Today consumers have too many options for customer service, and it's difficult to know the fastest way to get an issue resolved. They often revert to the tried and tested phone call, frustrated with automated response systems and hold times but knowing that they are more likely to get a resolution. Those same customers also expect fast responses to queries in social media, chat, and email.
So how can contact centers provide rapid responses and resolutions in numerous channels while managing tight budgets? There are a number of steps they can take to deliver a personalized and proactive service where issues are pre-empted and customers are directed to the best channel for their questions:
1. Use technology to understand trends and improve processes
Customer service technology has improved dramatically in the past five years, incorporating digital interaction management as well as real-time customer analytics. Cloud deployment options help to reduce up-front costs while giving contact centers access to the latest multichannel features. Contact centers should consider how they can use analytics to pinpoint common support questions and trends around channel choices. Using this as a first step helps to reduce the trial and error when adding new channels or updating customer-facing Web sites and mobile applications.
In addition, self-service and new channel management tools can help reduce pressure on agents during peak call times. For example, offering call backs when agents are not immediately available can help to reduce customer frustration with wait times and help manage agent availability. Customers need to be alerted about when the callback will occur and how long it will take so that they don't miss calls.
Click-to-chat on Web sites or in mobile applications are other viable options. They ensure that customers don't need to leave a session to get assistance. Agents can be alerted to customers' actions to better prepare and can handle two to three chat sessions concurrently.
And then there are intelligent virtual agents with natural language understanding. They can further increase self-service rates by predicting customer challenges and then pushing rapid and relevant responses directly to the customer in FAQ pages or chat sessions.
2. Guide customers to the right channel
With customer behavioral data, contact centers can pinpoint which channels make the most sense for different queries. Although customers want to be able to choose channels based on habit, location, or convenience, they ultimately prioritize fast resolutions. Guiding them to most suitable channel will help improve efficiency.
Businesses shouldn't necessarily take away communication options, such as phone or social media, but they should optimize information and influence behaviors. Customers looking to change a flight should be able to do so without leaving a mobile application, whereas customers that have a flight cancelled should receive an SMS or email alert that includes clear instructions for rebooking.
Organizations that choose to eliminate traditional channels, like phone, must carefully plan how alternative options will be used for complex or unique customer queries. Time-sensitive issues, such as technical problems, fraud prevention, or car break downs, require immediate assistance, and organizations should prepare for these eventualities. Giving customers an effective means of communication at that time of need will help build trust and loyalty.
3. Be proactive when relevant
Contact centers should push alerts and notifications to customers to pre-empt queries and reduce inbound interactions. However, they must be wary of ruining the customer experience by using this as an opportunity to deliver marketing messages.
Instead of a Web chat popping up every time a customer appears on a Web site, companies should use analytics and Web tracking to predict whether the customer is likely to need assistance. Similarly, instead of sending repeated messages reminding a customer of an appointment in SMS and email, companies should select the channel that is most favorable to that customer. They should provide an easy way to change an appointment or to confirm it.
But, be warned: Sending outbound notifications in this way often results in a follow-up communication, and contact centers must be ready to handle those queries. Overall, proactive messaging gives contact centers more control over interaction times and volumes and can be used to deflect calls while improving customer satisfaction.
4. Manage customer expectations
Even with the best strategy, technology and people in place, things go wrong and unpredictable issues occur. The most important thing for contact centers to realize is that customers appreciate visibility and clear instructions about how to reach out. If there will be a delay in responding to queries in a particular channel, customers should be alerted and given a viable alternative. If there is a service outage, customers should be aware of it before they feel the need to call. Managing their expectations by explaining how best to get an issue resolved and giving them the tools to do so, in self-service where possible, will help create a better customer experience.
Customers are adaptable and will accept new processes as long as they are aware of the benefits and know they can reach live agents when they really need to. A proactive, right channel strategy can help with internal efficiencies and cost containment at the same time as improving customer satisfaction.
Aphrodite Brinsmead is a principal analyst in the Customer Engagement team at Ovum.