Looking Ahead: It’s All About the Customer

By Matt McConnell

Forrester Research calls this the “Age of the Customer.” Today’s consumers have more power than ever before. With multiple channels at their disposal, they choose how they want to interact and when, and their expectations are high. Customers want their questions answered fast, accurately, and on the first try – every time.

Get it wrong, and their voices are loud. For instance, social media has proven to be an outlet for technologically confident customers to provide feedback in very public ways. In order to compete and differentiate themselves, companies have to learn how to successfully engage with their customers to provide a consistently positive experience.

As your customer-facing front line, call center agents play a major role in how customers perceive your company. The following are five call center trends in this new “customer age” evolution:

1) Improving the customer experience will become a more tangible goal. The “customer experience” generally refers to how customers perceive their interaction with a company. This perception is not based on a single experience, but rather the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company from cradle to grave.

This journey – from retail store interactions to calls into a contact center – paints a picture of a particular company and its overall brand for the customer. As such, it is critical that everyone in the organization – not just agents – provides a consistent experience across every customer interaction.

It only takes one rough patch for a customer to decide that it’s too difficult to do business with a company. Uncovering those areas are like striking gold for a company’s customer experience efforts. Ultimately, a positive customer experience drives customer loyalty and provides a significant competitive advantage.

2) Contact centers and agents will have to be social. As social media channels gain in popularity, agents must be proficient at handling customer inquiries in this environment, and contact centers have to be prepared to support this channel. Social channels require agents to have a different skill set (it is more difficult to demonstrate empathy online than over the phone, for example), and agents handling customers in these channels must be trained on these specific skills.

It is also critical that contact centers are optimized for social channels so agents are readily available to handle these types of customer interactions. If the silo effect around other channels continues, the economies of managing each new channel will become unsuccessful.

3) Personalized service will continue to be important. Providing a personalized, consistent customer experience requires having everyone in an organization on board, regardless of department or role. Because the customer journey is the sum of all interactions a customer has with an organization – not just those with customer service roles – everyone must be focused on the same thing: the customer.

All interactions with customers, regardless of channel, must be personal. Agents should have a strong understanding of how the customer got there, how long they waited to speak to someone, their history with the company, and the best way to solve their problem or answer their question so that they will ultimately choose to do business with the company again.

4) Getting a grip on big data is critical. As the number of channels increases, call centers must deal with data from the typical internal sources, as well as from third-party systems such as social networks, the ACD, and the cloud. Most centers are inundated with data, leaving call center professionals confused about how to use this data to positively affect agent performance and improve the overall customer experience.

Call centers must get a grip on their data and focus on those actions and key performance metrics that will produce results and drive customer loyalty. Primarily, this includes agents’ ability to answer inquiries quickly and correctly as well as the center’s ability to react to new information that jeopardizes those efforts.

5) Contact centers must be fully optimized to create real-time workforces. As expectations continue to increase and the contact center environment becomes more complex, call centers must be fully optimized and automated to maintain consistency across all channels and react to changing conditions in real-time. Not only do agents need the knowledge and information to effectively handle customer inquiries – which requires continual updates on changes to products, services, and policies – but in multi-channel environments, agents must also be automatically balanced across all channels according to volume. By doing so, customers get the answers they need in whatever channel they prefer.

Fully optimized contact centers have implemented technology that identifies unused, available time to provide training, and as agent skills increase, profiles are automatically updated. When service levels drop, the voluntary overtime process can be automatically enacted to ensure that there are always enough of the right kinds of agents on the floor, answering calls. Alerts can also be set up to identify individual agent strengths and weaknesses, automating manual processes and allowing coaches and supervisors to spend quality time developing agents to deliver outstanding customer service.

Better-integrated systems provide an improved view of customers and increased contact center efficiencies, which in turn equip centers to make the right move at the right time to provide a better customer experience.

Matt McConnell is CEO of Intradiem, formerly Knowlagent, provider of intraday management solutions for contact centers. Intradiem helps customers both improve productivity and the customer experience while lowering costs.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2014]