In the world of customer contact, the nurturing of a diverse and inclusive culture not only creates a team that reflects the market it is serving, but it generates an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and unlock their full potential, which ultimately yields productive employees and stronger, more creative teams.
In a recent interview with Helen Gillett, Managing Director of Affinity for Business, and Petra Mengelt, Head of B2B Business Relations at Mash Group Plc, we explored the role of D&I in the world of customer contact and demonstrate how your biggest asset – your people – can set your business apart from the competition.
Here, we explore some of the key takeaways from the interviews.
Why diversity and inclusion can benefit customer contact
For many years, companies have thought of diversity and inclusion as affirmative action or box-checking, but it is everything but that. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is not an HR issue. Instead, it is about diverse thinking, perspectives, experiences, work styles, and cultural backgrounds, as opposed to counting heads.
Statistics show that organisations that embed D&I in their culture have a distinct advantage to their competitors. Research by McKinsey & Company shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21 percent more likely to outperform in profitability and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation. Additionally, the most ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform the least ethnically diverse. Meanwhile, leading consultant John Bersin also shares that diverse & inclusive companies have 2.3x higher cash flow per employee than homogenous companies.
From a customer contact perspective, an environment of diverse cultures combined with individuals of different ages, genders, abilities, and sexualities creates a plethoric pool of opinions, skills, and ways of approaching challenges that work to benefit both the business and its customers. In a setting where unique challenges arise frequently, it is only favourable to have a diverse team that can share ideas and create best practices through collaboration.
How to create a culture of diversity & inclusion in your organisation
When it comes to creating a culture of inclusion, good intentions are a start, but implementation and accountability matter more. It is vital that organisations seek to cultivate a culture of D&I and make it a core part of their DNA. Here, we share three actionable steps to making a culture of D&I a reality in your customer contact centre.
1. Start from the top
Responsibility for affecting change should not be driven by HR. Instead, it starts with business leaders. Accountability is an essential factor in establishing a culture of D&I. When executive leadership incorporate talent as an active agenda item, that’s when it becomes intrinsic in the culture of the company.
2. Communicate to educate
Creating opportunities for employees to learn more about one another as people, rather than just colleagues, is a great way to build a sense of trust and community in your team. Petra encourages a culture of always asking questions to aid this, and also to dispel any negativity that may stem from misunderstandings.
“It’s important to never ever leave anything that stems from cultural difference hanging or unresolved, otherwise there is always a risk of encouraging negative stereotypes. I am always asking questions such as ‘can you explain what you mean?’ to create clarity,” she says.
3. Lead by example
It’s a well-known mantra that people don’t leave companies; they leave leaders. In order for a culture of D&I to thrive, employees must feel as if they are being coached by a leader who truly has their best interests in mind.
As demonstrated by Helen’s own comments on being honest about her journey, an effective way to do so is by leading by example. If a leader can bring their authentic self to work, their employees will feel confident enough to do the same. This can be especially important when discussing inclusion and mental health, as Helen shares: “Having leaders tell their stories lets people know that mental ill-health can happen to anyone and it’s not anything to be ashamed of – it’s ok not to be ok.”
Click the image below to learn more about how a culture of D&I can improve your customer contact experience.
A thought leader and visionary when it comes to bleeding-edge Customer Experience technology, Chris Connolly is an interesting man to know.
A man fortunate enough to be Vice President of Product Marketing at Genesys, his genial Aussie exterior belies a knowledge of exciting CX innovation that will make your head spin. That knowledge was among the fuel that fired this summer’s Xperience19 conference in Denver, Colorado, where the latest advancements in CX and call centre products were divulged and debated.
The hugely successful gathering was also where Chris (pictured left) spoke to Customer Experience Magazine about his role at the organisation which is changing how customers interact with brands forever, and as he explains, that’s an ongoing evolution – one that will never cease as long as creativity and the ability to identify and incorporate excellence remains a central tenet of Genesys, which is sponsoring the 2019 UK Customer Experience Awards.
“I try and tell great stories about our amazing products,” is how Chris modestly describes his role, which involves keeping the company at the forefront of the technology curve as Customer Experience continues on its unstoppable rise to become the key differentiator for firms jostling to outshine others in a crowded commercial playing field.
It goes without saying that artificial intelligence (AI) plays a central role in keeping Genesys products, such as PureCloud, at this forefront, and Chris, currently based in Raleigh, North Carolina, tells us he believes that the time is right for innovation in company structures to match the growth in technological prowess.
This, as he explains, is all about establishing trust – and not just for customers.
“We have done research, and engaged in debates around the world which are focused on enterprises and how they perceive AI as affecting their customers, and their workforce,” he says.
“Through those debates, there’s a concept that’s becoming more popular in organisations – the role of Chief Trust Officer.
“They wouldn’t be in HR – they would be there to make sure data is clean; to make sure it’s not biased; and to make sure the bots are not taking the organisation down paths they don’t want to go. They could also look at human aspects, such was what happens if an employee is displaced by a piece of AI or automation, in which case they could have that trust officer on their side.”
As current AI tech has the ability to transcribe conversations in full and mine them for data to enable actions such as targeted advertising, there is, as Chris says, a concern over being able to trust the endpoint that you are talking to.
“Some of the newer voice endpoints in your home, such as Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home – they are listening to what you say, so do you trust Amazon to choose the brand of paper towels you put in your shopping basket?”
However, talk of trust and AI ethics can oftentimes overshadow the positives of the world of CX tech, and there is plenty of those to choose from.
Chris, as VP of Product Marketing, is all about that, and is excited to share details of the innovations Genesys has been working on for its wealth of global clients.
“One that comes to mind first is something we call predictive routing. There was a TV show in Australia in the 80s called Perfect Match, similar to Blind Date in the UK, which tries to pair a contestant with their ideal dating partner. Well predictive routing is a little bit like that. What it does is look at everything we know about a customer when they call.
“So as that ringtone is ringing in your ear, we have a wealth of information about you – what you’ve done, what you’ve purchased previously, how many times have you called, how quickly you speak…that is all pulled up in real-time. Then we also know a ton of information about employees in the workforce – what training they have been on, who was the trainer that trained them, how many days off do they take a month, do they speak quickly, are they male – a ton of information!
“Predictive routing matches that customer and that employee together using machinery. And so, what I think people don’t realise is there is so much intelligence now that goes into who you speak to when you call an organisation or when you chat with them. It’s revolutionary in terms of what’s there.
“Added to that – and this is something people kind of know, but I don’t think they realise the ease in which organisations are able to do it – is understand your digital footprint on a mobile app or website.
“We can see in real-time genuinely every click that you make, where you are, what your screen is browsing. We can tell what you’re looking at with your eyeballs based on where the page is scrolling to.
“All of that information is being pulled in now to engage you better. Engage, in this sense, might be a piece of content, and that’s sort of traditional, but increasingly AI tech is being used to predict things like – should you speak to a human?Should you speak to a bot? What should the bot say? Should we rout you to another piece of content?
“The visibility and clarity surrounding your digital footprint when you turn up to someone’s dot com is amazing. I don’t think people realise that there are folks sitting in a building somewhere watching their web traffic in real-time.”
That might, of course, nudge us as wary customers back to the issue of trust, but Chris is what he describes as an “evangelist” on the idea of convenience trumping privacy for the vast majority of consumers. That’s not to say that extra protections shouldn’t be implemented to ensure responsible use of our data, hence his championing of Chief Trust Officers earlier in our conversation.
