Transforming a Contact Center into an Insights Center

Customers expect the brands they favor to know who they are. They also expect them to be able to call upon past information to quickly resolve their issues. Yet, if companies don’t have strong analytic capabilities, they will have a hard time coming up with the insights they need to meet or exceed these expectations.

To stand out as a brand that offers excellent customer experience—resulting in heightened customer satisfaction, acquisition and retention—requires advanced contact center analytics capabilities, enhanced application functionality, and an omnichannel communications system that includes social and mobile.

With these technologies, contact centers will become insight centers that create new experiences that foster deeper customer relationships and improve customer loyalty. These are the rewards of strong analytics capabilities. In fact, Forrester research indicates that the companies that are able to harness customers’ digital data will increase their revenue from $333 billion in 2015 to $1.2 trillion by 2020.

Closing the gaps

Seventy-four percent of firms say they want to be data-driven, but only 29 percent say they are good at connecting analytics to action, according to Forrester research. The challenges range from funding to talent to access to feedback to fragmentation.

Investments in contact center technology tend to lag since these centers are often perceived as cost centers, not profit centers. In addition, many businesses don’t have the resources to create their own data teams. Another hurdle is limited access by customer care associates to all the channels customers use, limiting full understanding of customer interactions. Lastly, contact center staff aren’t typically privy to customer experience survey results or analyses beyond those directly impacting the contact center, which, again, limits visibility into customer needs. Last but not least, contact center tools are not integrated with other enterprise tools, leading to siloed data and misaligned business processes.

A transformative strategy should include implementing analytics tools, e.g., speech and text, journey and/or real-time process automation, to meet enterprise objectives, such as improving the customer experience to drive revenue growth.

According to a TeleTech report, businesses need to take several critical steps to enable their ability to continuously collect data across channels, as well as test and analyze it to find actionable insights:

  • Map existing contact center data flows: Based on preferred, pre-defined customer experience journeys, identify gaps in customer knowledge that could be filled by integrating data from other internal and external sources.
  • Store data in a centralized customer data repository: Ensure processes are in place so that everything that is known about customers—from attributes to attitudes to behaviors to values—can be leveraged from one location. A robust CRM tool, for example, might suffice.
  • Analyze and model the consolidated data: Orchestrate specialized actions to maximize opportunities, such as improvements to customer satisfaction while also achieving service-level agreement designations. Include testing to support continuous improvements.
  • Develop automated reports and dashboards: Display key metrics pertaining to the various interactions customers have with the brand, as well as the downstream behaviors, e.g., product purchase rates and customer churn, that will impact the business.

As you upgrade your contact center, keep in mind that analytical tools can’t work in a vacuum; rather, they reflect the quality of the data that is applied. They also require human understanding to garner more instinctual insights than the data can convey.

Customer Service: Stand Out or Become Irrelevant

What does it mean to stand out in the customer service space? According to ContactBabel’s “The US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide 2016,” it requires four principal assets: omnichannel support, quality management, real-time speech analytics, and other technologies that improve the customer journey.

If your contact center is missing any of these four components, it may one day become irrelevant to consumers. This could spell the demise of your brand, as the customer experience is primed to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, according to a Walker report.

In fact, McKinsey tells us that maximizing satisfaction with customer journeys has the potential to improve customer satisfaction by 20 percent, and increase revenue by up to 15 percent while lowering the cost of customer service by as much as 20 percent.

Here’s how these four principal assets make customer care highly satisfactory at every touchpoint on the customer journey:

Omnichannel: Integrated next-generation solutions (think unified communications—UC) in the contact center expedite resolution time by enabling an entire organization to work on a single communications platform using multiple communication channels. You’ll eliminate customer frustration with being put on hold or being transferred from agent to agent, especially when the interaction’s context is not transferred. In a UC-enabled environment, agents can see the presence/availability of their associates, and send instant messages or text messages as needed to speed resolution. Live screen sharing or instant messages enable collaboration with knowledge workers who can address customer questions.

Quality management: Quality management of customer service begins and ends with visibility into all the channels and interactions involved in customer care. To provide an excellent customer experience, businesses must be able to keep track of each contact across the customer life cycle from a single location. This means that agents need to be supplied with tools that allow them to quickly get up to speed on a customer’s history.

