Business Today Depends on Customer Experience and Contact Centers, ICMI Speakers Contend

CHICAGO -- Customer service is the differentiating factor for businesses today, and contact centers are at the center of providing that service, speakers said at the International Customer Management Institute's Contact Center Connections 2019 conference Wednesday.

"Everyone hates customer service," said Randy Littleson, NICEinContact's chief marketing officer, citing a published article with that headline. He cited the following as reasons for the public's displeasure:

  • Companies are forcing people to communicate in a way that is unnatural for them;
  • Customers will expect their interactions with customer service to match the best customer service they have ever received, even if it was from a company in a completely different industry; and
  • Support/service needs have changed as customers have transitioned to digital communications.

Millennials and Generation Z are much more comfortable with digital communications than with voice, yet many customer service phone numbers, typically toll-free numbers, are not equipped to handle text messages, Littleson says.

Supporting customers with digital communications is a challenge, Littleson admitted. Digital is asynchronous, some portions are public, some are private, and there are different contact center scheduling issues and key performance indicators, he stated.

Additionally, as people shift to digital communications, the number of voice calls has dropped, but the number of voice call minutes to contact centers has remained relatively the same, primarily because simple calls have fallen off and the calls needing higher service continue to go through.

"You need to be able to support a wide variety of customer communications," Littleson said. He added that most companies are trying to address this issue by investing in artificial intelligence, with 86 percent of companies seeing artificial intelligence-driven chatbots as a complement to agents, not a way to replace them.

However, chatbots are not a build-it-and-go technology, Littleson added. Chatbots need to be managed, trained, and scheduled, just like human agents.

"Promote a digital-first culture," Littleson advised. Those just starting with AI should begin with pilot programs, just as they did with IVRs many years ago. Following these steps will lead to better experiences for customers, he added.

Customer experience is the differentiating factor for businesses today, said Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters. "Eighty-two percent of chief marketing officers say they will be competing on CX in 2020. CX is your product, everything else is a given."

He explained that CX is the differentiator, because there is virtually no difference between similar products from different competitors. With customer expectations for customer service very low today, it takes very little to exceed those expectations, provide excellent customer experience and win praise from customers.

While praise provides good feelings all around, companies actually learn more from complaints, according to Baer. "Embrace complaints. Praise is overrated," he said.

Baer said that only five out of every 100 customers who are disappointed with customer service will actually complain, while the ones who remain silent are likely to pull their business without ever providing a reason. If customers do complain, a company knows where it is falling short and can take corrective action, and there are plenty of contact centers where some sort of corrective action is needed. According to Baer, 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior CX, but only 8 percent of customers agree.

If contact centers can elicit the complaints and take corrective action to solve the issues, customers who complained are much less likely to churn than those who say nothing, according to Baer. "Haters are not the problem, ignoring them is. You need to answer complaints anywhere that you receive them."

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