Get ahead of the customer service transformation curve


PHOTO: Simon Abrams


Most customer digital transformation initiatives fail for similar reasons. We have seen it recur on several occasions in 2020 and then in the first quarters of 2021. Everything indicates that this trend will continue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced new behavioral changes – for businesses and customers alike – and has accelerated and compressed many trends already underway. Companies caught off guard have had to adapt quickly in ways they never imagined or planned.

It was a recipe for customer experience (CX) disaster. As businesses shifted their customer service agents to a work-from-home environment, digital demand has exploded. Customers faced long wait times and businesses faced high abandonment rates and damaged reputations. Almost overnight, businesses rushed to move expensive voice interactions to lower-cost digital channels, expand their automation capabilities, and create greater operational efficiency wherever they could find them.

Businesses have realized that accelerating the transformation of digital customer service is not easy or straightforward. Now is the time to get out front.

Digital transformation of customer service

Customer service transformation goals are not universal. But in a post-pandemic world, all businesses will need to focus on improving agility, scaling automation, and reducing costs while making it easier for customers.

A successful customer experience is transparent, personalized and convenient. Artificial intelligence improves the customer journey by automating it, maintaining context across conversation channels, and predicting intent to resolve requests quickly. This reduces customer effort and increases containment rates.

Let’s take a look at the key components that enable customer service organizations to achieve these goals.

New digital channels

In “The CX Reality Check – Research, Revelations, and the Route Forward”, a 2020 global study commissioned by my company, [24]7.ai and conducted by Dimensional Research, 68% of customers said COVID-19 has changed the way they interact with businesses. Meeting clients on new digital channels is now a big deal so you need to increase your web presence as well as support chat and interactions of multiple messaging channels including web chat, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat , Google Business Messaging and WhatsApp.

Instead of creating sequential and episodic communications, the above asynchronous messaging channels create a continuous, continuous conversation. This seamless experience speeds resolution, cuts costs, and thrills customers. For example, our internal research found that CSAT scores are 18% higher with asynchronous messaging than with chat.

Related article: Is Messaging the Last Frontier of Customer Service?

Automate with self-service

Forced during the COVID-19 pandemic to handle significantly higher call and online volumes with fewer agents, many contact center leaders have chosen to implement automation and self-service capabilities more robust.

Customers expect fast resolution through self-service. These smart journeys give customers more control while lowering your operational costs. A successful digital transformation uses intelligent virtual agents that work across all channels, from the web and chatbots to Facebook Messenger or Apple Business Chat. Since these different channels have different user interface and other technology requirements, choose a ‘build once, deploy anywhere’ bot model, if possible, to expand your investment and get to market faster with much less effort.

Improve agent efficiency with AI

Homework agents (WFH) are part of the new normal. You need to implement strategies and tools that maintain agent productivity, continue to deliver a personalized customer experience, and ensure data privacy and security. You can give agents intelligent support built into every conversation. Agent support tools deliver personalized and relevant responses that speed interactions while ensuring consistency. Intelligent support robots make the agent’s job easier by automating routine tasks and simplifying complex processes. Use automated monitoring tools to ensure WFH agent security and compliance levels are as high as they were when agents were physically located in the contact center.

Related article: Is 2021 the Year AI Dominates the Call Center?

Modernize your model

The Team of Experts (TEX) customer service model, introduced by T-Mobile in 2018, has sought to reverse the industry’s declining CSAT scores for years. How? ‘Or’ What? By ending the contact center bypass. Rather than randomly routing clients to agents likely rated on their average turnaround time – which encourages them to send clients as quickly as possible – TEX is a self-sufficient, resource-rich sales team dedicated to serving a population of specific customers. TEX customers are more satisfied. TEX agents are more satisfied (higher productivity, less turnover). TEX solves problems faster, at lower cost.

It’s important to note that the TEX model works best when agents have the time to research and fully resolve customer issues. Asynchronous business messaging gives them that time.

Why CX transformation initiatives fail

CX transformation initiatives often fail due to underlying cross-departmental barriers and misaligned vendors. Organizations need to link teams, gain leadership sponsorship, change mindsets, connect technology silos and more.

Competing or even conflicting interests

Most companies work with a variety of vendors who offer different CX features and services. Each supplier has competing and, in some cases, conflicting priorities. For example, your BPO vendors (or even your internal contact center group) may resist automation if they are paid on agent hours rather than agent productivity or cost per contact. So it is your responsibility to harmonize these elements in a holistic way.

  • CX Consultants: Not responsible for results resulting from CX recommendations.
  • AI providers: Offload the responsibility for bot success onto your IT resources and skills.
  • Infrastructure providers: Little to be gained by shifting call volumes to digital channels.
  • Robot suppliers: Automation driven perhaps at the expense of customer satisfaction.
  • BPO providers: No incentive to increase automation and self-service.

Driving alignment across such a mix of vendors will not be easy. I think there is a better way.

Why choose a unified CX transformation approach?

CX decision makers need to integrate agents, technology, and processes to dramatically improve service quality while keeping costs under control. This requires diligent monitoring of multiple vendors or partnering with a vendor that combines all capabilities. Either way, your CX operating group or external partner will need to understand your long-term CX strategy and combine existing staff, knowledge capital and resources with new technologies and full support.

This unified approach should include:

  • Integrated artificial and human intelligence.
  • Predictable costs per solved contact (and lower than current costs).
  • Possibility for customers to interact on the digital channel of their choice.
  • Frictionless ramp-up of new agents and reallocation of agents between channels.
  • Continuous analysis and optimization of agent and bot performance.

One ring to rule them all

The customer experience has changed dramatically since 2019, but its importance to your brand remains paramount. To take advantage of the new normal – to survive, let alone thrive – you need to rethink all of your organization’s customer service. Master your strengths and weaknesses and put yourself forward in your transformation efforts.

Patrick is CTO at [24]7.ai. He joined the company in 2011 with the acquisition of Voxify, where he led the product and platform development teams in his role as CTO.

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