The Phone is Still Vital for Your Business

In a society full of tweets, texts and typing, it may come as a surprise that phone calls remain the preferred channel of communication when it comes to your brand’s customer service. Tried and true, customers prefer actual voice communication for a plethora of reasons, but above all else, simply because it is the easiest option when looking to connect with a brand’s customer service department.

Consider this: When you are trying to get a hold of an organization’s customer service department, more times than not it’s because you have an urgent problem needing to be resolved. From a customer perspective, you don’t want to be typing in circles to a chatbot trying to explain your issues. Further, sending emails back and forth is even more time consuming than the chatbot. Yet, if you simply call into the customer service department, an agent is able to quickly look up your profile and guide you to a resolution.

More so, depending on your brand’s target market, they may not all be internet-savvy, or even have access to the internet. According to this study, only 66% of U.S. adults ages 65+ are using internet, making it worthwhile to stay accessible with offline communication.

Reasonably so, your brand’s voice communication can be the distinguishing factor amongst your competitors.  Show your customers that you value them by giving them exceptional live-person interaction rather than a chatbot or IVR system. In doing so, you will create a positive customer experience, and in turn find increased satisfaction and loyalty.

The take-away: Understand that voice communication, done well, is vital to your brand’s success and can set your brand apart. Finding the right contact center partner to handle your voice communication is critical in fostering your brand’s growth.

To learn more on how InfoCision provides the highest quality contact center solutions, visit www.infocision.com

Social Media: Getting the Voice and Tone Right

Social media sites are now an integral part of society. As a matter of fact, Pew Research reports that 69 percent of Americans have at least one social media profile—up from 48 percent just five years ago. Usage has so exploded that it’s moved the dial on customer care from  a “nice to have” to a “must have” for businesses.

Thus, many companies have joined the social media ranks—about nine in 10, according to an eMarketer survey. Although not every brand is optimizing its presence on social platforms (approximately 70 percent of customer service complaints made on Twitter go unanswered), many have their paddles in the water and are rowing along—often upstream against an overwhelming flow of conversations.

One aspect of social media that hasn’t received a lot of attention, however, is establishing the right voice and tone for social platforms. As this is critical to your social success, we provide the following advice for doing it right.

Establishing the right social media voice and tone

It’s agreed that canned responses are anathema to social media. This is a platform for authentic exchanges of opinion among peers. The voice and tone must be personal—but how personal?

Answer this question by first understanding voice and tone: Your brand’s “voice” is its personality, e.g., positive, sarcastic, formal—i.e., your mission statement. Tone is a subset of voice that adds flavor depending on audience, channel or situation—i.e., application of the mission. Essentially, you should have one voice and a variety of tones.

Most companies have a great sense of what these are for their brand already. If not, pin them down by asking the following questions, suggested by Buffer:

  • If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would it have?
  • What would this “person’s” relationship to consumers be like?
  • List acronyms of your company’s personality—what it is not.
  • What companies have personalities similar to yours? How are they similar?
  • How do you want customers to think about your company?

Once you’ve determined some adjectives that define your voice and tone, try to create messaging that encompasses your brand personality. Great examples can be found on MailChimp.

The conundrum for brands is that what’s appropriately personal for one client will not work for another. In general, brands are advised to establish a polite and professional tone until the time when feedback indicates a more or less formal tone will suit the audience best. This involves going through a learning curve with each audience segment.

Striking a natural tone that appeals to customers often requires a lot of research. Bianca Buckridee, vice president of social media operations for JPMorgan Chase, during a panel session at the Wharton Social Media Best Practices Conference, said, “It’s difficult to do. … You have to keep monitoring. … We strive to make it look real-time, but we’re really doing a ton of research in the back.”

Your voice and tone are features of your messaging that humanize your brand and let you take part in conversations with key targets naturally. This fosters trust and, ultimately, loyalty—even turning some customers into brand advocates or ambassadors. If done right, you could end up with a host of fans who will grow your brand with you.

Even with its challenges, social media customer care represents a tremendous growth opportunity for businesses to foster strong customer relationships.

Your Contact Center Has a Bright Future

Trends in the contact center space include customer demand for self-service: what many customers today consider the quickest and easiest way to resolve issues. When customers do personally reach out to companies, they are often rankled by the service they receive. In fact, the majority are dissatisfied. Does this mean your contact center’s days are numbered? On the contrary!  There’s good reason for optimism.

First of all, today’s contact centers are focused on providing a valuable customer experience. Quality is paramount. This is why many companies that shipped their customer service organizations overseas have pulled them back to shore. Customers just weren’t happy with language barriers and cultural differences that often came to light.

Improvements in meeting customer expectations are reflected in the multiple communication channels many contact center facilities now provide to “be where their customers are.” Customer preferences are considered a top priority. This means that interactive voice response (IVR) systems are now easier to navigate, and customers receive callbacks rather than waiting on hold for a customer care Communicator.

