VENDOR ROUNDTABLE: “Hearing” and Heeding Today’s Customers


“Hearing” and Heeding Today’s Customers

Customers are arguably edgy in these uncertain times, what with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, global and domestic political chaos, and the climate emergency leading to disastrous and too often deadly fire and weather events.

With contact centers engaging with customers, particularly with what may be a permanent shift of much of retail and meals to eCommerce, how is this impacting the need for and how best to listen and capture the voice of the customer (VoC)? To ensure effective quality monitoring (QM) so that those voices are heard and heeded?

To find out we had virtual conversations with thought leaders from leading vendors. They are Heather Hughes, Director of Marketing, NICE, Rachel Lane, Contact Center Solutions Principal, Medallia, and David Singer, Vice President, Product Strategy, Verint.

Q. What are you hearing from contact centers about their need and requirements for VoC, QM applications? Has this changed since last year? Before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Heather Hughes

Heather Hughes:

As the speed of experiences across a wide variety of digital channels has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for actionable voice of the customer programs has increased as well.

Contact center leaders recognize that VoC and QM together provide a stronger set of data upon which to act – whether through agent training and coaching or by triggering follow up with customers, such as white-glove service.

“…it’s more important than ever that businesses recognize that VoC, QM, and performance management are the best tools to measure and improve customer satisfaction.”
—Heather Hughes

With stakes so high and customer loyalty dependent not on the brand but on their interactions, it’s more important than ever that businesses recognize that VoC, QM, and performance management are the best tools to measure and improve customer satisfaction. And learn about how customers experience brands.

In particular, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven QM is helping organizations hone soft-skill behavioral coaching opportunities and best practices.

Rachel Lane

Rachel Lane:

The needs of the contact center continue to evolve. However, the benefit of hindsight has also given organizations a firm window to the future.

In terms of VoC, there is still a trend for understanding digital deflection. For those organizations that have been increasingly embracing digital transformation, we are seeing that the urge to implement self-service has never been so rapidly budgeted for and adopted across the contact center. Both in conversational analytics and speech analytics.

The latter is being widely adopted to understand the service needs of the former. While automation is the mother of managing simple tasks, speech analytics is used to better understand how more complex customer needs are being met.

In terms of quality management, we are seeing a much greater emphasis on automated quality assurance (QA) and coaching for performance management.

Frontline attrition continues to be a huge challenge, which is further exasperated by the struggle to hire in today’s competitive labor market.

That means QM is being used to both draw attention to areas needing improvement and to help agents help themselves coach up with learning management system (LMS) integrations and gamification. This helps them to show impressive performance growth, which can then be rewarded with things like shift preferences (i.e. during the day versus at night) in addition to the usual compensation.

This personal ownership of performance growth is helping to better engage the workforce and provide pathways to career success. Lack of opportunities for future growth and career pathways is one of the key reasons for frontline attrition today.

David Singer

David Singer:

Contact centers are leaning into VoC and QM solutions now more than ever with the realization that work-from-home (WFH) is here to stay, pushing organizations to connect remote workers to the workplace and to customers virtually.

Effectively, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified digital immediacy, especially in customer care. At the same time, it conditioned people to accept constant change as the new normal.

Real-time VoC and QM solutions are becoming increasingly important to help contact center agents provide in-the-moment assistance to customers who have come to expect instant resolution and response.

In the case of customer experience (CX), there is no time to wait to measure and act on customer feedback because, by then, it might be different again. Owning the moment to enrich the CX is pushing companies to leverage the power of technology to analyze, navigate, and execute in real-time.

Q. There has been a debate between VoC systems, call recordings/online interaction capture, and social listening as to which method provides the most accurate understanding of the CX. Do these methods complement each other? Or compete/overlap?

Heather Hughes: Various methods used to assess customer sentiment ultimately provide a holistic, complementary approach to understanding and taking action on customer feedback to increase satisfaction at each engagement point, and across the entire customer journey.

This comprehensive approach to customer feedback allows brands to improve their overall approach by casting a wider net. This way they can incorporate both direct and indirect feedback, and structured and unstructured data, into their CX approach to make real-time changes before problems become more pervasive and harder to fix.

