If the coronavirus crisis taught us anything, it’s that contact centers are in greater demand than ever before, with resources spread thin.
Problem is, many companies cannot satisfy the increased push for customer interactions via phone, text, chat, video, social media, or other channels. The common culprit is insufficient technologies and infrastructure, which can limit companies’ ability to communicate efficiently with customers and respond punctually to their queries, complaints, and requests.
The experts agree: It’s time to take stock of your contact center’s technological capabilities, identify weaknesses, and implement multichannel solutions that keep pace with industry standards and consumer expectations.
Joseph Ansanelli, cofounder and CEO of customer service technology provider Gladly, says contact centers were originally designed to field calls from customers who had questions or post-sale issues. But the rise of e-commerce has dramatically changed their role.
“Service teams are now engaging with customers on digital channels throughout their life cycle, advising and helping to complete purchases in addition to providing post-sale service,” he says. “In addition, customers have come to expect that they can engage with a company on many channels—voice, chat, SMS, social, and email.”
But contact center platforms weren’t designed for this era.
“Given that most consumers will stop doing business with a brand after two negative service experiences, it’s paramount that companies equip service advisers with the technology they need to deliver on customer expectations,” Ansanelli states.
For proof that omnichannel continuity in the contact center remains vital, consider the findings of a 2020 NICE inContact survey. It found that 94 percent of consumers want seamless access to customer service agents, regardless of where they begin an interaction; 83 percent said the same about switching to chat, text, or phone in the same interaction. Yet 64 percent revealed that, in their recent experiences, when they start in self-service and need to switch to a live agent, they had to repeat information, a key source of frustration.
Another issue is that even now, a full year after the onset of COVID-19, only 50 percent of business leaders say they are well prepared to support customer engagement priorities moving forward, and 82 percent believe difficulties managing customer engagement will only increase in 2021, according to a recent survey by Verint Systems.
“Before the pandemic, organizations were struggling to handle the increasing complexity of customer engagement. Engagement channels and customer journeys have doubled and even tripled in the last 10 years, and organizations have fewer teams or resources to manage these growing and increasingly challenging customer interactions,” explains David Singer, vice president of product strategy at Verint. “However, the coronavirus served to further impact companies’ preparedness levels and derail planned investments, putting them in a more vulnerable state or leaving them even further behind.”
Andy Haas, service transformation practice leader at Deloitte Digital, agrees that COVID-19 and related challenges of the past year reinforced the important role contact centers play in the overall customer experience and the value chains of many companies.
“They created a very dynamic environment requiring the need for flexible, scalable, and modern contact center infrastructure and technologies. We see those who are moving ahead of the pack making investments in cloud-enabled, intelligent, and omnichannel service capabilities specially designed around customer feedback and experience,” Haas says.
The disruptions triggered over the past year accelerated several key contact center trends, including the need to provide digital self-service and reduce the cost to serve, which has driven significant growth in the deployment of artificial intelligence and chatbots. In fact, 67 percent of consumers now use AI for customer service, up from 46 percent in 2019, according to NICE inContact data, which also found that 84 percent of consumers are more willing to do business with companies that offer self-service options.
“Digital technology is everywhere, and consumers use it nonstop every day, so it’s only natural that these same consumers expect to have digital channel choices in contact centers, too,” says Chris Bauserman, vice president of segment and product marketing at NICE inContact. “To win customers’ loyalty, organizations must connect with them in the digital world [where] they’re already living, providing engagement with the brand on their terms. In the contact center, this means adopting a digital-first philosophy and approach.”
The right contact center infrastructure also empowers customer service teams with the tools needed to do their jobs well.
“I’ve seen several contact centers where representatives have to sort through 20 different applications to get the information they need. That leads to long call times, an inability to resolve issues, and a poor customer experience overall,” says Shawn McCormick, senior director of the Salesforce practice at IT consulting firm Saggezza. “But proper contact center infrastructure reduces turnover among customer-facing teams. Not only does a system that’s easy to use and easy to learn require less investment in employee training, but it also drives longevity and loyalty because employees are happier and more successful in their jobs.”
RECOMMENDED TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONTACT CENTERS
Given that consumer expectations continue to rise steadily, many contact centers are investing in emerging technologies. For instance, 52 percent of businesses polled by NICE inContact indicate they’re investing in AI or automated technologies, but 90 percent believe that automated systems like chatbots and virtual assistants need to get smarter before consumers are willing to regularly use them.
Here’s a breakdown of common contact center channels and recommended tech solutions/best practices to improve each:
Although digital channels are on the rise, voice remains the top channel for service interactions.
“It’s also the most expensive channel, so companies should find ways to direct standard inquiries, like ‘Where is my order?’ or ‘Start a return’ to lower-cost channels,” Ansanelli suggests. “This can be done proactively so a customer never has to initiate a call in the first place. For example, when a customer with an open order visits your website, proactively pop up a chat window with an update on delivery status, which not only saves a call but feels magical. This can also be done via interactive voice response, which offers options for customers to find answers to common questions without talking to a service agent.”
Haas has observed increased investment lately in voice in areas such as experience orchestration, analytics, and making interactions more intuitive.
“There has been a wave of conversational AI implementations, too, which we expect to continue over the next couple of years,” he says.
Equally important is ensuring that voice channels are augmented with speech analytics to decode the voice of the customer and make better business decisions, recommends Lauren Kindzierski, vice president of customer experience marketing at HGS Digital.
“With how fast everything is changing, you have to be able to react quickly and make informed decisions. Analytics gives you that power,” she says.
Priya Iyer, chairperson and CEO of web-based customer engagement platform provider Vee24, insists video chat will be a game changer in 2021 and beyond.
“Video chat enables customers to speak face-to-face with live agents to discuss a customer service issue or explore a purchase. It can bring the online experience closer to the in-person experience and help build trust with the customer,” she says. “Video chat is becoming an in-demand technology, especially for luxury retailers that want to provide the customer with an immersive experience. This includes companies that sell high-end products like jewelry, automobiles, or furniture, or businesses that want to build a long-term relationship, such as in mortgages and investments.”
McKay Bird, chief marketing officer of cloud-based call center technology provider TCN, notes that video chat was not as popular pre-COVID.
“But with the pandemic, we’ve seen a considerable uptick in video shopping assistants and other ways consumers are interacting,” she says. “For example, Lululemon Athletica apparel last year launched a virtual shopping experience over video with a live educator present.”
Iyer advises having call center agents use high-definition cameras to provide detailed views of a product, co-browse online information or instructional videos with the customer, and/or just talk face-to-face.