Real-time speech analytics: This technology, known as RTSA for short, analyzes voice data on the fly and can make corrective suggestions not only after a call but during it as well. Agents get screen pop-ups, for example, if they make a mistake informing a customer about a discount amount or promotion. The technology can also identify potential concerns, like stress indicators, such as a raised voice, cross-talking, speaking rate and call quality. Agents and their managers are proactively alerted to issues before they escalate and risk customer satisfaction.

Advanced technologies: Several tools to improve customer satisfaction in the contact center were mentioned above. There are also several tools that you would be wise to jettison from your facility lest they stall good service. These legacy solutions include any that uphold siloed communication channels. Replace them with a CRM that is integrated with your other contact center systems. Don’t neglect to also unify siloed back-office data that can impede CRM initiatives and thwart efforts to improve customer service. In addition, consider replacing your traditional phone system, which is likely costly and inflexible, with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. VoIP provides free long-distance calls and gives staff freedom to work anywhere with a computer and an Internet connection.

Trust Your Frontline Staff to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service

Do you want to boost morale, productivity and engagement in your contact center? Then start trusting your frontline staff to do their jobs and deliver stellar customer service. Let go of the command and control approach so often applied in contact centers for one that truly focuses on customer service and trusts staff to deliver it.

While processes are purposeful and necessary, they’ll never make up for poorly motivated staff. In addition to setting overall direction, contact center managers should introduce practices that give customer care Communicators a sense of control over their work—and even add some fun to the mix. Some items to consider include gamification, real-time communication and Communicator empowerment. These elements can help to build trust and engagement.

To unleash the potential within your contact center for better business outcomes, consider the following recommendations:

Initiate Communicator focus groups: Who knows your customers better than your frontline staff? So, give them the opportunity to share feedback with you on a regular basis. Ask Communicators for their input on customer pain points and frustrations, ways to improve the service experience and even how to enhance your offerings. To ensure this practice remains fruitful, put a process in place that provides follow-up to staff on issues raised and recommendations made.

Make training a higher priority: You’ve hired the best people, so now inspire them to do their best for you through a comprehensive onboarding program. A variety of avenues exists for offering this to staff in ways that support their learning styles. Consider a mix of traditional in-classroom training and online interactive e-learning and e-coaching. Your efforts to enrich their knowledge and skills will let them know you value their contributions.

Establish and measure goals: Everyone on staff should have a clear understanding of business targets. Make sure KPIs and SLAs transparently and fairly reflect performance—and never single individuals out as poor examples. Instead, look for trends and group problems to address in a diplomatic and constructive way.

Schedule to reduce stress: Put the latest forecasting technology to work to right-size your contact center. Consider seasonal fluctuations in business, holidays and new marketing campaigns when predicting staffing needs. This will go a long way to reduce stress from overworking. Another important tool for work-life balance is flexible hours and working from home/remotely. Both are tools that exhibit trust in your workers. Recent innovations in self-service functions allow agents to trade shifts, request time off and voice other preferences—all of which can be automatically approved instead of waiting for a manager to respond.

Boost contact center status: A contact center staffed with well-trained, motivated and trusted individuals is a boon for business. Giving frontline staff a way to work with other departments to learn tips and tricks for delighting customers is another way to engage them more thoroughly in the business and develop trust. Managers should make it a point to promote the successes of their team to senior executives to continue the evolution of trust and respect for Communicators.

These strategies for the contact center, when deployed properly and consistently, will grow trust, improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win-win!

Understand, Anticipate and Act on Customer Intent

Improving the customer experience has been identified as a 2017 critical priority, second only to growing revenue, for 37 percent of marketing decision makers, according to a Forrester study. To achieve this goal, consumer intent must be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy.

As digital continues to disrupt business processes and practices, organizations must take a new approach to customer engagement—one that anticipates and acts on consumer intent across channels. In this way, companies can create moments that matter for consumers and drive successful outcomes.