“This generation – in fact all generations almost – will happily yield their private info over if it makes things easier,” he says.
“And yes, it’s not for everyone and there will be hold-outs, but on the whole, they are giving it up. That said, this is where we need a bit of regulation, both from governments and from industry; self-regulating, for an organisation to be smart enough to know they have a responsibility not to abuse that power.”
Chris refers to the ongoing industry debate around data collection – how much “protection” does a firm like Genesys bake into their products, versus letting the buyer of the product choose it for themselves.
“We have to walk this fine line. So the steps we are taking include being very open and transparent about our AIprincipals and ethics standards. We are publishing guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t do. We have debated that with industry analysts and lots of different customers, and have gravitated to a set of principles regarding transparency and responsibility.
“Another step is from a pure technology perspective: we are providing tools for anonymised data. So when data goes into our Genesys cloud, we strip it of anything sensitive and just put a number in place. Our clients still know who it represents, but we don’t, and that keeps us protected, and therefore customers protected from data breaches also.”
Thanks to his role at the coalface of creativity at Genesys, Chris is ideal to probe for tidbits of tech trickery – magic that will pilot our customer journeys as they wind ever-onwards to a future featuring myriad possibilities.
So what’s on the horizon? What’s the Genesys genius we can expect down the line, but “aren’t quite there yet” with?
“I feel like we’re so close to two things: one is what I’ll call interaction summarisation, and this is using sequence-to-sequence learning, or machine learning. This is when you provide a pattern and say ‘given this pattern, I want you to produce this pattern’. The inputs are words, so you give it text and say ‘here’s a sequence of words – I want you to reduce that to two sentences’.
“Where we are now is that we can do real-time streaming of audio into automated speech recognition and we can get the transcripts back in real-time – that’s achievable today.
“The next step is taking the conversation you are having with a bot, either by voice or by text, and summarising it to ‘this is what you’re actually talking to us about’.
“What that then allows is for the employee to essentially do a ‘hands-off’ interaction. So the call might drop into their ear and they have a great conversation with the customer. Normally, at the end of that call they have to go ‘wrap’; they have to tag it – did you buy this or that? There’s follow-up notes to consider.
“Well with interaction summarisation, all that goes away.
“Now we have a conversation and the AI is listening to the call. It transcribes it, and the interaction summarisation says what’s going on and what’s needed as the follow-up. So the agent is basically hands-off, and that’s a very cool new way of working.
“Imagine not even needing screens, because it’s all done for you. So we are really close to that tech – that sequence-to-sequence learning or summarisation.”
The second innovation close to changing the face of customer contact forever, Chris states, is journey forecasting – tech that can replace the use of the Erlang C formula, which ‘predicts’ waiting times for callers.
“Where we are today is we have models being run to do forecasting, like workload demand forecasting, which can be applied to anything – such as how many street lamps are going to be broken in a particular city, or how many garbage bins will be intact after a storm.
“In the contact centre, it can be used to predict, for instance, how many agents you’ll need tomorrow. That’s current state, but we are on the cusp of journey forecasting, which goes beyond that one interaction.
“Let’s look at the example of an expecting mother. In that pregnancy journey there are lots of milestones that happen – for instance, calling about health insurance. It’s not one interaction with the healthcare provider – it could be 10 over the nine months. We have the math now to forecast journeys and every business process along the way. We will also be able to forecast the impacts and the resource demand. That is so close, like within a 12 to 24 month window.
“The problem with manually mapping customer journeys is that no matter what you invent, a customer is going to do something different. So what’s happening is we can apply machine learning to do pattern recognition. It will actually have more of a profound effect on the workforce than the customer.”
With passion for his products on full display, Chris is a true advocate for the advancement of Customer – and Employee – Experience, and brands can feel safe in the knowledge that the quest for improvement with Genesys will never come to an end, no matter how many technological milestones are reached.
There are many common customer service metrics in place in contact centres: CSAT, NPS, FRT, CES, AHT, FCR, the list goes on.
Some are more valid than others and some are simply outdated and add confusion and conflict to both the organisation and customer. When measuring customer service, it’s important to firstly be clear as to what you are scoring against.
The front-line agent? The organisational growth? The customer journey?
Different measures all suit different purposes.
When we look at the front line, the first thing organisations need to do (if not already done) is remove AHT (Average Handle Time).
This antiquated stat only serves to pressure the agent into a quick wrap-up and offers nothing to the customer in return except reducing the quality of service. Whilst it may be important to measure AHT as a business to understand trends and consumer behaviour, this should never be used as a KPI at the front line.
NPS (Net Promoter Score) is the most commonly used measure for organisations when tracking their customer service standing. But again, is this really a fair way to verify front-line performance when so many other factors contribute to the decision the customer makes?
The initial reason for their interaction, the organisation processes and tech, the level of empowerment the agent has to enable them to assist – an agent cannot be rated on NPS alone!
So what can you use to measure your agents’ performance? At Top Companies for Customer Service we use five key criteria to evaluate the Customer Experience, all of which can be used at both front line and an organisational level.
These are: Timeliness, Ease of Use, Reliability, Staff Knowledge, and most important of all, Personalisation.
These pillars of excellence are adopted from customer expectation research carried out by our partner Ipsos Mori, and encompass many elements of other classic metrics. The difference is that all our findings are gathered from a customer perspective and provide the measure of a journey from start to finish. For example, we do not measure AHT, but instead ask if the length of time of the interaction was reasonable based on the specific experience had.
Our research shows the key Drivers of Customer Dissatisfaction are a mix of both soft skills and basic hygiene factors, including: Agent Knowledge, Understanding and Caring Attitude, and Ease of Access. Whereas the Drivers of Satisfaction – Effort, Loyalty, and Advocacy – are predominately enhanced by strong personal skills.
Our findings reveal the measure that should be top of contact centre KPIs is FCR (First Contact Resolution).
When you have trained, coached, and empowered your agents to enable them to confidently, calmly, and swiftly respond and resolve the customer enquiry without barriers and technical issues holding them back, you will see FCR increase and in turn Customer Satisfaction, Effort, Loyalty, and Advocacy stats will advance in the right direction.
There is certainly plenty to think about with the rising cost of salaries, managing schedules to meet customer demand, looking after staff wellbeing, PCI DDSS compliance, and now the added requirements of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).
Initial concerns about how the new GDPR regulations would affect contact centres, in terms of increasing costs and complexity of managing enquires, have to some extent dissipated. For those contact centres taking payments and already PCI DSS compliant, it was a relatively straightforward process to embrace GDPR regulations. They had typically invested in secure technologies, encryption, and working with third party compliant companies in terms of PCI DSS. On the whole they were able to extend their technology and processes to protect personal data and meet GDPR requirements.
However, other organisations are still evaluating how new ways of streamlining processes can help meet GDPR data governance and management regulation, but are uncertain how to choose the best solution. We have identified three ways that contact centres can apply technology to help them remain compliant:
1. Mobile automated identification & verification (ID &V)
Often a significant amount of time can be spent on identifying and verifying the caller. Having a person perform this task is expensive and means that customer data is at risk. A customer engagement platform is an alternative way to offer a cost-effective, secure solution to automate the screening and identification process.
It can take the customer through set identification questions using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to simulate agent conversations, or it can use SMS text messages to authenticate the device being used. On initial registration and once the two-factor authentication process has been successful, the platform will accept and authorise payment requests that are automatically debited from the card holder’s account.
