For many businesses, the contact center is the primary point for customer interactions, yet COVID-19 has forced these businesses to rethink their sales and service models.
Increased customer expectations, supply-chain issues, and new work-from-home requirements have all disrupted the industry in a way that will impact organizations for years to come. Add in the new path toward AI-supported solutions and the contact center landscape has become more complex than ever before.
Service transformation conversations have moved from the conference room to the board room as CEOs and CIOs ask service leadership where to invest for the biggest impact. While new technologies are needed to augment agent success, customers are still looking for a human approach, whether it be via a phone call or digital interaction. The customer expects the agent to know them, know their history, and—based on recent interactions or purchases—possibly understand why they’re contacting the company.
To address this disruption, companies are spending an unprecedented amount on technology. Gartner projects that IT spending will increase to $4.2 billion in 2022—up 15 percent since 2019. This spending increase is driven by the move to better AI-assisted automation, CRM and case management, Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS), and cloud-based applications.
However, with this influx of technology, success also depends on the ability to make fundamental changes to processes before and during adoption. Successfully navigating these changes requires a focus on making the contact center agent’s job easier by building a stronger human experience for both the agent and customer. Changing the lens of the agent changes the experience of the customer.
Below are seven keys to building a more human experience in your contact center:
1. Listen to agents to validate the customer perspective
“To improve the customer experience” is a phrase found in almost every customer strategy statement. More and more companies are looking to measure the experience through various reports and surveys. Smart companies also invest in journey mapping and touchpoint analysis to identify gaps in the customer path. However, the most undervalued customer data happens in real-time in the contact center.
Post-contact customer satisfaction surveys provide us with success metrics, with the most common question being, “How satisfied were you with your most recent contact?” But the real value of the survey is in the comments field, which often gets lost in the numbers. This field provides details that can drive change across the organization and data that can be used to generate focus-groups with your contact center agents. Agents know where the issues live and can often fill in the details of how to fix processes, procedures, and technologies that are creating dissatisfaction. Adding the agent’s voice to the conversation will allow you to understand, prioritize, and focus on improving the customer experience.
• When was the last time you read all the comments from your customers?
• Do you have a process in place to gather feedback agents receive from customers?
2. Design your omnichannel approach with the right focus
For almost 20 years, contact centers have chased the utopia of omnichannel: a set of channels that are all connected and designed in a way to provide a singular experience for the customer. It started with the addition of email and evolved into an almost unlimited number of inbound and outbound channels. CCaaS applications that bring together multiple channels have become even more important as “work from anywhere” has become the requirement.
One way to ensure your digital channels keep the right focus is to make First Contact Resolution (FCR) a key metric for success. Customers should have options to transfer to other channels while inside the current channel. For example, both standard chat and AI-assisted chatbots should give the customer the option to transfer to a live voice call within the application. When FCR is the goal, the design of your channels—including IVR, voice, email, and digital—will be more customer-focused.
• Do you have an omnichannel strategy that is focused on providing the customer with the same experience across all channels?
• What are the key goals and metrics that drive your omnichannel strategy?
3. Keep evolving self-service strategies
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, self-service was born with the advent of FAQs and personalized portals. With the integration of Knowledge Management (KM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications, self-service answers can now be curated based on customer-specific products and services, allowing self-service strategies to be more proactive than ever. Digital channels such as chat, text, and webforms make it possible for an AI-assisted bot to gather information directly from the customer in real-time by asking questions, validating answers, opening service tickets, and more.
Proactive service is another path to self-service. Receiving a text or email about your order status can eliminate the need for a live interaction. Work with your marketing team to ensure they’re providing proactive information in customer-relevant language and track the success of proactive notifications by measuring how many of the interactions lead to follow-ups.
• What are the top five reasons for calls and contacts in your contact center?
• How can these interactions be moved to proactive or self-service models?