And while contact centers are responding to consumer demand for self-service options, the top-notch ones continue to provide live Communicators for more complex issue resolution. While research shows that customers prefer to resolve their own problems when possible, a personal touch is desired when things get complicated. This approach means that today’s Communicators develop expertise regarding their company’s products and services.

Today’s leading contact centers also ensure that Communicators can leverage intelligence across the organization—from data collected in corporate networks to staff in other departments. This requires integration of internal systems and intelligent routing capabilities, which—if not already in place—are on the docket for contact centers eager to respond at the highest level to customer needs.

A 2017 report by JLL Research on U.S. contact centers states that the contact center industry showed steady growth across global markets in 2016, outpacing economic growth. The U.S. contact center industry maintained the largest share of the global market, with 1.5 percent annual growth in contact center spending. In 2015, the U.S. market supported 2.6 million contact center employees—a gain of 34.5 percent over the past five years.

The report also revealed that third-party providers, which represent 25 percent of the contact center industry, are expected to increase revenues as corporations turn to outsourcing basic business and analytics functions. North American contact center outsourcing providers had 2015 revenues of $9.4 billion—up 22.3 percent from 2013.

Even online businesses that have moved away from contact centers in favor of social media and virtual help centers are coming back. In fact, an Econsultancy article reveals that 76 percent of companies learn about website problems as a result of calls to their contact centers. In addition, many Web transactions are still completed with the help of a customer care agent, and many customers will go elsewhere if the interaction is not smooth.

The contact center is actually more of a central hub than ever because customers expect to be able to jump to a live Communicator from any channel. The contact center is also the place where businesses are bridging gaps between online and offline channels, giving companies the complete context of their customers’ interactions. With these insights, the contact center is shaping the customer experience with extraordinary service that should bring customers back again and again.

Small Gestures to Make Customers Feel Valued

We live in a data-driven and digital-first world, making it easy for companies to overlook the value of genuinely connecting with customers.

Even as consumers yearn for self-service options to speed up transactions with brands, and even as they opt to research products and services long before contacting a vendor about a purchase, they still welcome small gestures of appreciation from the businesses they patronize. What’s more, they develop loyalty to the brands that show them respect by going the extra mile to meet their needs.

Consider how top customer service companies like Amazon, Nordstrom and Hyatt Hotels work harder, smarter and more effectively to satisfy their customers, making them feel valued and prone to repeat business. For example, on top of offering incredibly fast response times and seamless returns, Amazon empowers employees to sacrifice an immediate sale or their time for the sake of resolving a customer’s issues. When customer satisfaction is a company’s primary focus, customer retention is often a given.

Businesses without the processes or machinery to compete with multibillion dollar companies like Amazon are not, however, without resources that can impact customer relationships just as notably and favorably. Sometimes a personal touch—from a friendly smile to remembering a customer’s name to a waived fee—goes a long way toward building a lasting relationship.

For example, some insurance companies give their associates the option of sending customers celebratory or sympathy cards, or the authority to send a hand-written message.

Developing the necessary customer-centricity that encourages customer devotion to a brand must start at the top of the company hierarchy. This is where strategies for understanding and meeting customer need must start and then flow to employees, aligning them with the vision. This may mean loosening the reins of scripted interactions, which also means boosting hiring practices to ensure that the right people are in place—with the right emotional predilections—to address customer concerns with aplomb.

Companies that limit customer service due to time or budget constraints are missing the opportunity to grow their business. Remember when Starbuck Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz closed all Starbucks locations for three hours during normal business hours to give employees a refresher course on the art of making expresso? He also discussed the importance of getting to know customers and greeting them by name.

Yet, simpler measures—like bringing hotel guests extra towels, or presenting restaurant patrons with a free drink on their birthdays—can be just as effective.

Don’t neglect to leverage your company’s data to deliver personalized services. For example, your customer relationship management (CRM) solution makes it easy to map a customer’s phone number or email address with a customer record. Airlines do this all the time to automatically alert passengers of a flight delay or cancellation. When a passenger calls in, an automated system recognizes them and can quickly offer assistance.

If you notice a gap between customer expectations and the customer service you provide, make it a priority to get a leg up on your competitors by showering your customers with tokens of appreciation for the value they provide to your business. Small gestures will go a long way toward enhancing the customer experience and reducing customer churn.

How to Optimize Your Multichannel Contact Center

In response to customer demand, you’ve built multichannel support into your contact center. While the technology available today likely got you there easily enough, best practices for optimizing your multichannel service strategy have probably not been as easy to pin down.

Perhaps you’ve experienced trouble trying to link channels for reporting purposes, or train customer care Communicators on different channels, or maintain consistent answers across channels. Yet, now that multichannel contact centers have become the norm, best practices for tackling such concerns are emerging—such as unifying disparate applications.