The advantage of this approach is that all information is encrypted and the agent is not exposed to any personal data, thereby complying with GDPR and PCI DSS. The data is processed and stored securely elsewhere. In addition, having signed up to the service, the customer has agreed to a data handling agreement that sets out how their information can be shared with a third party, ensuring confidentiality.
2. Customer self-service screening using IVR
Accepting credit and debit cards via IVR has long proved to be an effective and secure way of taking payments. It allows customers to pay quickly, via their own unique identifiers – a PIN, date of birth, even voice recognition. Again, reducing or removing agent contact time is a more secure way for contact centres and their customers to comply with PCI DSS. Since everything is fully automated and confidential, the client information is stored centrally and securely within the system hosting the data, taking it out of scope for both PCI DSS and GDPR.
Capturing customer data via IVR also enables calls to be routed to the right agent with the correct skills, in the event of a request to speak to an advisor. The agent then has all of the relevant information available to manage the call successfully, but with key identification data screened, thereby ensuring GDPR compliance.
3. Cloud-based third party payment solutions
The third option to consider, and one that has gained significant traction over recent years, is to choose a cloud-based payment service provider. A trusted third party that complies with PCI DSS demonstrates proven adherence to a recognised security standard, which can also help contact centres to meet the GDPR legislation. Companies can apply a process of ‘de-scoping’ to reduce the number of requirements (tick-boxes) for GDPR, in the same way that they might do for PCI DSS compliance.
Of course, like PCI DSS compliance, the responsibility for GDPR cannot be entirely removed from the contact centre, however the effort required can be dramatically reduced by working in partnership with a payment solution provider.
Aligning GDPR and PCI DSS: the route to successful compliance
There is no doubt that GDPR has improved standards around privacy and data protection, but at what cost? Contact centres that have worked hard to blend people and technology to enhance data and payment processes in the last year, have typically done everything they can to comply with both GDPR and PCI DSS.
For the rest, the good news is that it’s not too late to review what’s in place and make the switch, to new technology and/or a third party solution provider, to enable a secure, multi-channel seamless route for customer payments. The choice is there for the taking.
The CX Transformation Benchmark found that 63 percent of contact centre leaders agree that chatbots and virtual assistants make it easier for consumers to get their issues resolved, and 68 percent of those surveyed agree that consumers want to use virtual assistants to interact with them.
However, compared to consumers, businesses give themselves higher net promoter scores for every method of communication tested. Businesses overestimate most channel-specific NPS by broad margins. For example:
Automated assistant/chatbot: While consumers award automated assistants an NPS of -8, businesses estimate they earn an NPS of 25, for a gap of 33 points.
Email: The consumer NPS for email is -9 while the business NPS is 19, for a gap of 28 points.
Text: Consumers give text a -2 NPS while businesses estimate 25, for a gap of 27 points.
Meanwhile, the report shows that businesses are 15 percent more likely than customers to agree that they make it easier for consumers to get their issues resolved in their preferred channels, and that they provide a consistent Customer Experience across the purchase journey.
While 93 percent of businesses surveyed agree that consumers expect companies to provide a seamless experience when moving between channels, only 24 percent of businesses globally give themselves an excellent rating on allowing consumers to switch seamlessly between methods of communication.
Paul Jarman, CEO of NICE inContact, said: “We are at an inflection point for AI in the contact centre. AI innovations are at their best when paired with the human touch and deployed to address targeted customer and agent experience opportunities. AI in the contact centre has the potential to add significant value to CX outcomes and operational performance.
Today’s cloud-based contact centre solutions make it easier to deliver good customer service whatever the channel.
The real challenge is how to provide a Digital Experience that stands out from the crowd when there is so much noise and too much choice. Multi-channel or omnichannel? AI or no AI? The rapid proliferation of new technologies and buzzwords is enough to reduce even the most focused organisations to blind panic. Some rush in and digitalise simply because everyone else is doing it while others grind to a state of sluggish inertia because change is scary and ‘it’s always been done this way’ is a safer option.
How do contact centres find the happy medium? How do they build a digital CX programme that guarantees successful customer outcomes? The secret is to keep calm, stay focused and follow a few golden rules:
1. Introduce relevance into the digital equation
Don’t just introduce technology for technology’s sake. Always keep the customer at the centre of the digital design process. Think about the dialogues you have with customers, listen to your agents, become a mystery shopper and try out the contact centre to discover the channels and technology that really work. Then, back this up with the performance metrics that matter. Customers just want fast, positive results, so align KPIs accordingly. Focus on Net promoter, Customer Satisfaction (CSat) and Customer Effort scores along with customer churn and first resolution rates rather than Average Handling Times (AHTs).
2. Blend omnichannel with AI for complete customer interactions
Exploit the latest innovations in Artificial Intelligence such as virtual assistants, digital assistants, and bots. The beauty of AI is that it offers practically unlimited capabilities to allow organisations to capture customer conversations that vastly improve service levels and even anticipate customers’ needs by up/cross-selling other products based on their previous purchase or web-browsing history – a real competitive differentiator.
The human touch counts when it comes to handling complex matters and emotionally sensitive or personal issues. Blend instantaneous, multi-channel, round-the-clock digital self-sufficiency with personal service. Just be sure to make the hand-over between virtual and live agents seamless.
3. Remove on-screen clutter
A tidy desktop equals a tidy mind and ultimately a tidy profit. However, on-screen clutter such as multiple pop-ups and different applications frequently get in the way of delivering first-class CX. It’s time to take a closer look at the latest agent applications.
These are designed to remove on-screen clutter by linking to enterprise systems, selected third parties, and knowledge bases through widgets. Customisable and flexible, widgets allow every agent to be presented with the information and functionality most relevant to them in any given situation without switching screens or resorting to pop-ups. This provides a single view of customer conversations and accelerates an agent’s ability to improve CX all in one place.
4. Invest in the right people skills
There’s no point spending time and money on the perfect digital infrastructure if your human skills fail to live up to the same exacting standards. When recruiting new agents, or training long-standing experienced team members, look for candidates with high levels of emotional intelligence.
These are the ones who instinctively understand how the customer is feeling and use that information to influence a positive result even when conversations are passed to them from a digital assistant or chatbot. They grasp the importance of bridging the digital and human worlds and their holistic approach is vital to the success of a digital and connected CX strategy.
5. Choose cloud
Maximising cloud-based integration capabilities improves efficiency and builds customer loyalty as a result of fast and highly personalised interactions. A single view of customer interactions aids decision-making and allows proactive management of response times.
What’s more, when it comes to protecting sensitive customer data, the cloud comes into its own. Using a simple web browser, a single sign-on is all that is required and the ability to switch freely between applications and payment solutions to boost security levels.
Breathe deeply, stay calm, and carry on towards the perfect digital CX strategy. Focus on the digital channels that matter to your customers, experiment with the latest AI, and join the dots with agents who effortlessly link both human and digital worlds. You’ll stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
I rarely use and never want to pick up my phone anymore.
That is, the phone part of the phone. I happily use my mobile phone all of the time – to communicate, read, and for entertainment. But using the call functionality and dialling a human? No, thank you.
It’s partly because I get dozens of unwanted robocalls every week, and partlybecause I’ve wasted a lot of time on hold. It’s also because one of the few things that I can control in life is my time – and when I’m on the phone, the person on the other line has effectively hijacked my time.