4. Use data to drive decisions
The accuracy and completeness of available customer data has a huge impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the interaction. There are three key data elements to consider:
a. Customer – It’s important that the desktop provides the agent with as much data about the customer as possible to help them quickly understand the customer’s value and history. Recent interactions and cases should be easily accessible to allow the agent to quickly help the customer and determine the necessary tone of the call. In today’s digital world, businesses can easily obtain a lot of our data, and in return, customers expect the agent to “know” them.
b. Context – This is how the data works together to present a story to the agent. For example, recent return information, purchase history, and the caller’s most recent customer satisfaction scores can all help the agent understand the journey of the customer. New AI technology can even provide the agent with a recommended “next best action” or “next best knowledge article” based on customer data and history.
c. Connection – Knowing the connections that the customer has to other parts of the organization—whether it be other departments, brands, or services—all play a part in personalizing the interaction. The data is there; the question is, “What are we going to do with it?”
• Where does important customer data live in your applications?
• Which integrations with other applications would provide data that makes the customer story clearer for the agent?
5. Sync enablement, learning, and knowledge
For many years, we’ve chased the goal of making knowledge accessible to agents—whether it be through intranets, wikis, KM systems, or the process improvements of Knowledge Centered Support (KCS)—but the power of AI-assisted knowledge continues to be a game-changer.
Digital applications make it possible for digital interactions to be interpreted in real time, allowing the application to make immediate recommendations. With new technology provided in CRM applications like Salesforce Voice, applications can now listen and translate voice in real time, allowing the agent to “see” the conversation and the company to keep transcripts, when applicable.
No matter what you call it—enablement, learning, or training—knowledge management should be the anchor for success. Training should be teaching a new agent where to find the answer versus what the answer is. Policy changes should be more than an email filed away by the agent, but part of the customer interaction, with new solutions and answers being presented in real time. However, the commitment to a knowledge-focused center is more than just the technology—it requires a concerted effort to continuously write, curate, manage, and publish knowledge. This means designating people to “own” the process and making that headcount part of your budget. That said, the ROI is tangible in both small and large centers.
• What is your knowledge management strategy? Who owns success? What does success look like?
• How do you curate knowledge in your center, such as writing, approving, and publishing?
• What applications are you using to manage knowledge? And how are you using AI to augment your agent experience?
6. Measure what matters and what is actionable
Make metrics real by tying them to stories. Teach everyone how what they do every day impacts key metrics. We may all understand Average Speed of Answer (ASA) and abandoned rates, but some frontline supervisors may still be unclear about the true impact of metrics like occupancy and shrinkage. Even the impact of service-level metrics can be confusing. Ensure your leadership team understands the metrics and what they impact as well as how they can move the needle.
• Do your agents understand the specifics of your measurements and how they are tied together?
• Have you done a walk-through in your center to see how well the average agent and supervisor understand the language?
7. Bring together CCaaS and CRM
The goal of the contact center should be to humanize the experience, and technology can play a part in making this easier. One of the biggest technology shifts in contact centers today is the move to CCaaS. While voice and digital channels are at the core of CCaaS, there are other key ingredients that should be added to the mix. Workforce Management (WFM)—also called performance management—combines historical and real-time data to inform forecasting and scheduling. Quality management—which includes recording, storage, quality coaching, and speech analytics—has also become an expected functionality within most CCaaS applications. Through tight integrations with CRM systems such as Salesforce, companies can create a better experience for the agent and the customer.
• How would combining multiple functionalities into a single application improve your ability to track success?
• What functionality is missing in your current voice application?
• How would a single platform that handles both voice and digital channels improve the customer experience?
Building solutions through a human-focused lens
Asking yourself these tough questions and looping your agents and customers into the conversation is a good first step. While several of these concepts can reduce costs and increase efficiency and effectiveness, the real value comes from the improvement in the experience. We’ve all had service experiences where we feel like a company just “gets” us. They know who we are, what products and services we have, and—in some cases—what we want before we even ask for it. They see us as human beings and only use technology to enhance our interactions as customers.
UCLA professor Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan said it best: Technology isn’t neutral or about efficiency—it’s simply about people’s values and knowledge. As we think about building a human experience in our contact centers, our goal should be to give our agents enough data and insight to truly get to know the customer.