Empathetic Customer Experience Is Why Phones Lines Aren’t Going Anywhere:

Today, more than 82 percent of consumers are comfortable using digital channels to solve customer service issues, according to ContactCenterWeek Digital, leading many to speculate that phone lines will become a relic of the past for business-to-consumer (B2C) communication. However, even with the accelerated shift to online, cloud-based services in the past year, there are some over-the-phone customer experiences (CX) that cannot be replaced with a digital medium.

Due to many factors, including our human desire for social interaction, empathy, and direct communication, phone lines will persist as a standard method for reaching businesses, especially for resolving customer service problems. This is especially true for older consumers. Meanwhile, younger consumers don't hesitate to share their screens with an agent or turn on their cameras while on Zoom, just like in other meetings. Even with the rise in chatbots and social media customer support, certain CX issues can be solved quicker and more easily by speaking to an agent over the phone.

As phone calls remain a key pillar in customer support and the overall brand experience, below are three steps for how to build on traditional phone support to offer even more efficient and personalized contact methods for customers.

1) Migrate Contact Centers to the Cloud.

Today, companies must deliver flawless customer journeys to stay competitive. To achieve a new level of dexterity, many are already moving their contact centers to the cloud.

The stay-at-home orders in 2020 during COVID-19 led over-the-phone customer complaints to soar. In a study of more than 1 million customer service calls by Harvard Business Review, companies reported 34 percent increases in hold times and 68 percent rises in escalations. To address these long holds and wait times, organizations that move their contact centers to the cloud enable their teams to adopt customer service tools built for today's demanding customer expectations. This includes modern interactive voice response systems (IVRs) that immediately route customers to the correct agents, as well as voicebots and chatbots that can answer minor questions so that phone agents can focus on helping solve more complex customer issues.

In addition, migrating to the cloud provides contact centers with increased flexibility and rapid access to new features and capabilities. With cloud-based contact centers, you can add new contact channels as needed and build in more efficiency for your customer support team to help keep hold times and escalations at bay even during the most high-traffic times.

2) Use Technology to Help Better Predict Customer Needs.

It's important that businesses today become more effective at predicting customer needs before customers even reach out. This can also reduce and shorten incoming customer support calls. While this might sound impossible to some, Google and Facebook have built empires on their ability to predict purchases. Predictive analytics is always being used to drive business, so why not use this technology to predict contact center traffic patterns?

For example, it's common for companies to use data to predict which times of day and specific dates when there will be a spike in call volume, such as Black Friday or during the holidays. With this information, they can make sure to have extra agents on staff during those busy periods to prevent customer dissatisfaction from long waits.

In addition to these types of traffic insights, businesses need to anticipate which types of services and help certain customers need before they have to talk to an agent. IVR helps with this by listening to customers' voices and routing them to the correct department. IVR can also collect data from customer calls and help gather feedback at the end to make sure the customer is satisfied with the level of service.

Companies that collect and analyze this valuable customer feedback can make smarter decisions about what customers want. CIO Magazine predicts that by 2022, 65 percent of CIOs will give frontline workers access to data and knowledge to help their productivity and decision-making in the face of change. For instance, some airlines have discovered that customers prefer to be proactively notified when their flight is delayed or cancelled and will call them directly with an agent to help them book a new flight if needed. This provides a much better CX than forcing customers to discover that information on their own and then figure out how to book new flights on their own.

3) Reduce or Eliminate Hold Times.

Rarely anything irritates customers as much as being stuck on hold for a long time, waiting for an agent to help them. The obvious solution is hiring more call center agents, but labor costs are high and each agent needs a desk, phone, and sufficient training. So, companies that value CX must explore other options for solving this dilemma. That's where modern technology enabling enterprises to automate quality assurance, contact center testing, and sentiment analytics comes into play. Companies that invest in operational and IT improvements to help customers see financial gains from 20 percent to 50 percent above cost, according to research from McKinsey.

Automated CX testing works to improve self-service applications, which helps customers resolve minor issues on their own so agents can focus on other critical customers issues and tasks. Other ways to reduce high-traffic periods for call centers include offering 24/7 operations and providing self-service options for customers to solve simpler issues and answer common queries. In addition, there have been technology breakthroughs in distributed training for remote workforces as well as augmented reality training for agents. With agents working from home, companies can also eliminate barriers, such as commutes, shifts, and time zones.

The contact center remains a critical piece of the enterprise, and while new B2C communication channels have emerged in the past decade, phone calls remain an essential element of a successful CX strategy. Therefore, investing in technology that enhances traditional phone support is key for businesses to provide high-quality customer journeys that beat out the competition and build brand loyalty. It's important not to overlook the value of speaking to another human being on the phone and having that person patiently troubleshoot issues with you and offer candid advice. These kinds of interactions that leave positive and lasting impressions make all the difference for customers.

Dennis Reno is a senior vice president and head of customer experience at Cyara.