This is especially true when it comes to getting customer support via the phone. If I need help, I’m probably not feeling particularly sociable. The last thing I want to do is pick up the phone, talk to an agent and hope they can solve my problem – or worse, risk bouncing around a poorly implemented interactive voice-response system (IVR). I’d much rather search for and find an answer online. Better yet, I’d like to type a question and let a well-trained chatbot instantly find the answer for me.
I’m not alone
It’s human nature that we don’t want to rely on other people – and the phone – to accomplish certain tasks or gather information. That’s part of what’s driven the internet explosion.
Take Ticketmaster. The event ticketing company launched a self-service website in the early 90s, where event-goers could, for the first time, purchase tickets online rather than going to in-person kiosks – or making phone calls to human ticketing agents. This is illustrated perfectly by the following excerpt from Paul Allen’s memoir, The Idea Man, about Ticketmaster’s very first online sale:
“When customer number one had completed the first transaction, our Web people called him and said, ‘Congratulations, you just bought the first concert ticket in the history of the Internet! Can you tell us why you decided to buy online?’ The man said, ‘Because I don’t like talking to people, and I don’t like talking to you.’ And he hung up.”
More than 25 years after Ticketmaster’s first online sale, there’s proof that people are relying less on phone calls than ever before – and it’s having repercussions across various industries.
A few stats to consider:
The number of landlines in use is down dramatically. A report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (via Statista) showed that, in 2004, 92 percent of U.S. households had a working landline. By 2018, that number dropped to 42 percent because of the growth of mobile phones.
British telecom service provider Ofcom released a study in 2018 revealing that the number of monthly mobile voice call minutes was on the decline among its customers, from an average of 159 minutes per month in 2016 to 157 minutes in 2017. But while phone calls were down, data consumption skyrocketed, from an average of 1.3 GB in 2016 to 1.9 GB in 2017.
Pew Research reported that response rates for phone surveys plummeted to six percent in 2018. The steady and sharp decline has continued since 1997, when response rates were as high as 36 percent.
Nearly 60 percent of contact centre leaders believe inbound call volumes will decrease over the next five years, according to a 2018 McKinsey survey, while 40 percent said the number of calls will fall dramatically, perhaps to zero, in the next decade.
Automation takes over self-service
In this era of internet-enabled instant gratification, we as consumers expect to get fast answers to virtually any question – without making any calls.
This includes the realm of customer support. The phone call is no longer the primary medium for support – instead, phone calls are the last resort, and this isn’t just because consumers (like me) prefer it. Businesses do too, as companies are implementing AI-powered support automation technology to both improve the customer experience and better manage operational costs. Here’s some data behind that shift:
A recent report by call centre industry analyst firm ContactBabel found that only 25 percent of customer support agents believe that customers prefer human support.
41 percent of consumers would choose live chat as their preferred support channel, according to a study from Kayako, while 32 percent prefer phone calls, followed by email and social media (note: the survey did not include chatbots or virtual assistants as an option).
This doesn’t mean that businesses can totally dismiss phone support. However, it does point to the fact that most consumers would prefer not to dial company support unless they absolutely have to.
As Forrester analyst Kate Leggett wrote: “Today, customers have more choice: more products to buy, more information to influence purchasing decisions, and more devices and channels over which to seek customer service. What they don’t have is more time. It’s no wonder that self-service interactions have overtaken all other channels.”
It’s worth restating Leggett’s words: “What they don’t have is more time.”
That’s why we often turn to Google or a company’s online forums for answers. But a traditional search online or in managed forums can leave you with an endless list of links to sift through. This is where AI comes in. It might take us several minutes or hours to find an answer amidst a library of online information, but applied machine learning (ML) technology can surface the information we need in an instant.
AI also allows companies to provide a uniform quality of service, 24 hours a day, with little to no downtime. Effectively trained chatbots (a.k.a. virtual agents), with brains powered by AI, are becoming the new face of customer support.
The ContactBabel report found that 16 percent of all companies plan to implement artificial intelligence solutions for customer support within the next year, more than doubling the current installed base. Additionally, 27 percent of large contact centres (with 200-plus agents) expect to implement AI/ML within one-year, which means more than 50 percent will have AI/ML in place by 2020.
I know I speak on behalf of consumers everywhere when I say that the era of AI-led support can’t come soon enough. To paraphrase the great R.E.M., it’s the end of phone support as we know it…and I feel fine.
We’re flush with new ways to engage with customers, but businesses should be more data-driven, rather than simply throwing more manpower on the frontlines.
In the era of new contact centre touchpoints, the touchpoints themselves matter less and less because they should be managed in a unified way. That’s not to say we should disregard the touchpoints – in fact the opposite is true. We should be able to add them and monitor the data from customer interactions to create contact centres that offer better service and embrace innovation when it comes to engaging with customers.
In real terms, that means putting an end to seeing telephone, web chat, or mobile app communications as an island in their own right. Each channel will have its own considerations and technological challenges to take on board – that much is true. Yet as agent desktop interfaces better integrate the new channels that emerge, we should start to think of how we can solve new business challenges and get smarter, as well as becoming more efficient.
Hearing the voice of the customer
For many contact centres, voice has been their bread and butter for years. The difference now is that voice is used less – at least in its traditional sense. Meanwhile, phones are being used in different ways, particularly with the growing use of smartphones. Voice now has a closer relationship with other digital channels, and as a result, firms should prepare all channels to account for customers flowing between each.
Although customers are generally using phones less for voice calls than they used to, we’re now seeing an increase in phones being used as a digital backstop. If a customer doesn’t get the response they expect from digital channels, they will probably pick up the phone to speak to an agent. This brings to the surface the importance of managing the two types of contact centre interactions – those driven by bots and those driven by humans. Human agents will want to deal with the queries where they feel like they can add value. The simple issues such as the loss of a password can be dealt with automatically.
Agent time is both precious and costly and so should be used for issues where it is necessary. It’s important then, for businesses to find the right match between interactions handled by chat bot, and interactions that require a human touch. The best approach is to use a mix of both, where bots escalate to an agent when needed, without customers feeling like they are being passed between non-connected entities.
We also have to prepare for a new era of voice interaction. There were 9.5 million active smart speaker users in the UK last year, which is an increase of 98.6 percent against 2017, according to eMarketer. Consumers are getting more comfortable in asking these devices to perform basic tasks and provide them with information. The next step is for them to be the conduit to getting in touch with the outside world. That doesn’t just mean communicating with close friends and family as is the case now but increasingly, with brands. In fact, voice assistants are just one part of a larger move towards a more integrated IoT service, which also includes connected cars.
We’re using bots to answer more customer questions with speed and accuracy. Doing the same thing with voice-activated devices will cut out the middle-man where needed, while still basing the approach on the voice model that has operated in contact centres for years. But as with any channel, it’s vital that voice plugs into a bigger picture view of customer interaction. Omnichannel rules the roost and provides a great deal of insights that are valuable for businesses.
Data insights enhancing Customer Experience
On the whole, companies have to get better at proactively engaging with customers and artificial intelligence (AI) will help to do this. For example, with the right data coming from previous customer interactions and insights it is able to obtain from initial contact, AI can be used to provide a more targeted response, and through a combination of virtual assistants, machine learning and customer data analytics, businesses are able to predict customer needs.
Not only that, they can proactively address these needs to prevent repeat contacts for similar issues, deliver superior experiences to retain existing customers and improve offers or interactions in a way that attracts new customers.
