Five Technologies for Improving Customer Relationships

By Aaron Fisher

Customers want to choose what information they need, and they want to have multiple ways of getting it. They insist on conducting business anytime, anywhere, using any form of communication they desire. They are also beginning to expect companies to proactively communicate with them, whether it’s to let them know that their flight has been delayed, the parking lot is full, or to provide them with a discount coupon when they enter a store. They want and expect relevant information delivered in a “just-in-time” fashion to their mobile device.

It’s all about making life easier for consumers. They shouldn’t have to search another Web page or call the airline to see if their flight is on time; the airline should be calling, emailing, or texting them. With the trend of personalization taking hold, it’s time to focus on streamlining and personalizing the customer experience, initiating interactions about things the customer is interested in, needs, and will use. Here are five technologies companies should be implementing or actively investigating to create a more personalized customer experience:

1) Capturing customer interaction goes a long way. By arming agents with information, customer engagements can be more meaningful and relevant. For example, when a customer calls and provides his account number, a contact center agent can quickly and easily look up that customer in the database to see what the customer’s most recent calls have entailed. If the call history reveals that the customer calls every month at this time to pay his bill, the agent can greet him more warmly and with greater familiarity such as, “How are you this month? Would you like to pay your bill?”

2) There’s a better way to use your company website to capture customer information. When it comes to customer engagement, the number one challenge that companies face is capturing critical data. That’s why it’s important to capture this information around trigger events – events that cause customers to act. Flight cancellations, departure reminders, and late payment notices are all good examples of trigger events. By taking into consideration all the devices people have at their disposal, allowing customers to select which device they would like to receive the information – and leveraging Web interfaces to capture that critical information about how and when customers prefer to be contacted – companies can begin communicating with customers more effectively.

3) SMS is here and now. With SMS and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) sessions, customers can interact with organizations and conduct transactions without having to fire up a computer or call an 800 number. This approach to customer engagement is still pretty bleeding edge, but it’s worth looking into now so the contact center infrastructure is built to accommodate this form of communication as it becomes the norm.

4) Think about mobile: it’s closer than you realize. Mobile is multichannel communications on steroids. Imagine a customer is having problems with his cable service. He picks up his mobile device and calls the cable company. The system recognizes that the customer is calling from his smartphone and that he has downloaded the cable application on it. The cable company “wakes up” the mobile application so that when the system answers the customer hears, “Your mobile application is now awake and available on your phone; if you choose to use the application instead of this automated menu of options, you can enjoy a seamless mobile experience now.”

The customer now takes the phone away from his ear and conducts the transaction on it, requests a reminder notification, and he’s done. But mobile technology doesn’t stop there. It’s going to be the customer’s communication, identification, and payment tool of the future. Customers will no longer have to print an airline ticket or bring in a coupon – they will just hold up their mobile phone. More importantly, customers will come to expect companies to communicate with them whenever necessary. If a customer is driving to the airport and the parking lot is full, he will expect the airline to flag that for him on his mobile before he arrives. If he’s going into a security line that is long and there’s a shorter line available, he will expect the airline to text him that information. If it is noon and his flight just was cancelled, he’ll expect the airline to text him a discount code for the Applebee’s airport restaurant so he can eat while he waits. That’s the future of mobile, and it’s just around the corner.

5) Explore newer security options like voice biometrics. Voice biometrics has been warming up and will soon become mainstream because it’s a form of biometric security that actually works, the consumer doesn’t have to be physically present, and it’s an elegantly simple security solution. When a customer calls to check his bank account balance, for example, the bank will know it’s him or her because the system recognizes his voice. Now is the time to start investigating voice biometrics so the contact center infrastructure can support this technology when the time comes without going through additional updates.

As companies embrace these technologies, they will be setting new and higher expectations for customers. Companies that don’t want to risk being left behind should start realigning their contact center strategies now to support these new technologies in the future. Here are five questions to consider during this realignment process:

1)  What technologies do we want to be able to support in the short- and long-term?

2)  Does our partner have the ability to monitor and scale these technologies as we grow?

3)  Are we working with vendors with vast experience in and knowledge of contact centers?

4)  Aside from all of the exciting new technologies, are we working with a partner that can handle the basics: host the Web interface, host the entire system, handle call routing, and manage the 800 numbers?

5)  Do we have a single partner that can address all of our current and future needs?

Technology is rapidly evolving, and consumers expect more relevant, timely interaction with the companies they do business with.  Keep pace, stay relevant, or be left behind.

Aaron Fisher is speech solutions director for West Interactive, a provider of hosted and managed automated customer contact solutions.  He is responsible for managing a team of West Interactive speech scientists who develop advanced technologies. For more information on West Corporation, please call 800-841-9000.

[From Connection Magazine April 2010]

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