At their core, VoC programs provide customers ample feedback opportunities at multiple points throughout their journeys, while providing companies ample opportunities to close the loop with customers and increase loyalty.

With the rise of digital channels and deployment of self-service capabilities such as chatbots and even SEO-driven help center articles, many customers might take to social media to air their grievances instead of going to the company directly to complain. Social listening makes their voices heard and gives brands an opportunity to understand – and correct – the situations before it’s too late.

Furthermore, call recording, interaction capture, and post-interaction feedback allow companies insight into CXs in real time. Additionally, they can better understand if feedback is a result of broader training and operational issues, an individualized agent interaction which can be addressed one-on-one, or an issue related to, as examples, a product offering or a marketing campaign.

Rachel Lane: Each of these has its own merits; the VoC system should be able to accommodate all customer data and analyze across the customer’s voice regardless of channel, providing data to inform every part of a customer journey.

However, there are two plays here: one being which method is providing the most immediate use to the customer at the moment of truth and the other being which method gives the most business value after the fact.

That said, while the organization is facing the moment of truth, the fact that on a digital channel a business can engage during a customer’s online interaction to save a journey or redirect it to another channel is likely the one that gives the most immediate benefit to the customer. And should not be disregarded.

I would argue that call recordings by themselves only serve the customer in terms of compliance and the promise of better training for future calls. It’s not the call recordings that make the grade but the speech analytics that the recording feeds to analyze the call.

“…the VoC system should be able to…analyze across the customer’s voice regardless of channel…” —Rachel Lane

Speech analytics is the absolute must-have solution to understand both why your customers are calling and if they are satisfied with the service they receive.

Speech analytics yields huge financial benefits to the contact centers by enabling business leaders to make sound operational business decisions about agent coaching, process improvement, and product improvement.

Additionally, speech analytics can be combined with other solutions to enable next-best-action prompts for agents to serve the customers better, and can prompt an automated process in the background to save customer efforts, such as needless form fill-ins.

Social engagement has also come into its own over the last couple of years as brands have now put elegant service processing around it to be able to identify customers more easily.

Up until that point, the social service that was provided was not able to be linked to a customer and, therefore, was more difficult to understand and evaluate its contribution to customer and business success.

David Singer: Each of these technologies is complementary and every method of collecting and measuring customer insights plays a vital role in driving exceptional CX.

This is why taking a unified approach is so important. It is a “total quality” approach — one that enables companies to greatly increase the number of monitored channels and interactions, reduce the risk of non-compliance, infuse the process with the customer perspective of quality, and automate real-time coaching to ensure positive outcomes.

VoC is explicit customer feedback typically collected via surveys, while customer insights captured from call recordings/online interactions feed speech and text analytics to obtain inferred feedback.

At the same time, social listening is the standard monitoring of public-facing feedback posted to social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, but not to be confused with direct messaging channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

The key is understanding that people will express their experiences differently depending on their use of different feedback channels.

For example, customer feedback surveys provide an accurate measure of experiences customers feel are noteworthy to share. However, a customer will often provide feedback when the experience is excellent or terrible, but nothing when the experience is “middle of the road.”

You may have a situation where a customer tries to self-resolve more than once and then resorts to speaking to a live person. The inferred insights that might be articulated such as, “I tried the website and chat box and thankfully I got a live agent,” is also essential to capture, pushing companies to measure and monitor “fill in the blank” moments.

With social listening, customers have been conditioned to get a faster response from a company if they complain publicly on social channels. Companies need to filter social listening to what is general social discourse versus social “uprising,” meant to elicit an immediate response.

These forms for monitoring and measuring VoC are complementary and should be triangulated to inform a total quality approach to CX.

Q. There have been several developments that have been coming to the fore that include the following. Do they affect VoC? QM? And if so, how? Are there other changes occurring now or are just over the horizon that will impact the CX?

1. The rise of asynchronous messaging and coming of age of video for customer interactions.

Heather Hughes: Customers expect to interact with brands in ever-increasing ways. Video and asynchronous digital messaging social are two examples that amplify the need to take a holistic rather than a fragmented view of the CX at every touchpoint in their journeys. That means empowering contextual next-best-actions that improve customer loyalty and agent experience.