There’s also the intelligence that businesses can uncover to shape their products better – all from the way they monitor customer interaction. When firms automatically capture and analyse interactions, they can make sure they never miss the vital signs that should be spotted immediately. They are able to identify gaps in products, processes, and interactions – and make sure agents meet the needs of demanding customers.
One of our customers is a coffee company who was looking to carry out a strategic launch of a premium product. They automatically analysed all their calls and as a result, they were able to better train underperforming agents with targeted coaching. By analysing interactions at the contact centre, it enabled them to better understand how agents were pitching the product and it also helped them to see how well the new product was being perceived. Using these measures, the company increased sales penetration using best practice, and increased basket size by pushing promotions at the right time.
I’m excited by the prospect of new touchpoints and technologies coming together to offer a better service to customers, better performance for agents and better efficiency for businesses. And with voice assistants, IoT and other connected ways for businesses to interact with people, the whole area of customer services has been blown wide open. There’s so much potential for innovation.
But with all these touchpoints, it’s vital that businesses can connect the dots across the different channels they use. It’s an approach that includes not just the communications channels but the knowledge captured from CRM systems and contact centre insights. We know that the channels will probably change in the future as consumers find new ways to interact with brands but in the grand scheme of things, that shouldn’t matter. What is important is a technology agnostic approach through providers that incorporates the channels, and provides a single dashboard that enables businesses decisions to be made based on insights, rather than just intuition.
The thing with data is that the findings are hard to dispute, so long as you are confident in the original sources, sensors and algorithms. The future won’t necessarily be dictated by the latest flashy communications channel. Instead it will be led by smart approaches, and increasingly, that means taking steps to focus on automation, analytics and innovation of Customer Experience in a meaningful way.
Recruitment has never been an easy task, regardless of which industry is facing the challenge.
Difficulties in finding the right people, at the right time, with the right skills, is something all organisations encounter. One such industry is contact centres. Outsourced contact centres are extremely people-focused, meaning that it’s imperative to get the recruitment process right from the offset and meet the challenges faced head-on.
In a contact centre environment, there is a need for recruiters to not only meet seasonal demand, but to be able to find the right person for each position, focusing on retaining employees that are skilled, motivated and committed to the role. A successful contact centre will find, train and retain staff that can meet customer expectations and work to make sure teams have the right attributes to properly represent the organisation they work for.
However, there are numerous outsourced contact centres getting recruitment right, and by following a few simple steps, recruiters can build a successful recruitment strategy that gets it right every time.
Staff on demand
Numerous industries are known to face issues with peaks and troughs of demand, but one that certainly suffers the most is retail. With huge seasonal spikes throughout the year – Black Friday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter – this industry understands what it’s like to see a huge rush of customers that can vanish as quickly as they appear.
To cope with these hectic periods, it’s essential for organisations to be confident that the recruitment channels being used will reach the right people, quickly and effectively. Advertising locally on buses and billboards, for example, can be more targeted and help to enhance brand recognition for an organisation looking to seek local Customer Service Advisors, as an addition to online.
Additionally, contact centre organisations need to prepare for these peaks by working closely with their customers to understand when the demand might rise and fall, and what levels of staff will be needed accordingly. By reflecting on busy periods of the past, recruitment teams can work in harmony with marketing teams to figure out what works, what could change and then put a plan in place for the next peak time.
Talking the talk
Contact centres have undoubtedly evolved. Just look at the name; what was once referred to as a call centre has grown to become much more. The omnichannel world that consumers now live in means they expect to receive the same customer experience, regardless of which channel they use – whether it’s social media, a phone call, email, online chat, or through instant messaging. They expect answers instantly, and they want their queries answered or issues resolved in as few steps as possible.
Because of this, the skill sets required of Customer Service Advisors has also changed. Advisors now need to be proficient in communicating across a variety of channels, utilising strong written and verbal communication skills to make the experience as seamless as possible for the customer. This eclectic way of working means that Advisors need to be flexible, adaptable, and able to multi-task, providing the same, exceptional experience with each customer interaction. A coherent selection process will ensure that recruitment teams are finding the right people for the job.
Capturing brand personality
When it comes to the selection process, this not only needs to be tailored for each job role, but also for each brand – this is the very nature of an outsourced contact centre. Each organisation that is represented by the contact centre will require something different, and this shouldn’t just come through when the Customer Service Advisors are answering queries; it should start at the beginning of the recruitment journey.
Recruitment teams should actively work with the client to build the job description, which should then underpin the selection process. Recruitment strategies should also be tailored for each brand to find the most suitable people; who are the organisation’s target market? How do they communicate? Can brand advocates be chosen to ensure the Customer Service Advisor has a genuine interest in the brand? This ensures the brand’s personality can be captured in each customer interaction, through style, tone of voice and language used.
The recruitment journey
Developing a CX strategy starts with recruitment. With the end customer in mind, a recruitment strategy can be developed that ensures the right team is sourced and trained in line with the organisation’s requirements. Recruitment doesn’t have to be a challenge; a clear understanding of the organisation’s values from the outset is a simple way to get the journey heading in the right direction and, coupled with the right approach to customer service, means that contact centres can commit to delivering an exceptional CX, every time.
Working in a call centre has been seen as the very epitome of the “McJob” – a low-paid, unrewarding role that’s usually viewed as a stepping stone to more responsible, better-paid and more meaningful employment.
It shouldn’t be this way.
Customer service representatives (CSRs) play perhaps the most important role in any organisation. They are a business’ window on the world; the face of the corporation. Great CSRs are worth their weight in gold- they solve problems, mollify irate customers, and turn anger and frustration into loyalty and respect.
Businesses need to treasure their CSRs and give them the support to solve customer complaints. If businesses are serious about delivering quality customer service, two things need to change. First, there needs to be a revolution in the way that we view contact centre work. Secondly, we need to give these workers the tools they need to conduct efficient conversations and to resolve customer questions quickly.
It’s time to value CSR
Businesses have little hope of delivering first-class customer service if they don’t value their CSRs, and a look at the hospitality industry is instructive here. In the UK, being a waiter is seen as a low-skilled ‘starter’ job.
But across the Channel, the French take waitering incredibly seriously. Waiters and sommeliers are typically highly trained and very knowledgeable about food and wine, and anyone who has eaten at a decent French restaurant will be familiar with the waiting staff’s air of authority and gravitas – all of which adds to the dining experience.
It’s the same for any sort of customer service. You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t provide a great customer contact experience you will likely lose much of the goodwill that customers feel towards your brand. Unfortunately, many CSRs today lack the tools and the insight they need to provide fantastic Customer Experience.
Change is on the horizon
When a call comes in, it’s common for customer service staff to spend a significant amount of time authenticating the customer; once they’ve passed security, the CSR can then find themselves without a full picture of the customer and their history, and often lack the information they need to resolve the complaint quickly and efficiently.
There are signs that this view of customer service is about to change, however. AI-powered chatbots, for example, are increasingly taking responsibility for more routine enquiries, removing much of the drudgery of customer service roles and enabling operatives to focus on higher-value tasks.
But chatbots alone won’t transform the role of the CSR. If we are to change perceptions about customer service and make it a fulfilling line of work, we need to get rid of the irritations and inefficiencies that continue to bedevil the role. For example, CSRs typically spend only a quarter of their time actually helping customers. And here, AI can again come to the rescue.