Technologies for assessing customer intent

In 2017, forward-thinking businesses will leverage the following three technologies to impact operations and improve the customer experience: Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Rather than simply analyzing data to understand how customers have behaved in the past—to predict future behavior—companies will leverage machine-to-machine communication through IoT devices and sensors to deliver personalized support, like fixing a product problem before it happens.

Best practice for intent-driven customer engagement

Channel-centric customer engagement is a popular contact center model today. Yet, a focus on optimizing performance within channels is more of a passive, or reactive, approach to customer interaction. This can end up disappointing customers.

Instead, an intent-driven customer engagement model uses data to anticipate a customer’s intent during the purchase journey. The intelligence thus gained allows marketers to present customers with intelligently selected next steps.

Applications in the contact center

Chatbots: According to a 24/7 article, AI-powered chatbots are emerging in more businesses to better handle inquiries efficiently and at scale. Since 93 percent of U.S. consumers use the Internet for research before making a purchase, a chatbot function will become critical to customer satisfaction. Chatbots like Siri, Cortana and Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger are already familiar to, and popular with, consumers. In 2017, 24/7 predicts that chatbot technology will extend beyond messaging apps to empower customers with self-service on several channels, including SMS, mobile apps, email and phone.

Communication channels: This year, progressive companies will begin to orchestrate the customer experience by pairing communications channels to ease customer interactions. Logical pairings might include Web and phone, chatbot and live chat, or mobile app and IVR—depending on each business’s unique needs. Leaders will apply AI and ML techniques to company data (customer profiles, histories and relationships) to gauge consumer intent. In turn, this intelligence will allow organizations to deliver experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Personalized marketing: How businesses market their products and services will be significantly aided by advanced technologies that help determine customer preferences in product features. This year, more companies will start to use cognitive science to gain consumer attention. Advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at individuals will funnel results back through ML models to continually improve outcomes.

Intent-driven customer engagement is about understanding your customers—who they are, what they’re doing, the channels they’re using—and leveraging insights gained by employing today’s advanced technologies to deliver the optimal customer experience.

 

The Impact of Speech Analytics in the Contact Center

Speech analytics is a powerful tool for improving customer service. It turns every phone call into a valuable source of customer data. Collectively, it provides a holistic view of the thoughts, feelings and desires of a company’s customer base. Contact center managers can use insights gained to improve performance metrics, better and more quickly handle customer issues, and even make changes to existing products that can boost sales. In short, the technology gives users a competitive advantage over non-users.

So, what is speech analytics? In a nutshell, it’s the process of analyzing recorded calls to identify words and detect emotions. In the contact center, speech recognition software is used to quickly identify the calls that need attention. It then communicates information about these calls to the customer care Communicator, who is then in a much better position to handle the issue. This often shortens issue resolution time and call duration.

A reduction in average handle time improves service and can even increase company profits.

Since its introduction in 2003, the scope of speech analytics, which was originally called audio-mining, has evolved to amplify the voice of the customer beyond what could be gleaned from representative samplings. The tool evaluates 100 percent of calls, and has the ability to amass, organize and evaluate large amounts of unstructured data available through customer interactions.

With a big picture perspective, managers can more easily recognize trends in customer interests and needs. They can leverage the information gained to develop new products and/or enhance existing ones, ultimately driving sales.

Managers can also use speech analytics to ensure compliance with many regulatory and consumer protection requirements. It can even work to increase revenues when used for debt collection.

In addition, the technology ramps up quality assurance with real-time monitoring of agent engagement and script compliance. It can gauge the effectiveness of greetings and closings, and isolate words, phrases or tone of voice that signal customer dissatisfaction—while there is still time to save the relationship.

Consider speech analytics for your contact center if you would benefit from a better understanding of why your customers call in. The technology will give you greater knowledge about key behaviors on the parts of your Communicators and customers. This will help you pinpoint coaching or training opportunities for the former, and acquisition, retention and upsell opportunities for the latter. What’s more, the technology will give you greater insight into the customer sentiments that most impact your customer relationships.

Speech analytics can turn the contact center into a fountain of information for the whole business. Its applications are growing, and it is positioned to become an indispensable industry tool.

 

The Future of Measuring Contact Center Performance

Contact center performance ratings are currently based on scorecards that attempt to balance the reporting of key metrics across the spectrum of efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience. The customer experience portion—the most critical reflection of contact center performance—is typically gathered by surveying customers post-contact.

