Coping with the switch from phone to digital customer service
Everyone knows that we live in a multichannel world, but how is this impacting companies on the ground? New research by contact center analysts, Contact Babel, in the US and the UK highlights how consumer usage of channels is changing and the pressure it is putting on organizations.
The study, which is based on surveys of contact center managers, suggests that:
- The volume of interactions for many channels (including chat, social, SMS, email) is expected to show a net increase over the next year:
- Chat is a particularly strong area of growth with 52% of respondents in the US expecting an increase in usage (69% in the UK)
- Social media interactions are expected to increase by 46% of US respondents (67% in the UK).
- On both sides of the Atlantic more of the Contact Babel survey sample think live telephony customer service call volumes will reduce rather than increase.
The shift from phone to digital
In fact, over the next four years, live agent telephony is expected to decline slowly and more people are expected to choose an online option to interact with companies. Chat is expected to become more mainstream, while social media is forecast to become an increasingly popular channel for customer service. Telephone self-service is also expected to be boosted by implementations of visual IVR.
However, the number of inbound interactions that agents have to handle will increase in the next four years (over 5% year-over-year in the US) and those interactions are expected to become more complex as easier, more basic queries are increasingly handled through web self-service.
Changing usage patterns doesn’t mean contact centers can simply remove those channels that are used less heavily – reducing customer choice is likely to lead to a drop in satisfaction and hence revenues. This means that over the long term, they will need to be able to cope with an increasing number of channels. Resources will be stretched, firstly because the number of interactions continues to grow; and secondly, as live interactions become more complex - meaning agents need more information to answer them, they will take longer.
Rising customer expectations
The pressure on contact centers is already intensifying as businesses struggle to answer queries as quickly as customers expect them to. An Eptica study conducted last year reveals that 58% of US consumers would like to receive an email reply within 2 hours, yet the average response time from 500 retailers who were part of the analysis was 7 hours and 51 minutes. On Facebook the majority of consumers expected an answer within 6 hours but retailers took an average of over a full day to respond. On Twitter most consumers demand an answer within 60 minutes, yet it took retailers on average over 31 hours to respond.
How can contact centers cope with these challenges? Here are five key suggestions:
1. Integrate systems
Give agents the ability to easily access a complete picture of a customer’s history and interactions, by integrating all the channels into a single system. This is going to be particularly important as consumer queries become more complex and require greater information to provide successful answers. Integration could also be extended to include a single, integrated workflow that enables customer service to bring in specialist staff who are not normally customer-facing to help answer specialist queries as part of the process.
2. Share knowledge
Create a single, centralized knowledge base that spans all customer facing staff and channels. This ensures consistency of answers and means responses are delivered faster, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. It empowers agents by giving them easy access to the latest information, which helps them do their job quicker and be more confident when talking to customers. The overall workload for the contact center is reduced because customers receive accurate, comprehensive answers first time and don’t have to make contact again because they are unsure or unsatisfied with the information they have been given.
3. Automate processes
Web self-service has already been successful at helping to reduce the number of incoming interactions. By introducing automation into other channels, it is possible to improve productivity. You can for example introduce automated workflow with embedded linguistics technology which analyzes the text and tone of incoming queries (email, SMS, social media) and routes them to the most appropriate agent. The system can give agents auto-suggested templates (based on the analysis of the text) to help them turn around the customer queries faster. All they have to do is personalize the response to provide an efficient, helpful reply to the query.
4. Multi-skill your staff
Break down the silos between departments and agents and train them so that they can respond equally well to customers across a range of channels. As well as boosting productivity offering a greater variety of work can help staff feel more motivated, fulfilled and satisfied. If they are trained to operate across a number of channels it also means they can be brought in to cover short term peaks in activity on specific channels, reducing queues.
5. Keep learning
Continually look at ways you can improve performance and productivity. Analyze the questions that consumers ask and monitor complaints. Are there any recurring themes? This will help identify processes that need to be adapted or improved, or instances where more information needs to be presented (or presented in a different way) and to catch an unhappy customer quickly. This gives you the chance to learn from customers and strengthen your operation.
All the signs are that despite shifting channel preferences, the number of customer service interactions will continue to increase, while consumers will become more demanding in terms of speed of response. Companies will therefore need to use technology effectively, and find smart ways to meet and exceed customer expectations while still managing resources efficiently.