Customer Service

How to Improve Your Contact Center’s Live Chat Service

There are several different customer service channels available to customers, but the winner always seems to be the one that responds the fastest. Since web chat is both time-sensitive and personal, it’s often a customer’s preferred mode of contact. Here’s how to optimize customer satisfaction using live chat.

Make sure the chat is visible.

There’s a lot of information for visitors to look over when they’re on your website, but the live chat option should be obvious and easy to find. A pop-up window on the bottom of the page lets customers chat while still navigating around the website. Since the window is going to be small, make sure the font is large enough to read.

Only send an invitation if an agent is available.

Offering a live chat option at the right moment is key to engaging the customer at the best time. However, you should never invite the customer to a chat session if there isn’t actually a live agent available. Customers shouldn’t have to wait for help, especially if you reach out to them first.

Go off script.

Even though you want to maintain a certain level of professionalism, live chat conversations can lean toward the friendly and personal. The agent should introduce themselves and refer to the customer by name. Also, it’s okay to go off script if the customer asks detailed questions or if they’re upset and need the agent to show empathy.

Keep chat etiquette in mind.

Even though live chat is on the informal side, agents should still write in complete sentences; pay attention to spelling and grammar; and avoid slang. Paragraphs should be short and digestible, and technical speak should be avoided so that the customer can keep up with the conversation.

Make it quick.

Customers want their issue handled quickly on chat. Agents should make sure to respond swiftly whenever the customer sends a message. Conversation should be limited so that it doesn’t get in the way of solving the problem. Also, if the situation will take too long to troubleshoot on live chat, the customer should be given an alternate solution, like self-service or the number to the right department.

Live chat is helpful for customers who need to multi-task or want to get fast service. In order to deliver the service customers deserve, it’s necessary to know what they expect.

 

How to Motivate Contact Center Agents

There are several reasons to motivate contact center agents: hiring new staff can get expensive; training new hires means there’s lag time between when they’re hired and when they can start working; and company morale can decrease if there’s a high rate of turnover. Here are 5 ways to motivate contact center agents.
All of the tools your agents use, from software to hardware, should work flawlessly. Faulty technology makes it impossible for agents to be efficient. One necessary type of tool are those that reduce customer frustration. Agents can get frazzled after speaking with one angry customer after the other. Software that allows for queue callback or voicemail can make customers happy, which in turn delivers agents fewer frustrating inquiries.
2. Setup seamless automation.
Quality contact center software will automate manual tasks so that agents don’t have to perform them with every single call or chat. Data should also be synced across all customer service tools. When their workload is streamlined, agents have more time and energy to handle more pressing issues.
3. Help agents hone their specialties.
Instead of having all of your agents trained in every area, figure out the strengths of your individual agents and help them specialize. Some agents may excel at handling agitated customers while others will have in-depth knowledge of your products. When you have agents who are experts in certain areas, they’ll be able to answer queries and solve problems more quickly than if they only had limited knowledge of the niche.
4. Open the lines of communication.
Your contact center agents are the closest people to your customers. It’s important that your agents know they can speak with you openly. Not only will you hear great ideas you haven’t thought of before, but agents who feel valued and needed are more likely to perform well in their job.
5. Use analytics to acknowledge excellence.
With call center reporting, you can see how agents are performing. When you find an agent who spends a short time on calls and has a high FCR rate, for example, you can reward them for their performance. You can also see which agents have positive customer reviews and reward them accordingly.
When your agents are motivated and happy, they’re better able to deliver the sort of customer experience you expect.

5 Barriers to Overcome When Creating an Omnichannel Strategy

If a contact center is going to understand how important omnichannel is, to them and their customers, they need to know the benefits of seamless interaction across all channels. Furthermore, it has to be understood that a one-size-fits-all solution will no longer work; it won’t provide a modern, enjoyable customer experience. Everything from antiquated technology to a lack of understanding or concern regarding omnichannel service can get in the way of creating a true omnichannel experience.