Rachel Lane: Meeting customers where they are has driven the adoption of extra channels of engagement over the years.

Today, video and asynchronous messaging are both natural ways to have customers engage at times of their choosing when urgent responses are not required.

The use of video grew exponentially across a much wider demographic during the pandemic with families using video meetings to stay connected.

I believe video is here to stay and can provide some wonderful examples of customers showing brands exactly what they are seeing and not just what they are thinking.

David Singer: The difference between asynchronous messaging and other digital channels is the extended and interrupted nature of the conversation.

With asynchronous messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, a customer can start, pause, or resume engagement with an agent online over a more extended period – sometimes hours or days.

Satisfying this expectation so that time-to-resolution is on the customer’s terms, and not the business’s is important to understand in the context of first-contact resolution expectations.

The differences in customer perception that is based on the channel they are using will impact how a company should measure and improve quality.

2. The smartphone as the primary means of voice and digital communications.

Heather Hughes: Smartphones combine not only our ability to call, but also to text, email, chat, search the web, and engage in social media.

This means that most customer journeys become more complex and non-linear. The result is that the quality of the entire experience is not just a “sum” of the individual interactions—but requires a more holistic quality management approach to eliminate friction on every touchpoint.

Rachel Lane: Smartphone use has enabled brands to communicate with their customers much more cheaply, giving many more options for engagement. Geo-push messaging also allows brands highly relevant offers/information in-the-moment.

David Singer: It’s been said that “the phone is the branch of the digital consumer.” Suppose you’re online banking, and you can’t execute via the mobile self-service app. So, you speak to an agent at the click of a button.

Smartphones have significantly decreased the friction of channel hopping. Using them as the primary means of voice and digital engagement is becoming increasingly less disruptive and more accessible than ever.

Some interactions are easier to say, while others are easier to type. One interaction that spans multiple channels is a good thing, and now it’s happening right in the palm of your hand.

3. The Great Resignation and high contact center agent turnover.

Heather Hughes: The best part about a holistic VoC system and approach is the ability to consistently check the pulse on customer feedback and make quicker pivots to accommodate.

With customer patience running thin and employee turnover increasing, protecting your frontline agents is imperative.

By adjusting processes and operations based on customer sentiment, and helping agents with real-time guidance empowered by AI, brands are able to reduce the number of upset customers – often a key driver of agent turnover – faster by capturing accurate feedback. And address it in a timely manner.

These methods also strengthens an employer’s bond with their employees by working to eliminate barriers and create a pleasant working environment.

David Singer: Contact centers have always had a turnover problem, and this continues to persist. With high turnover, retaining agents is increasingly more challenging – the rotating door is spinning faster out than in – which is challenging and exacerbates the onboarding and training of new agents.

Losing experienced agents makes it very difficult to consistently deliver good CX, especially when your agents are always new. This makes real-time quality and CX measurement critical to feeding in-the-moment coaching necessary to support new agents.

4. The apparent permanent shift to wfh exclusively or in hybrid environments.

Heather Hughes: VoC becomes more important when working with a hybrid or remote workforce to ensure that interaction quality isn’t declining with the lack of in-person oversight.

VoC and QM both play an important role in ensuring quality interactions for all customers, especially in an environment that makes having training and operational standards harder to maintain. But at the same time, it means that organizations must have an automatic way of measuring quality with AI anytime, anywhere.

Rachel Lane: The shift to flexible working has been huge in the world of the contact center. For some brands the adjustment was large, firstly from tech and security perspectives and then from a workforce management perspective.

Ultimately in today’s tight labor market, it has become imperative that flexible working options are part of the candidate offering. It will give organizations the best chance of optimizing their workforces with skilled employees and potentially enable organizations to have every hour of the day be fully productive.

Flexible working will also likely mean that businesses will have more agents employed but less as full-time employees.

So, in looking at the current employment landscape, we are also seeing keen deployment of employee experience programs designed to capture employee engagement and understanding indicators of potential attrition.

