interaction provides an opportunity to deliver the best possible customer experience, but it also presents the danger of a creating a negative impression that permanently damages the relationship. The contact center is of course the pivotal point of that customer journey. When agents don’t have the right tools, a business doesn’t just miss out on the chance to make a good impression, it could actually lose customers.

But how can an organization objectively and accurately evaluate how effective their contact center solution is in enabling a superior customer experience? Factors that need to be taken into consideration include:

  • Channel capabilities. Are customers able to reach out to the business via a variety of key methods, beyond just voice and IVR, such as web, chat email, text, social media and mobile? Are there preference management options in place that allow customers to consistently access their channel of choice? Are agents trained to guide interactions through multiple contact channels?
  • Convenience/speed/self-service. Does the IVR recognize callers based on their phone number? Does it use Natural Language to better understand responses? Do agents have access to all necessary data, such as account information and contact history, across all channels? Is first contact resolution currently being measured and if so, how high is the rate?
  • Caller satisfaction/Customer journey. Are customer expectations as they apply to the contact center being analyzed? Is customer satisfaction currently being measured? Is agent performance being tracked as it relates to stated business objectives? Is the customer journey being mapped and if so, are common customer pain points and key moments being identified?

No two organizations will have the same answers to these questions. Almost all companies operate at a different level of technology. But every business can benefit from gaining a comprehensive overview of the experience its contact center provides, and from exploring the many ways it can be improved. Take part in a complimentary interactive workshop  that will offer an individualized internal analysis which can be used to help plan for necessary improvements.