1. Not Providing All Departments with a Single View

Every department needs to have a synced, singular view of the customer, no matter what channel they’re on. Just as the different channels need to work together, so do the contact center’s various departments.

2. Not Understanding the Depths of the Customer

In the past, customer buying history was the main – and often, only – important detail to pay attention to and track. Today, omnichannel goes far beyond buying history, looking at what happened before, during and after the buying process. This plays into being able to define what omnichannel means to your specific contact center – it’s not a metric, but instead of way of offering a certain type of customer experience.

3. Poor Technology and Missing System Integrations

Even with the best omnichannel plan in place, contact centers can’t attain their goals if they don’t have a system that supports them.

4. Poor Management Regarding Big Changes

Instating an omnichannel system requires everyone at the contact center to get updated on the new processes. This requires training and education, as well as someone who is going to lead and manage the change.

5. Providing Consistent Service on Varying Channels

It can be incredibly difficult to provide the same level of service when switching from channel to channel. Specific strategies and specialty training have to be in place in order to provide high quality customer service on everything from email and phone calls, which have no communication limits, to something like Twitter, which has a distinct character limit.

While an omnichannel strategy puts the customer first, it requires a lot of setup and management on the backend, in the contact center. While switching to an omnichannel strategy or updating your current one can take some time and effort, ultimately what’s best for the customer is what’s going to be best for the contact center.

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

live chat vs virtual agent

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO, Creative Virtual

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Register to join me for CRMXchange’s upcoming Tech Tank – Customer Delight: Live Demonstrations of Breakthrough Innovations.

Why Omnichannel Consumers Are So Valuable

“Omnichannel” isn’t simply a trendy marketing buzzword or a flash in the pan – just ask customers. According to Business Insider and insight from the Harvard Business Review, “Shoppers who engage with retailers across multiple touchpoints are driving boosts in conversion rates both online and offline as they become increasingly reliant on more than one channel to aid in their purchasing decisions.” Multiple touchpoints are necessary for engaging customers and increasing sales, but those touchpoints have to work together in an omnichannel – not just multichannel – strategy. Here are three ways that Business Insider says omnichannel consumers are highly valuable:

1. They spend more money per purchase. Every time the consumer is in an actual store, they spend 4% more. When online, they spend 10% more. This spending is higher than shoppers who interact with brands via just one channel.

2. Customer loyalty is increased. Customers who engage on various channels visit real-life stores 23% more over a six-month period. They are also likely to recommend the brands to their peers.

3. Customers who engage with retailers on four or more channels spend 9% more in a brick-and-mortar store.

Ultimately, the more ways a customer can engage with a brand, the more money they’ll spend. When omnichannel is setup in the contact center, the customer knows that they will get up-to-date support no matter when or how they choose to engage. When self-service fails, they can seamlessly contact an agent who will pick up right where they left off – customer information is synced live so the agent can get all necessary information immediately. In addition to customer support, omnichannel ensures that inventory and product information is the same regardless of where it’s accessed. Inventory is synced in real time. Overall, building trust with the consumer increases brand loyalty as well as sales.

Soon, brands will have to also embrace the Internet of Things as wearable gadgets grow in popularity. These devices are collecting a ton of data about current and potential customers. CRM systems will need to measure analytics that come from the Internet of Things and find contemporary ways to market to those customers with each new platform that emerges. Omnichannel strategies embrace new methods for collecting important customer data, as each channel and device that’s added to the strategy is able to inform and improve the others.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-why-omnichannel-consumers-are-more-valuable-2017-1

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.

How to Hire New Contact Center Agents

 

As the face of the company, contact center agents play a major role in the customer experience. In order for your contact center to meet its objectives, the recruitment process has to be well thought out. Training can only do so much and it won’t be able to fix what was ultimately a bad hiring decision. By defining your recruitment process, you’ll be able to choose the best candidates from the start.