New ideas about measuring contact center performance are focused on tracking actual customer behavior—not what customers say they’re going to do, but what they really do—post-contact. The ability of a contact center to implement this tracking and use it to optimize performance will depend upon how well contact center leaders respond to the following evolving contact center trends:

Technology: Thanks to gigantic technological gains since call centers were born 40 years ago, integrated contact center software, especially in the cloud environment, can generate a holistic view of the customer journey. Insights gained are allowing contact center managers to personalize communications for a better customer experience. It won’t be long before a single set of unified software technologies emerge that will further coalesce and analyze data, improve operational efficiencies and heighten customer satisfaction.

Communication channels: Today’s communication channels—including voice, chat, email and social media—will continue to expand, challenging contact centers to keep up with user demand. Video chat, anyone? SMS, or texting, has vast potential, as a communication tool, as evidenced by millennial usage of the technology. In fact, a Gallup poll found that text messaging is the dominant form of communication for Americans under the age of 50. Fully 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they texted “a lot” on the day prior to being interviewed.

Self-service: To optimize contact center performance, decision makers will also need to expand self-service options across channels. Yet in tracking the customer journey in the days ahead, companies may find that customers are reaching out to each other in collaborative forums instead of engaging with their contact centers. If this is not an ideal scenario for your organization, you may want to put processes in place to enable your facility to deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

The ongoing digital transformation will enable contact center managers to learn how customer interactions impact future customer behavior, including repeat purchasing and retention. This information will enable forward-thinking leaders to adjust processes to enhance the customer experience.

The Ongoing Value of Live Customer Care

Do you need a contact center any more to provide stellar customer service? Or is the trend toward automated service inevitable? After all, automation is significantly less costly and more efficient than providing live assistance, and self-service is actually preferred by 91 percent of customers when it is seamless and effective.

Yet, customer care provided by live individuals may have no substitute when it comes to maximizing the customer experience with a brand. Consider, for instance, the downside of do-it-yourself service: Some customers—those who are either unwilling or unable to adapt—will get left behind. Others will be frustrated or angry, as multiple studies indicate that a significant percentage of customers prefer to resolve complex issues with a live individual.

This is why most of today’s organizations determined to enhance the customer experience with their brands are operating on the principal that giving customers a full swath of choices, e.g., email, live chat, text, social media and mobile apps or websites, is the best practice.

Unfortunately, a new survey conducted by Ovum shows that a gap exists between customer expectations and what businesses are currently able to deliver. It blamed this discrepancy on a lack of “any real understanding” among contact center managers regarding the extent to which customers interact via other channels before calling their facilities.

Most contact center managers would likely agree that understanding the lengths to which customers might go to avoid resolving issues with live Communicators is an important factor when planning future contact center operations. Tracking customer interactions across various channels is just as important, in other words, as determining customer channel preferences in the first place.

Cross-channel interaction analytics can provide decision makers with invaluable insights, such as the one Ovum discovered through surveying customers: Customers are increasingly informing themselves and, where possible, resolving their own issues.

With a greater understanding of customer preferences and behaviors, contact center managers can confidently take action to deal with the consequences. In this case, they can put processes in place to help Communicators deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

 

Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Lose Customers

Your customers are engaging with you through a variety of channels. In 2015, for the first time, Web self-service replaced the phone as the top channel used by customers, according to a Forrester Research report. Electronic live-assist channels are also rapidly gaining in popularity. Today’s consumers typically use self-service as a first point of contact and escalate more-complex questions to live agents.

This intensifies the importance of live agent interactions in building customer relationships. Yet, contact centers are not investing in digital technologies—omnichannel solutions, unified queuing, routing and reporting and process guidance—to keep up with customer demand. But they should be, as well as developing a Communicator pool skilled in multiple channels, or they will suffer the consequences that result from customer dissatisfaction.

The digital imperative is in response to increasing customer impatience with poor service. As consumers living in the age of technology confront increasing complexity in their daily lives, they want product and service issues resolved quickly when reaching out to businesses. Case in point, the Forrester report shows that 55 percent of U.S. online adults are likely to abandon their online purchase if they cannot quickly find an answer to a question. This goes hand in hand with the Forrester statistic that 77 percent of respondents say valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.