Equipping CSRs for success
Smart companies that put a premium on customer service are deploying AI-powered contact centre software that enables them to provide a more in-person experience for online customers by anticipating questions and needs based on their history and where they are in the current journey.
Unfortunately, CSRs often do not have access to vital information such as purchase history or previous complaints. As a result, they go into conversations blind and spend significant amounts of time establishing basic facts before they can resolve the customer query.
Anyone who’s spent time on the phone to customer services will be familiar with the frustration of having to explain their situation multiple times to different customer service employees. By harnessing the latest generation of customer contact tools, businesses can provide every CSR with all the information from entire customer journey, from acquisition, through conversion and into post-sale support, providing companies with everything they need to create an exceptional CX.
Artificial intelligence can deliver meaningful and immediate benefits that put CSRs in the driving seat in every conversation. The benefits are legion: AI can filter out routine customer interactions that can be resolved by a chatbot or self-service, enabling agents to focus on more complex or high-value work. It can ensure seamless transition from bot to agent within the same chat window, meaning the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.
Meanwhile,the latest generation of contact centre tools consolidate data from every customer interaction and manages data from disparate systems to deliver real-time actionable insights for faster issue resolution – all of which means that customers spend less time explaining and complaining.
Small wonder that Forrester found that businesses with mature deployments of AI-powered contact centre software saw a 63 percent increase in net promoter score (NPS) and reported an average of eight points higher than their lesser mature counterparts. Furthermore, half of these organisations saw an increase in conversation rates, 56 percent reported an increase in revenue, and 40 percent saw an increase in order size. Even agent satisfaction increased under the more mature organisations with nearly 50 percent reporting an increase in overall job happiness.
If businesses are serious about putting the customer first, the place to start is in the contact centre. They must value these problem solvers and provide them with the tools they need to turn angry, frustrated patrons into loyal customers.
The most exciting gathering of award winners and experts in the field of complaint handling will take place London this autumn at a brand new conference, and now is your chance to join them for a special discount price.
Taking place on September 25 at the Park Plaza Riverbank in the heart of London, this unique one-day event will offer practical techniques on transforming complaints into improved products and services, and provide guidance on creating customer loyalty through outstanding complaint handling strategies.
Attendees will be able to interact in real time with each panel using the Slido app, to put questions to panelists and vote on issues as speakers discuss the need to adopt dynamic, technological solutions instead of traditional approaches.
As with all Awards International events, the conference will be an excellent networking opportunity, as guests will include representatives from a wide range of sectors. A full line-up for the conference will be revealed in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, joining Awards International CEO Neil Skehel as Co-Chair of the conference will be Daniel Ord, Founder and Director of OmniTouch International, and one of the world’s leading authorities on contact centre excellence. Daniel also leads CXM’s Contact Centres Masterclass.
“I’m thrilled to be welcoming attendees to London later this year for what will be one of the best opportunities to learn the skills and strategies of award-winning firms,” Daniel said.
“Our panel discussions will feature valuable insight into what the very best brands are providing customers when it comes to complaint handling.”
Neil Skehel added: “This isn’t just another conference; you will be an integral part of this event and your priorities will shape what we discuss. It promises to be an educational and inspirational experience for everyone involved.”
Tickets for Winning With Complaint Handling are now available, while those who book before midnight on July 19 can enjoy a special Early Bird Discount, saving them £100 on the full price. Click here for further details.
In theory, it has never been easier for consumers to communicate with your business…but are the choices suitable and easy to access?
Today’s consumers demand instant, fast, on-the-go interaction with companies, which is why web chats, texts, and social media have fast become many people’s preferred way of ‘talking’ with a brand. We live in a multi-channel landscape where real time responses are the norm and public conversations on social media can make or break a brand and its reputation.
Multi-channel contact centre solutions enable companies to manage different forms of communication by routing them via a single engine and delivering them to a correctly skilled customer service agent in the shortest possible time. Such advances in communication technology are to be welcomed as they enable contact centres to manage the flow of information and prioritise those interactions that require an urgent response.
The very nature of multimedia contact centres means employees are required to deal with a number of forms of communication, enabling a smooth and consistent customer experience to be delivered.
As the ‘face’ of the business, agents can make or break a customer relationship. Adaptability has become a key quality so they can demonstrate the values of their business regardless of the channel being used. The ability to write appropriately and clearly for different channels is vital.
Modern agents are multitaskers who can handle more than one customer interaction at a time – without causing delays to responses. Historically they have been hindered by multiple applications running on separate systems. Today it is possible to use one user interface to manage multiple mediums of communication.
A modern, reliable solution coupled with thorough training means consumers are now able to interact with an agent who is not flustered and can stay in control of multiple interactions. Regular monitoring of the interaction volumes and quality of consumer experience for each channel should ensure that the training requirements are identified and provided.
This measurement – including recording and reporting across all interactions – enables businesses to develop and improve their Customer Experience. In addition, multichannel contact centres can deliver cost benefits such as dealing with social media alongside voice, emails, web chats and text.
Standing still is not an option. The emergence of robots and automated messaging is reducing the burden on contact centres by responding to routine enquiries. Research shows there is growing interest among organisations in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools which can help businesses improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
Deloitte says that multiple robots can be seen as a “virtual workforce – a back office processing centre but without the human resources”.
Other researchers argue that RPA actually frees up employees to deliver skilled and creative work, suggesting that robots and humans are most effective when working together.
Slow service is enough for more than half of British customers to ditch a brand, according to a new survey.
A poll of 2,000 UK consumers revealed that 56 percent would stop shopping with a brand that forced them to endure slow customer service. The survey by contact centre cloud solutions provider 8×8 also found that almost two-thirds (64 percent) of people have been frustrated at the length of time it has taken a customer service team at a company to solve a problem.
The time it took to get through to someone is the most common reason people lose patience with a customer service team (36 percent), followed by having to wait to get their query resolved (30 percent). Quick and easy access to contact information is also a key factor, as a quarter (25 percent) have lost patience by having to wade through too many screening questions in order to access contact information.
When asked about the types of businesses they are most likely to lose patience with, customers named utilities and telecom firms in the top spot (33 percent), followed by retail (24 percent), and local government (21 percent). This suggests that organisations in these sectors are at the greatest risk of losing customers to slow service.
To help them get an answer in the quickest and easiest way possible, 78 percent of Brits expect companies to provide multiple channels to contact their customer service team on, such as phone, email, web chat, and social media. Despite this, over half (58 percent) of businesses still only offer one communication channel to contact customer service teams – an experience 52 percent of Brits find frustrating.
Mary Ellen Genovese, MD of European Operations, 8×8, said: “We all expect companies to deliver a fast and joined-up response to our queries regardless of their nature. Our research reveals speed is everything – consumers have little patience for slow service and, when frustrated, won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere.
“Businesses that don’t meet customer expectations risk losing out to faster competitors, not just over established channels such as phone and email, but across web chat and social media too.”
The research also reveals that customers expect traditional channels to deliver a faster response rate. When asked which customer service platforms they lose patience with the most, 37 percent said phone, compared to just 12 percent for email and 10 percent for live chat.
A majority of European mid-sized call centres understand the advantage in a connected customer journey, but only 14 percent are confident in meeting current and future needs.
That is one of the findings published in a new independent research study conducted by global business consulting firm, Frost & Sullivan, which found that revealed that 77 percent of call centres surveyed recognise the connected customer journey as elevating their competitive advantage and having an immediate impact on their business.