Here are four tips for hiring new contact center agents:

  1. Be professional.

Job candidates get their first impression of your contact center from how you present yourself during the recruitment process. Hiring new agents should be approached with the same care that you use when handling customer service inquiries.

  1. Write realistic job postings.

It’s common for job postings to have a lengthy list of “must-haves” for job seekers. However, a lot of these “necessities” are based on corporate boilerplate information instead of actual, meaningful job requirements. It’s better to list just the necessary minimum requirements for the specific role you need to fill. Get rid of any cognitive, personality and behavioral requirements that won’t actually impact job performance. It’s likely that there are agents out there who would be a great fit for your contact center if only they didn’t have to meet a multitude of extraneous prerequisites.

  1. Screen call center candidates for specific job roles.

Some characteristics will be important for contact center hires across the board – communication skills and critical thinking, for example. The rest of the screening and assessment process, though, should focus on how each job candidate will fit the specific role you need to fill. A person interviewing for a sales position should demonstrate skills of persuasion and the ability to convert. A person interviewing for a customer care role should showcase their empathy and their knack for problem solving.

  1. Take advantage of technology.

Finding the right agent is partly a numbers game. The more agents you can attract and consider, the more likely it is that you’ll find the ones who are right for your contact center. Expanding your reach means you’ll have to consider alternatives to traditional hiring practices. Consider interviewing some agents virtually. There’s even cloud software that can record answers, making it easy for you to sift through candidates when you’re ready to take the next step.

Agents are the heart and soul of the contact center. State-of-the-art equipment and brilliant cloud software will never be able to replace quality agents.

Digital Strategy Sit Rep

By Reagan Miller, Vice President of Chat Agent Services

I was never an actual member of the armed forces, but my Father was a Lt. Colonel in the Army, so I was “sort of” in the Army too. Among the many colorful words and acronyms, there was one in particular that proved to be highly valuable; it was “sit rep”, short for Situational Report. When my Dad asked for a sit rep, it meant I needed to state my objective, observe my surroundings, assess my location, determine my operational status, assess any threats, determine a recommended course of action, and communicate all of this as accurately and concisely as possible to my commander.

The idea of the sit rep is also useful for the savvy business person. In fact it’s something we do rather instinctively, although we sometimes do not deploy a disciplined approach to the task, and for my military Dad, that’s just not up to spec (specifications for you non-military types). So how does all of this relate to my organization’s digital interaction strategy?

Well, let’s take a moment and “sit rep” it. Before you start to conduct such an analysis, you’ll need a way to gauge your surroundings and look into the future. For this purpose I’d like to propose a Digital Channels Maturity Framework.

This framework will help you:

– Understand the current consumer digital interactions landscape

– Assess your current state relative to a defined maturity model

– Gain insight on what the future holds for digital channels and how you can adapt or perhaps lead among your competitors

– Develop a forward-looking capability roadmap

– Build a business plan for future investment

Digital Channel Maturity

There framework consists of four maturity levels; Siloed, Distributed, Connected and Federated. Each level in the model can be classified using a few essential descriptors:

Level 1 – Siloed: Few channels, consumer initiated, limited availability, not personalized, undetermined value

Level 2 – Distributed: Some channels, initiated by rules, availability inconsistent, not personalized, unclear value

Level 3 – Connected: Many channels, sophisticated targeting, right time, right reason, personalized with journey context, defined value

Level 4 – Federated: All channels, always on, context and personalization is persistent, all text based channels, cross channel / channel pairing, value is determined at journey level

In our engagements with some of the world’s leading consumer brands, we found that they are in very different positions along the maturity continuum. This is often a result of the speed of change in consumer expectations, fast emerging technologies and disjointed strategies coupled with reactionary mandates to provide service in new channels. However, there are more than a few companies who seem to have performed their sit rep, driven by a groundswell of new leadership that are making bold moves to unify their digital channels strategy.