David Singer: Companies need systems to measure, coach, and improve quality performance in hybrid work environments. At the same time, real-time CX measurement is critical when a supervisor “walking the floor” is no longer an option.

The real change is the mindset shift from the initial “we will get through this until we get back to the office” to now “we have to deal with this forever.”

Being able to keep up with this ongoing change hinges on having tools to provide better monitoring and coaching and which address the needs of the remote workplace. These tools can provide agent support to help connect employees who are feeling lost and disconnected and can’t reach over to the next desk and ask for help.

Q. What are your recommendations to contact centers to help them understand customers and deliver high quality CX?

Heather Hughes: Using tools that allow for both direct and indirect customer feedback is key to seeing the entire picture. The key to getting a holistic view from all kinds of feedback is taking contextual, personalized, next-best-actions to improve both agent and customer experiences.

Equally important is using CX applications that have embedded AI to help organizations make more informed decisions about improving the CX as they get smarter automatically with every customer interaction.

Lastly, a holistic contact center platform will not only enhance CX but will also prioritize privacy and security in a digital-first, online world.

Rachel Lane: It is so important to collect and analyze engagement across all channels correctly and aggregate all of those insights in a single platform to analyze key pain points.

Organizations should create stories from the data and share those stories across the organization so that the customer always has a seat in the board room.

Additionally, segmenting customer data into profiles or cohorts and using this information to deliver journey orchestration and predictive analytics to understand sentiment from customers who do not engage or leave feedback is really important. Organizations can use this data to drive customer-centric service design and realistic growth targets.

David Singer: Delivering exceptional CX requires a total quality effort. Companies must think about measurement and monitoring in a holistic way. You have to measure quality and equally provide agent support across all engagement channels and modalities. At the same time, you must understand that CX may expand multiple touchpoints by two to three or four channels.

Making improvements requires working across two dimensions: breaking down the silos to enable CX measurement and continuous improvement across all customer engagement channels; and making VoC and QM real-time.

With the escalating rate of change in the world, there is no time to wait for a deep analysis before you act. You need to be able to gather and act on customer insights in as close to real-time as possible. When an experience is going downhill, you must improve at that moment, not just fix it for the next time.

Compliance and Customer Data

Consumer customers, hence lawmakers and regulators, are concerned about the data companies collect on them and how this information is used.

So we asked our vendor thought leaders this question:

Q. What changes, if any, are you seeing in compliance requirements, including also for data and metadata collection and for privacy, both in the U.S. but also in other countries? And how will they impact VoC, QM solutions and their use?

Heather Hughes, NICE:

While global companies have had to update their practices to comply with data privacy laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), many businesses still reserve enhanced data protection standards for customers in countries only where it’s required by law.

Since its passage in 2018, the GDPR has been a catalyst for data privacy legislation, and though overarching federal data protection does not yet exist across the U.S., five states – including California, Colorado, and Virginia – have enacted their own consumer privacy standards.

While these laws differ slightly, this generally means that, regardless of where a company is located, residents of those states have a right to know if their data is being sold, have the option to opt-in or out, as well as the ability to access, edit, or delete their data.

The early advancements of legislation such as the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, approved by a key House committee earlier in 2022, shows productive bipartisan support for protections, although they are slow moving.

Brands can get ahead of the curve by striking the right balance between using customer data insights to optimize AI-driven omnichannel experiences and also ensuring that consumers’ data is protected.

Data collection methods like QM and VoC solutions need to evolve to accommodate and meet these consumer priorities.

“…localization of data and global adherence to protocols is becoming more critical.” —David Singer

All-in-one solutions with security and compliance built in are the ultimate answer. In addition to providing full oversight over how data is handled, those that mask identifiable information in call recordings and direct customers to the IVR when it’s time to provide financial information, instead of to the agents, are just one of the ways that these collection methods will shift in the coming years.

David Singer, Verint:

The global nature of customers is driving more awareness of data residency and informing regionalized programs.

As a result, localization of data and global adherence to protocols is becoming more critical. Having a team in the U.S. with detailed access to your customers in Germany is no longer okay, nor is hosting your data in Ireland for more advantageous offshore data laws.