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.

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.

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.

How to Improve Your Website’s Live Chat

In order to provide your customers with the level of service they deserve, it’s necessary to know what they expect from live chat. Every customer wants to have a personalized chat session with an agent who’s capable of solving their problem as thoroughly and quickly as possible. According to Zendesk, “Customers who chat are three times more likely to make a purchase than customers who don’t.” Here’s what you should know about offering a live chat option on your website.

1. Be Proactive and Anticipate Customer Needs

Proactive customer service means that the agent can anticipate a problem in advance and reach out to the customer at the exact moment – or even before – they need help. To do this, you need to understand when customers frequently need help. Often, customers could use some guidance before the purchase when they’re deciding whether or not to move forward. If you’ve noticed that a customer is clicking certain products on your website and adding them to their cart, you can have a live chat window pop up that asks if they need help.

2. Offer Omnichannel Support on Multiple Chat Apps

While live chat will most likely live on your website, there are all sorts of additional live chat apps available, like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. If your customers are using any of those apps frequently, you’ll want to offer live chat support there as well as on your website. Make sure that customers can switch from one messaging app to the other without having to restart their query.

3. Be Smart About Widget Placement

The live chat widget should be easy for customers to find. If customers have to hunt around for it, they may opt to call to speak with a live agent instead. Note that placement is influenced by the purpose of the chat window. If the goal is to increase conversions, chat should be on every page of the website. If it’s to cater to customers who have an escalated problem, it can go directly on the support page. If it’s to help customers better understand technical products, it can go on the product page.

Live chat is an excellent way to connect with customers while increasing brand awareness and company reputation. Contact centers that manage a high number of calls can also offset some of that communication, which lowers cost.

How to Evaluate Customer Feedback Metrics

Contact centers that understand their customer metrics are able to get a clear idea of what they need to do to manage and enhance the customer experience. Customer metrics are based on several sources, including surveys, social media, customer ratings and comments, and interaction logs. By collecting, analyzing and acting upon customer metrics, the contact center can enhance their value as a company while improving customer loyalty. Here are four must-have criteria for evaluating customer metrics.

  1. The metric cannot be ambiguous.

The metric has to be clearly defined and straightforward. You need to know exactly what you’re measuring. The definition of the metric may also clarify what you are not measuring in addition to what you are measuring.

  1. The system for scoring has to be clear.

You need to know how the metric is scored and calculated. To do this, it’s necessary to understand the questions or items included in the metric and how those questions or items are combined to get a score. Note that in situations where natural language processing is used, it’s important to know how the scoring system processes sentiment.

  1. The metric has to be both reliable and valid.

Two important measurement properties for customer feedback analysis are reliability and validity. Reliability refers to how precise or consistent the measurement is. Validity ensures that the right information is being measured. Each metric has to be both reliable and valid.

  1. The metric provides the contact center with insights that they can use.

Customer feedback metrics are only beneficial to the contact center if they can spur positive organizational changes. To do this, the contact center must know the consequences of the customer metric. What changes will improve the marketing, sales or the service team? How will that improvement then increase revenue or lead to growth? What will happen if those changes aren’t put in place?

Cutting-edge contact centers know to rely on customer metrics in order to understand and improve their customer relationships. Once you’ve analyzed the data and deployed a solution, you should notice that your metrics improve and that your customers are positively impacted by the changes. If your metrics don’t improve, consider that you may have used the wrong solution. Re-start the feedback loop to take another look at the data and to find an alternative way to troubleshoot the problem.

5 Tips for Improving Your Contact Center’s Virtual Agent

The brand-customer relationship has evolved to now include self-service support and today’s consumers expect it to be available and personalized. The virtual agent (VA) is a form of self-service that allows the customer to interact with an automated system, albeit one that simulates human interaction. Improving your contact center’s VA system will enhance the customer experience.

1. The VA are available around-the-clock. One of self-service’s benefits is that it lets customers find and digest information on their own time and at their own pace. If the customer has a complex issue – which modern VA systems are able to handle – they can sit down to deal with it when they’re best able to.

2. During normal hours when live staff is available, offer the customer the opportunity to speak with a live agent. They should be able to either connect to a live agent in the moment or request a call back instead of having to wait in the queue.

3. Don’t simply send the customer to a list of FAQ based on their keywords. Intelligent VAs can do so much more than crawl for SEO – they can analyze phrasing to truly understand what the customer wants and respond accordingly.

4. Invest in the latest technology. Not every VA will remember personal details about a customer, but companies are coming out with new intelligent assistants that are on the same level as technology like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Over time, these systems learn customer preferences and continually customize services to meet each customer’s needs.

5. Self-service should always be easy to find and use. For on-site virtual agents, like through live chats, the option should be on every page. When it comes to IVR, menu options should be clear and limited. If you find that people are quickly going from self-service to live support, reassess the self-service options you’re offering.

VAs provide an alternative, helpful service for customers that also lowers the operating cost of the contact center. When a customer can’t or won’t troubleshoot on their own, they turn to channels where they can have their questions answered quickly. Usually, that means interaction with a live agent. With a VA, though, the customer can access the information they need immediately, without waiting on hold for any length of time.

