When it comes to advancing customer service, I'm often asked, "Where's the most important place to start?" Is it integrating channels, adding more actionable analytics, bringing in communities, or improving self-service? The answer is, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), all of the above.
Let's face it, most of us are not facing our first service technology deployment. In fact, we've probably gone through many upgrades or changes with existing software and infrastructure. That said, there are still great opportunities to wring costs out of service while improving their top-line impact. In analyzing the experiences of hundreds of contact center managers during the past few years, we've identified four areas of opportunity for customer service to deliver more bottom-line savings and top-line value.
Enabling customer communities
Only a few years ago, customer communities were seen as separate from service. Then, when everyone became a Yelp reviewer, the ability to bring outside communities into the fold was the most pressing concern. Today, embracing customer communities as a place where customers can become more engaged, get answers to questions, and share experiences with other users are more than just an add-on. Companies that integrate customer communities with other areas of service are experiencing increased ticket deflection, accelerated time to resolution of issues for agents, and increased customer satisfaction.
Companies with advanced communities are going farther, using data analyzed from engaged communities to drive product and service developments and highly targeted intelligent marketing efforts.
One company we're working with integrated its customer community into service and linked it to other company communities, so when someone does call, the agent already knows who she is and where she's been on the community site. This not only provides more specific resolutions at first contact, it shows the customer how much the company is listening.
Investing in your knowledge base
If you don't have a self-service knowledge base today, you're missing out on the opportunity to reduce incoming calls or tickets by 40 percent to 60 percent while accelerating tier-one resolutions. For those that do have a knowledge base, investing in content and presentation can further increase deflections. Although not all customers want self-service, those who do are far more likely to buy from companies that help them to solve their own problems without picking up the phone.
Using machine learning and other techniques (or just human intervention) to bubble up the most appropriate content in the knowledge base, keep relevant and useful content uncluttered, and feed input from self-service back into sales and marketing can help to identify new sales opportunities or areas of engagement.
Improving self service access
Whether it's self-service through communities or through your own knowledge portal, now is the time to reconsider how customers will access it. With more and more users picking up phones or tablets as their main connections to the Web (and your support site), responsive design and considerations for form factor can make you much easier or harder to do business with. Although not all companies have the volumes to warrant a customer-facing phone app like Starbucks, many are just scratching the surface of using a service mobile app to engage, support, and sell to customers. The benefit of a mobile app is not just in accessibility to customers but in the additional data you can capture to better understand how, when, and where customers engage.
Once you've identified those areas with opportunity for improvement, where do you start? The good news is that each of these areas are likely to generate bottom-line cost savings in contact deflection for many companies. We've seen, in many cases, enough savings from that area alone to justify the investment.
The other good news is that with the iterative nature of cloud deployments, you don't have to get it 100 percent perfect right out of the box. You can pilot new communities or knowledge base advances in certain areas as a proof of concept and use those successes to drive momentum for larger rollouts. Look for projects with clear breadth and repeatability as ones that are likely to drive the greatest value.
And finally, you probably noticed the common theme in all three areas was analytics. Smart customer service managers recognize that analytics are not just another set of reports to be written or a dashboard to track call resolution times. Applying embedded analytics and more intelligent software in each of these areas can make service agents more proactive, customers more engaged, and customer service an important voice in product and marketing direction.
The future of customer service is not in integrating technologies or driving customers to self-service, it's about leveraging the capabilities of technology to make us all smarter. It's about communities of smarter customers asking fewer questions. It's about smarter agents who are not just serving but guiding (and sometimes even selling to) customers. Ultimately, it's about smarter companies taking advantage of the most important data available—the data about how customer use (or don't use) their products to drive innovation.
Rebecca Wettemann is vice president of Nucleus Research.