By Fred A. Brown
Text messages, tweets, status updates, instant messages. Consumers are accustomed to sharing their views with the world with the push of a button and getting responses almost instantaneously. Is it unreasonable for those expectations to extend to call centers, too? Why can’t customers receive the same prompt, efficient service when calling a vendor for help?
Meeting customer expectations is a constant battle for a call center. A customer doesn’t care that he’s calling during a peak volume time; it’s not his problem that the reps are shorthanded. He has a question and he wants an answer – right now. High call volume times, a variety of answers to the complexity of queries, patience levels – there is a degree to which these can be predicted, but building in efficiencies is paramount to delivering excellent customer interactions. The solution doesn’t always lie in the call center. Companies are looking beyond the call center walls for solutions to improve the customer service experience, including self-service channels such as online chat.
We live in an age of instant gratification, which means that wait queues and IVRs are a source of contention for customers. Although speed to answer is consistently around twenty to thirty seconds, ContactBabel research indicates that the public believes that wait time to speak with an agent is an average of eleven and a half minutes, proving that customer perception is key. For instance, people tend to remember the calls with longer wait times, as opposed to the ones with quicker responses. Even the best contact centers, with nearly flawless reputations for service, may be marred by the rare occurrences that were less than stellar. So how can contact centers avoid these hiccups and meet demand without skyrocketing costs? The answer lies in channel containment and increasing the efficiency of escalation.
Customers Are Impatient: Customer preference and contact center goals go hand in hand; ideally, contact center goals fall under the scope of larger customer experience goals for the entire company. There is a clear shift in how customers want to get their information. According to “It’s Time to Give Virtual Agents Another Look,” a report from Forrester Research, only 28 percent of consumers prefer contacting companies by phone versus using a website for routine answers. Access to a self-service channel can give customers the instant answers they want, reducing the number of less complex calls to customer support and decreasing overall wait times. In fact, Avaya research shows that quick query resolution is the top reason consumers will rate a customer experience as excellent.
Consumers are more technologically informed than ever before. The challenge isn’t convincing more customers to try self-service, because they already want to engage with time-saving solutions; the challenge is to ensure that self-service interactions are successful, as opposed to sending 71 percent of self-service customers to another channel for support. Contact center professionals recognize this and, according to ICMI, are implementing self-service strategies to reduce operating costs and meet customer demand. The next step is perfecting the channel.
Increase Channel Efficiency Before a Customer Calls: A self-service channel gives customers an outlet to have more routine questions answered without needing to pick up the phone. Reducing the number of simple questions to the contact center frees up live representatives to focus on inquiries that are more complex. The moment a self-service situation escalates to involve a live representative is where many companies fall short on their efficiencies. The goal should be seamless escalation to a live representative. This includes the following measures:
- Avoid repetition: If a customer has already answered a series of questions relating to the query, don’t ask for the information again – provide the live agent access to a chat history from the previous interaction.
- Speak the customers’ “language”: Every website has a different layout, design, and content. Interacting with a self-service channel that utilizes natural language technologies allows the customer to interact with the website. The intuitive technology understands what the customer is asking and automatically directs him or her to the specific page that contains the desired information.
- Make it easy: It’s important for customers to be able to access the help they need without having to search for it. Provide consistent, noticeable placement of natural language technology within “point-of-need” areas. For example, when a customer clicks a question mark on a form, natural language technology can be engaged to answer any questions at that specific point-of-need.
According to ICMI, a successful self-service strategy results in better experiences for the customers, and it can also translate into higher morale and retention among agents, who aren’t bombarded with dull, routine transactions. People who are happy in their work are more likely to stay with their jobs, leading to less turnover and the need to hire and train new employees. It’s important to invest in technologies and processes that improve the customers’ experience, as well as that of your employees.
Virtual Assistants Relieve Call Center Stress: Many organizations these days support call and contact center strategy with intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). This technology allows customers to engage in a conversation with a digital customer service representative 24/7. The IVA is equipped with expert knowledge of an organization’s assets – and in some instances customers’ accounts – and can answer customer inquiries by directly navigating the user to the relevant information. IVAs stand apart from traditional online solutions (the search bar, FAQs, and help pages) because customers have a natural interaction with the technology. If the inquiry is too complex for the IVA, it can escalate the conversation to a live representative. Virtual assistant technology can give customers the answers to their questions when they want them, even if it’s in the middle of the night.
Even with the best technology, there will always be those interactions that need a human touch. The best self-service approach utilizes the conversational attributes of live chat or a phone call to bring customers accurate and consistent information – and when necessary, to know when to pass the conversation onto its human counterpart.
Companies and customers want the same thing: high-quality service in an efficient, timely manner. IVAs can help provide that, enabling both call center reps and customers to make the most efficient use of their time, matching demand with resources and improving the service experience for customers and representatives alike.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2012]