So what’s next? Now that you have a framework for your sit rep, it’s time to act. Brush up on those acronyms, get your war paint on, be ready to be brutally honest with yourself and your team and most importantly be ready to reshape your thinking.

[24]7 offers a workshop during which we share the 20+ key factors that define your digital maturity. We can help your team develop an understanding of the complete model and facilitate an open dialogue among your team to develop a path forward. As I sit in my chair at my desk, I can almost hear my Father now with that stern voice saying something like “Do you know where you are and where you’re going? No? Alright then, I need your sit rep . . . on the double.”

Contributing Editor: Genia Stevens

Interview with Craig Borowski — Chat’s Appeal

Recently Craig Borowski, Help Desk Analyst for the online technology consultancy Software Advice, released a new report which studied the impact demographics had on consumers’ preference for live chat service and support. We had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Borowski to learn a little more about what his research uncovered.

1. Which demographics do live chat appeal to most and why?
We found that live chat is appealing to all ages, but it’s most appealing to younger generations. Millennials in particular have shown a preference for text-based communications in other areas (SMS, social messaging platforms) and this has carried over into a strong preference for live chat customer support. But having said that, we should emphasize that other generations are still using live chat. In fact, our survey found that more than half of consumers have used it successfully at least once. It’s almost certain that its use among older generations will continue to rise as more consumers become aware of it and more companies learn how to integrate it correctly.

2. How is live chat unique from more traditional customer support channels?
Comparing live chat to telephone and email, two traditional support channels, live chat stands out in several areas. Most importantly, it provides instant and real-time service. Emailed support requests usually receive an instant automated reply letting the customer know the request was received. While that’s supposed to provide reassurance, it’s of little use when the actual answer the customer needs might not arrive until the next day, or even several days later.

Phone service can be much better, but it comes with its own obstacles and baggage. Customers have learned to expect that a call to a customer service and help desk departments will begin with them facing off against an automated IVR or phone tree. That usually leads to them waiting on hold. When they finally speak to an agent, they might need to explain their issue all over again from the beginning. With live chat, all of this is avoided. It provides an instant, real-time communication channel.

Now, even though these descriptions of the user experience with email and phone support channels don’t apply to every company, and they certainly don’t, that’s in some ways irrelevant. The fact remains that many, even most, consumers have been conditioned to expect these kinds of experiences. Many consumers are already in the mindframe to avoid these channels for these and similar reasons. Live chat is an excellent alternative. It provides truly real-time support, without any of the baggage associated with traditional help desk channels.

3. What would you say to people who are nervous about the time and monetary costs of implementing live chat software?
I’d say they should start slowly and begin with a careful consideration of how live chat can improve the customer experience they currently provide. Look at each touchpoint along their existing customer journeys, then identify those that could be most improved by providing instant answers to questions customers commonly have.

Also, to maximize the ROI of a live chat implementation, companies shouldn’t expect that customers will actively seek out live chat. Instead, companies need to make sure it’s there for the customers when they need it most. As an example, let’s say a company is promoting use of their online self-service resources like an FAQ page or knowledge-base. If browsing history indicates that a customer is struggling to find an answer, maybe because they’ve returned to the same page several times, then live chat could be proactively offered then and there.

At the end of the day, if live chat support ends up costing more time or money than support via traditional channels, then it’s very likely that it wasn’t implemented correctly.

4. Are there any roadblocks to connecting live chat to a CRM system?
There can be, but these are increasingly rare. As most customer service and help desk strategies and vendors have been shifting towards closer platform integration and multi- and omni-channel support, the integration of individual service channels with the main service platform is becoming more and more straightforward.

The exception to this is with companies that use in-house, proprietary or legacy CRM systems. They can face challenging integrations when adding any new component to the platform, and that includes live chat.

Craig Borowski, Help Desk Analyst for the online technology consultancy Software Advice.