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

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.

CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

For many the end of 2016 couldn’t come soon enough, with the dawn of the New Year bringing a fresh start and a clean slate. Yet, according to Forrester, companies are starting 2017 under attack. While traditionally we would think of this pressure as coming from competitors, today’s organisations are under attack from their customers. Forrester Analyst and Vice President Dane Anderson explains:

“Three years ago, Forrester identified a major shift in the market, ushering in the age of the customer. Power has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers who now decide winners and losers.”

For example, Forrester identifies consumers in Asia Pacific as changing along five key dimensions:

  • Increasingly willing to experiment
  • Reliant on technology
  • Inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences
  • Able to handle large volumes of information
  • Determined to create the best experiences for themselves

Forrester has found these key points to explain evolving customer trends and increased customer empowerment. With highly empowered customers willing to take their business elsewhere for a new, exciting experience, organisations need to be customer-obsessed and constantly innovating in order to remain competitive.

creative2016-state-of-global-cust-serveThis phenomenon isn’t confined to consumers in Asia Pacific. Digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers around the world are placing these expectations on organisations in all industries. Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report found that an average of 90% of consumers surveyed in Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA expect brands to have an online customer self-service portal. 97% of global consumers answered that customer service was either somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand, and 60% reported having stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience.

The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences. In their report Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, they observe that AI is finding rapid uptake as a tool to provide better customer service and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (VCAs), also called virtual agents or chatbots, will increase by 1,000%. They also discuss how changing customer preferences will lead to an increased automation of customer service needs and a growing market for chatbots able to provide customer engagement over messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat. Gartner foresees VCAs and chatbots becoming a necessity for business-to-consumer organisations in order to deal with the demand for 24/7 support and the increased volume of customer interactions.

The panel of industry experts interviewed for Call Centre Helper’s annual Contact Centre Technology Predictions shared similar thoughts on the increase of self-service and the changing role of contact centres in 2017. One contributor predicted the replacement of FAQs with conversational systems that allow for dynamic two-way conversations. Another expert felt 2017 may be the year in which chatbots or virtual agents become widely used in call centres to alleviate workloads and help live agents focus more on important calls. Others echoed these insights through predictions that the investment in customer self-service will gather pace in 2017 and organisations will focus on engaging customers through conversational commerce.

It’s clear that organisations need to take action in 2017 in order to avoid being declared a loser by empowered customers, and digital self-service options will be key to successful customer engagement. This certainly isn’t a surprise to those in the industry. In fact, both Personal Assistants/Intelligent Agents and Artificial Intelligence were in the top four marketing-related searches of 2016 in the UK according to Microsoft’s Bing Ads.

But knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer engagement plan are two very different things. The best way to begin this journey is to educate yourself about digital engagement solutions, the advancements in and limitations of AI and customer expectations of self-service tools such as chatbots. The whitepaper Virtual Agents and Chatbots and Avatars – confusing or what! is a great resource to get you started on your path to creating a tale of customer experience success in 2017.

Your customers may not be giving you a fresh start when it comes to their opinion of your customer experience just because the new year is here, but there’s no time like the present to take a hard look at your CX strategy and identify where you can make improvements. Make 2017 the year digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers declare your company a winner!

Contact Center WFM: Dealing With Toxic Employees

Meeting contact center staffing needs goes beyond the science of predicting when you’ll need employees – it’s also about choosing people who are right for the contact center. What happens when all goes well during the hiring phases, but once hired an employee becomes toxic?

Accepting That You Have a Toxic Employee

Toxic employees are much different than difficult employees. They cause psychological pain and often influence others with their behavior. They often find their bad behavior fun and engage in certain behavior simply to find out if they can get away with it. Take note of how your other agents are reacting. Do they seem to have a slump in energy? Are they frustrated most of the time? Do they complain that they’re constantly being put-down?

Determining the Cause of the Behavior

Is the employee not happy with an aspect of their job or are they facing difficult circumstances in their home life? Are they upset with one or more co-workers? If there’s a reason for why they’re acting a certain way, it’s possible that they just need some help in order to improve, saving you the trouble of having to find a replacement.

Explaining the Behavior

Sometimes toxic agents are oblivious to how much destruction they’re causing. Explain to them what their behavior is and how it’s affecting the rest of the contact center. Guide them on how to improve. Make sure that they understand the consequences if they don’t change. Will they lose a privilege that they enjoy, like setting a flexible schedule or getting an end-of-year bonus? The initial consequence doesn’t have to be that they’ll lose their job (though that may be a possibility down the line).

Cutting the Cord

In the end, if the employee will need to be let go, it will require some sort of documentation. Even if you’re confident that the situation will improve without having to fire the employee, document everything from the beginning. A pattern of behavior has to be established by providing as much material as possible. This will protect you in the event that you do need to let the employee go.

It’s not unheard of for a contact center agent to turn toxic once they’ve been hired. Traits that went unnoticed before can be exposed. Knowing the red flags of toxic behavior can help you find and replace those employees immediately.