The report is based on a survey of 600 business and IT leaders across 26 countries involved in defining and implementing customer service strategies. One-third of respondents were based in Europe, with the research conducted in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands.
More than 40 percent of survey respondents believe anticipating and catering to consumer needs are by far the most important capabilities in providing good Customer Experience. In Europe, 76 percent of mid-sized call centres surveyed indicate the ongoing digital disruptions across industries will significantly impact them. As a result, such call centres are accelerating investments in digital channels and emerging technologies.
Executive Vice-President of report sponsors PureCloud at Genesys, Olivier Jouve, said: “It’s no surprise that the majority of organisations are looking to cloud, AI, and big data to deliver the kind of experiences consumers expect today. For smaller organisations, a cloud-based, omnichannel contact centre is the best way to deliver predictive and personalised service across every channel.”
Historically, businesses have primarily perceived call recording as a regulatory insurance policy.
The typical process was that calls were recorded, archived, and then accessed whenever a complaint was made. Some organisations still see call recording primarily in this way today.
Other businesses have moved on a step and carried out batch sampling on call records. Often, they might listen in to every 100th phone call for compliance purposes. They might also focus on monitoring new employees to help embed best practice. Alternatively, they might use the batch recordings for training purposes, picking out examples of angry customers, or high-performing agents dealing with customer queries.
Today, thanks to the latest AI and analytics, organisations can do much more with call recordings. With solutions like coacher and helper bots emerging, together with technologies like real time speech analytics (RTSA), we are seeing the advent of a new world of call recording.
Instead of simply being used reactively for compliance or training, the potential for organisations to use technology working in real-time in conjunction with the customer service representative has raised the bar, making it possible to use these kinds of solutions to drive up customer satisfaction and increase sales.
In particular, this is giving businesses greater insight into their contact centre and customer service operations. They can now listen in to every phone call. They can measure the sentiment of a customer interaction more precisely in real-time. Is the customer getting stressed? Is the agent becoming aggressive? Has the agent failed to make proactive use of the available helper bot to answer the customer’s query?
Answering these questions positively can be key to the success of a business, but it is also important to highlight that call recording today has evolved into much more than just recording a phone call. When listening to call recordings, business managers today also need to know what the agent was looking at on the screen at the time they provided information to the customer for example. Incorrect data on the company’s website could help to exonerate an agent who has made a mistake, and pinpoint a problem that needs to be addressed.
That’s why the ability to capture screen information, helping to put the call in context starts to give supervisors a clearer picture of what is happening within their customer service operation – and that drives better customer satisfaction, and improves the level of first interaction resolution. All this contextual information can then feed into a continuous improvement loop. Where one interaction is resolved successfully that can then feed the knowledge management and information systems making the whole process more accurate.
Barriers to roll-out
If you consider what is possible now and the way many organisations are starting to embrace and use these types of technologies, hand-in-hand with a human agent, the potential to also improve customer service and drive up sales has also increased enormously.
So, given all the benefits that they could achieve from this new approach, why isn’t every business moving over to it? One of the main barriers we are seeing today is cultural. Many organisations follow the ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ philosophy. This conservative culture is often reinforced by agents who are uncomfortable with more technology listening in to everything they do; monitoring every action they take, and flagging it up to their managers if they are ‘out of line’.
Unfortunately, whenever new technology is introduced into an organisation, it comes with an associated fear factor. Agents are understandably concerned about what the change might mean to them.
Businesses need to do more to listen to these concerns but also educate agents about the potential benefits of the new technology in helping them perform their role. Indeed, smart organisations will work transparently and openly with agents to look at how the technology can be used to make their job better.
Humans can, for example, be especially good at empathy and working with customers who might be in a moment of crisis or an emotionally charged situation. So it makes sense for businesses to free up agents to engage with customers in this way, while deploying bot technology in the background to give them the practical information they need to answer the customer queries and follow the best available next step.
Ultimately, it has to be about empowering the agent, rather than focusing on the mechanics of finding the information the customer is looking for. With the latest call recording technology, the agent can concentrate on the interaction itself, safe in the knowledge that bots are working in the background to provide the information they need to resolve each individual query.
Agents can also can gain from the enhanced training capability on offer. Businesses can use the approach to capture the kinds of phrases or behaviours used by best performing agents or sales staff and build that into the coaching and helping engines to benefit contact centre and customer service staff as a whole.
This kind of ‘hand-in-glove’ harmony between man and machine is critical in this context. When businesses get it right, it can enhance the agent’s life enormously as well as benefitting the business and the end customer. In summary, the latest call recording technology can bring significant benefits to organisations but it needs to be introduced in a way that overcomes the cultural fear that some organisations and their staff have about bringing in the latest advanced technologies. Get all that right and businesses stand to improve their compliance position, enhance employee engagement – and drive up customer satisfaction into the bargain.
“Calm down” has been voted the worst thing to say to customers over the phone, according to a new poll of more than 100 call centre and customer service professionals.
In a survey carried out by enterprise communications company Fuze at the recent Call and Contact Centre Expo in London, 22 percent said “calm down” is the most frustrating response to give to customers, followed by “you’re wrong” (20 percent), and “let me put you on hold” (15 percent).
The full list of the top ten most frustrating responses of 2019 are:
Let me put you on hold
Let me speak
That’s not my job/responsibility
That’s against policy
I don’t know
There’s nothing I can do
It’s no big deal
I’m new here
Bradlee Allen, Product Evangelist at Fuze, said: “Call centres are key points of interaction between a brand and its customers, but the experience can be frustrating for both parties. Appeasing the customer is a priority, but responses like ‘calm down’ and ‘let me put you on hold’ only add to frustration and usually mean resolution takes longer to achieve.
“The key is making it easy for customers to connect with a brand and choosing the right communication technology to create a seamless, simple experience that delivers fast resolution and optimum customer satisfaction.”
Everyone is someone’s customer, and every single one of us knows how we want to be treated.
Yet we’ve all had experiences that have influenced our opinion of a brand, but actually little or nothing to do with the product or service itself. It is why the quality of service and experience provided by contact centres is critical to the well-being of any organisation that prides itself on the quality of its CX.
As the late Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Intensifying competition and the growing power of consumers have together made customer experience the only means by which you can achieve truly durable competitive advantage in retail today.
It is not possible, however, to provide a joined-up customer journey if the tools you have to manage it are incomplete. Simply throwing cash at CX technology will not lead to success. Here then is a seven-step plan to guide your contact centre transformation.
1. You must acknowledge the need for change.
The first step towards the recovery of your CX is admitting you have a problem and having a genuine and consistent commitment to solving it. Don’t focus your energies entirely on customer complaints as a guide to your transformation. These are negative emotions. Look at positive feedback as well, to identify what your organisation is getting right so you can start replicating it.
2. Be clear about the Customer Experience you are trying to deliver
Unfortunately, many organisations still have an incomplete definition of CX. Either that or their division into functional silos means that CX has become the proverbial elephant being examined by three blind men. In other words, everyone comes up with their own idea based purely on knowledge of their own silo, mistaking or misconceiving the true nature of CX and what it should deliver for the organisation.
3. Ensure you have executive buy-in
It is vital your CEO or CFO is on board to sponsor any contact centre transformation initiative and lead from the top down. But also consider whether you need a dedicated position such as a Chief Customer Officer. Whoever fulfils this role owns the Customer Experience and has the authority to ensure the requisite focus.