Companies and customers gain when contact centers deliver pain-free service using streamlined processes. Customers are satisfied and companies contain costs by minimizing handle time. This is the main reason, in fact, that customers seek self-service and digital communication channels: minimal interaction involvement and irritation.

Deploying digital technologies in response to consumer demand takes on even greater urgency as customers continue to contact businesses at an increasing rate in comparison to historical contact volumes, per Forrester. Unfortunately, even those contact centers that are deploying digital technology in keeping with customer demand are not necessarily adopting best practices for the delivery of service over those channels.

In fact, Forrester reports that 10 percent of chat users and 25 percent of Twitter users are dissatisfied with customer service over these channels. What’s more, only 36 percent of contact center decision makers report that their organizations have implemented multichannel integration to provide consistent experiences.

To better align contact center technology and operations to customer service, consider the following strategies suggested by Forrester:

  • Leverage data: Monitor customer searches and inquiries to ensure that Web and mobile self-service content is in line with customer expectations.
  • Monitor and share customer information: Employ proactive digital engagement technologies to track customer journeys across your website, IVR and mobile app, and then pass the gleaned information off to Communicators so their service aligns with customer research.
  • Personalize interactions: Use computer telephony integrated with back-end systems to send Communicators customer histories that allow them to personalize interactions. Process guidance technologies allow you to push that right data to Communicators at the appropriate point during the interaction.
  • Invest in a universal desktop: Standardize Communicator experiences across channels to increase productivity by deploying a universal desktop that integrates channels at the user interface layer.

Better yet, Forrester recommends retiring siloed technologies and replacing them with next-generation omnichannel solutions that provide consistent business processes, user experiences and reports. Successful companies will deploy cross-organizational teams that represent all customer touchpoints, helping their contact centers “go digital.”

Hosted Contact Center Market Set to Flourish

Contact centers, both in-house and outsourced, help enterprises in many ways—from providing a better customer experience to increasing productivity to providing the latest technologies for generating valuable business intelligence. When the contact center is hosted in the cloud, additional benefits abound, such as assured disaster recovery, ease of compliance management, and greater scalability and flexibility.

Company reliance on various technologies and the Internet to operate profitability is expected to intensify, with a corresponding increase in cloud-based contact center market size. According to a new report from MarketsandMarkets, the market is expected to grow from $5.43 billion in 2016 to $15.67 billion by 2021, at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent.

This growth is also being fueled by a high demand for outbound dialer systems and outsourced contact center services. Advances in dialer technology, especially features such as dynamic filtering—search indexes that control which leads are called—and do-not-call list management, are popular because they increase Communicator talk time, leading to greater productivity.

Outsourcing the contact center function enables companies to reduce spend on networks and IT. Cost benefits will drive companies to outsource customer services across the board—from inquiries to order processing to technical support. Plus, the increase in the number of an organization’s functional areas (e.g., sales and marketing) being served by contact centers has increased the complexity of deploying in-house contact centers.

Another key to cloud-based contact center growth is the role the contact center is playing in the e-commerce space. Innovation and the proliferation of digital technologies have changed customers’ interaction with retailers; they are now using different channels such as live chat and self-service options. The vendors in this vertical market rely on the cloud environment to attain customer loyalty all along consumer touchpoints such as retail stores, Web catalogs and the contact center.

The only growth inhibitors for the cloud-based contact center market are an ongoing fear of data risk and initial deployment costs. Enterprises are mitigating the potential data risk, however, by side stepping total cloud immersion. They are bridging the gap between low-security public cloud and high-security private cloud by creating hybrid cloud networks. This gives them the scalability and flexibility of the cloud while retaining secure computing environments on-premises.

Enterprises that make customer satisfaction and experience a priority are strategically using contact centers to maximize their success in these areas. Outsourcing contact center functions to a managed service provider can help in this regard by providing crucial elements of high-quality customer service without all the infrastructure complications of on-premises solutions. As the cloud-based contact center market grows, consider ways in which you, too, can leverage the cloud to push your business to the next level.