4. Work hard to ensure your organisation is fully on-board and aligned
Remember that people are capable of being very parochial, which is often caused by anxietyabout what change will mean to their own work and targets. To counter that, consider establishing a ‘CX Council’ to bring together all departments that have any role in the Customer Experience and empower them to work as a team with a unified vision of putting the customer first, no matter what.
5. Get on your benchmarks
After mapping the customer journey, your next step should be to assess the current state of your strategy, people, processes, and tech. Come to a decision about how you are going to measure the delta of change in terms of positive customer emotion, not just reduced holding times or other operational metrics.
6. Collaborate to differentiate
This is an important one, because by working with a true solution partner, rather than simply a software vendor, you can set yourself on the right path to true omnichannel engagement and avoid the all-too-common operational pitfalls. Use the expertise of your partner to identify opportunities for business alignment along with ways of applying technology to speed up your transformation journey.
7. Build your business case
Providing good Customer Experience will have a positive impact on your organisation’s bottom line, which is certainly a legitimate justification for any CX initiative, but you still need a solid business case based on logic and metrics rather than intuition. If you have the right partner, they should be able to direct and inform this process.
These are seven great steps to set any organisation on the path towards recovering its CX and providing great customer service again. We cannot pretend it is always easy. Such a journey does inevitably involve a substantial measure of cultural upheaval. Customer experience needs to become a collective obsession within the enterprise.
CX culture and practices have to evolve every day and encompass what is always a changing technology landscape. But once this mindset is firmly embedded right across the organisation and all those internal barriers and silos are banished, at least as far as CX is concerned, the tangible bottom line benefits will flow in. You will also have a much happier and more fulfilled workforce.
In order to run a successful contact centre, operational efficiency needs to be continuously upheld.
There are different components to contact centre efficiency, including how your staff interact with customers; how streamlined procedures are; and whether operations are running in a cost-effective manner that does not impact the Customer Experience.
Despite the varying definitions of efficiency, it all boils down to two things: supporting customers and improving performance. It’s important to keep these two goals in mind and implement basic practices to drive efficiency.
Optimise team efficiency through training
Making use of team productivity is important to ensuring efficiency. A study by Aberdeen Group found that contact centre agents spend around 25 percent of their paid time idly and not communicating with customers. Therefore, it is vital that this time is dedicated to developing your agents’ skills and knowledge surrounding best practice and customer service.
This is achievable through continuous, digital training. Agents are consistently sat at their desks with a computer. Therefore, during their idle time, it would be a great opportunity for them to complete quick online learning on their computer, or even mobile. This is why digital learning is an extremely beneficial method of training for contact centres, as a learning can take a few minutes a day, which is equal to 0.7 percent of a 35-hour week.
Investment in training means companies will see significant drops in average handling time (AHT), as the consistent level of training creates more competent employees who can apply their knowledge in real life call situations. This increases first-call resolution (FCR), which then reduces AHT. A lower AHT drives efficiency, as customers are dealt with in a quick, coherent manner.
Leverage experienced agents
Another basic to maintaining contact centre efficiency is having a system in place that helps new staff get up-to-speed as soon as possible. Contact centres face a very high employee turnover rate: they have a 26 percent employee turnover annually, whereas the average rate for the UK is 15 percent. Therefore, effective onboarding is vital. This can be done by utilising more experienced agents and drawing on their knowledge to help new staff adjust to the business’s processes.
As part of the onboarding process, experienced agents can help to coach and monitor live calls. Monitoring calls and having a support system of more existing agents will give new staff more confidence in their job and ease the onboarding process. A high level of employee confidence is key to increasing efficiency.
Measure performance and set targets for achievement
It is important to measure performance within any organisation. Having a clear set of data can help not only evaluate, but also benchmark individual and team performances. Analytical dashboards help identify knowledge gaps and the areas that need improvement, meaning contact centres can administer valuable, cost-effective training that will improve performance.
Focusing on targets can also enhance performance, as employees are aware of what is important to achieve within the centre. Aligning metrics with goals and making them clear to employees gives a purpose to their work and encourages collaboration.
Boosting efficiency in a contact centre isn’t done overnight; it requires measurement and consistent tracking of what is affecting performance. However, being able to identify areas for improvement is the first step, as these can then be resolved. Implementing these basic procedures, like using idle time for productive and effective onboarding, will have a significant impact on each agent’s performance and confidence.Competent and knowledgeable agents will then increase customer satisfaction and overall efficiency within the contact centre.
After the speeches are done and the workshops concluded, you have the chance to cluster around a table in a coffeeshop or bar and get to know other people who attended the event.
This is when one of my favourite questions comes up: “So how did you get into the Contact Centre industry?”
If you’re an introvert and get goosebumps around networking, then I guarantee you that this question works as a great ice-breaker.
A happy accident?
Whether it’s Customer Service, Customer Experience, or the Contact Centre, I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t have an interesting story about how they accidentally ‘fell’ into the industry.
Some folks come up from being an Agent. That’s cool, because we all know you’ll never forget what it was like to talk to customers.Learning how to persuade, calm, and influence is one of the biggest gifts you get from doing this work.
Others – like myself – fell into the job through management level transfer or acquisition.
I’m lucky enough to have transferred over from Finance to Operations, and I’ve always been grateful to have that background in numbers of logic to call on when running large centres.
The higher up the management ladder you go, the more you need to work ‘up and out’ in your organisation
When I first got into the industry, I faced the common challenge I think many of you have – most of my seniors thought my job was easy. I mean after all, on paper you just put a bunch of ‘operators’ in place and answer calls or emails or chats… where’s the complexity there?
As time and market forces increasingly put the customer in the centre of the organisational universe, things got a little better. However, I found that at least half my time as a VP Operations was spent talking to senior folks across the organisation – time well spent.
Teaching them about the industry, about customers and about our value proposition. Helping them ‘get it’.
Today, in all my management level Contact Centre courses, I advise folks to make a real organisational impact by getting up and away from your desk and office….and not just walking around your centre, though of course that has value!
I’m talking about booking time with the heads of other functions and getting yourself invited to senior level meetings. You’ve got to make yourself visible and talked about.You’ve got to help people in other job roles solve problems or create opportunities, because if you don’t, your centre – and everyone who works there – will suffer benign neglect.
It’s not an easy industry
I always say that in the Contact Centre industry we have to be masters of many domains. That includes:
Operations – after all everything starts here
People management & organisational design
Leadership & financial management
Customer Service & Experience
The role of technology in the lives of our customers & people
I can’t think of another industry that places this many demands on its leadership.
And a word of caution…
If you’ve worked a long time for one or two centres, you begin to think that the way ‘you’ work here is the way the ‘industry’ works. Nobel-Winner Daniel Kahneman talks about the danger of ‘WYSIATI’: What you see is all there is.
He teaches that we humans tend to make decisions on incomplete information, thinking that what we see or know now is all there is. Do your best to push back against WYSIATI – I think the best Contact Centre leadership does.
But no matter how you got there…it’s what you do when you’re there
So you’re there.That’s so cool.
You’re the Contact Centre Manager or Director, and they’re counting on you to be efficient and effective.
When asked what I think is the most important thing to learn first about Contact Centres, I always give the same answer:
I can hear some people say “no, it must be customers!”, or “no way, it’s people!”
But Centres are unique and complex ecosystems. You’ll make better decisions about both your people and your Customers when you’ve mastered Operations.