Each new channel, like social media or SMS messaging, adds complexity to the contact center. When the various applications operate in siloes, support suffers. To improve the customer experience with your business, the applications must be integrated to ease communication. This allows you to tap into all the relevant data pertaining to an interaction and deliver it to the Communicator in advance, enabling him or her to more efficiently and effectively address the customer’s needs.

When customer information—from purchase history to social media activity to demographics—is made available at the Communicator’s desktop, you will begin to see an improved customer experience in your contact center. Customers aren’t repeating themselves, for one thing, leading to not only decreased frustration, but decreased average handling time (AHT) and increased first contact resolution (FCR).

What’s more, Communicators with a central user interface for accessing applications don’t need to dig for information while customers wait, which makes them more productive than their counterparts without central systems. This will also decrease AHT and boost customer satisfaction. Furthermore, providing your Communicators with a range of channels and content types will help keep them engaged. Plus, multiskilled Communicators provide you with resource flexibility at peak times.

Another challenge of managing multiple channels of communication is achieving a single view of the customer, so that contact can be tracked across channels. With a connected cloud service and CRM integrations, customers can call, then live chat, then email … without re-explaining their issues.

Although contact center leaders should ensure consistency in service across channels, and have an overall—not channel-by-channel—vision for the contact center, opportunities for improving the customer experience also exist within individual channels. We provide a few tips for maximizing the potential of various channels below:

Chat: Protect quality and attention to detail by handling no more than three or four Web chats at a time. Encourage rapport by integrating identifiers into the chat so the Communicator knows who the customer is from the get-go. Also, post hyperlinks into Web chat to route customers to rich media or a self-help page, which will enable self-service and decrease AHT. Develop policies for closing chats when it seems a client is no longer responding.

Social media: Leverage the skills of Communicators who already use social media extensively in their personal lives. Tailor responses to the individual but also keep a lid on drawn-out conversations; Communicators should focus on delivering service and, then, exit the social platform. Your integrated communication system should include the automatic forwarding of tweets and other social media messages to email to ensure they are not missed.  This is especially important if they contain negative material that must be addressed quickly to avoid damaging your brand’s reputation.

Text: Develop guidelines for “text speak”; the casual lingo used by customers isn’t appropriate for most businesses.

It’s Not About You: Keep Your Employees Focused on the Customer

When customers call into your contact center, they are looking to have their issues resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. A recitation of your customer service processes and policies does not necessarily serve their interests. An ideal customer care experience will instead focus on the individual, not your business’s imperatives—except for the one that says “put the customer first.”

A customer care Communicator who responds to an inquiry with a statement of policy is anathema to the reason for customer service, as it puts up a wall between Communicator and customer. It shows disrespect for the customer as an individual. Instead, Communicators who feel they can’t positively resolve a customer’s issues should find someone within the organization who can.

Indeed, the experience you create for your customers will directly impact your business’s bottom line, oftentimes significantly, according to a 2017 Forrester report. While Forrester acknowledges the challenge of connecting customer experience (CX) quality with revenue growth, the research company demonstrated—using its own CX Index data—how CX improvements, for the most part, drive customer loyalty and, subsequently, greater profitability.

More important than being right is being considerate and helpful. Customers rate companies more on how they handle issues than whether their products or services have minor issues.

To improve the customer experience in your contact center, try to abide by the following list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Acknowledge the validity of the customer’s complaint, and show empathy for his or her trouble.
  • Seek help from an expert in the organization for customer questions you can’t answer.
  • Listen! Don’t be so committed to your script that you miss connecting emotionally with your callers.
  • Consider backing up your customer service actions with a promotional gift, such as a discount on a future purchase, to inspire the customer’s loyalty and good will.
  • Be human/authentic. That is, avoid sounding robotic and/or disinterested.
  • Treat the caller as a unique individual. Don’t lump his or her complaint into a global category that makes addressing it unlikely.
  • Connect customers with someone in service who speaks their language.
  • Distinguish between personal and professional behavior. While the Communicator may not be personally responsible for a product defect, for example, he or she is professionally responsible as a representative of the company.
  • Be polite and friendly.

Don’t:

  • Use foul language. Ever.
  • Label customers or call them names, like stupid, fat, rude and obnoxious. (It’s happened.)
  • Quote policy.
  • Expect customers to know or care about your processes.
  • Pass the buck. If you can help, then do help; don’t ask an associate to do it for you.
  • Blame the customer for the product or service issue.
  • Refer the customer to another support source, such as a doctor or the Internet.
  • Say there’s nothing you can do to help.
  • Contradict the customer. If he or she says something happened, assume it did.
  • Be sarcastic; don’t act frustrated or angry. Be empathetic instead.

Read This Before Launching a New Channel!

Consumers are reaching out to contact centers today not just by phone, but using email, chat and social—to name a few avenues. How can your business derive revenue from tapping into these communications channels? That’s the question each organization’s decision makers must ponder before modernizing.

Start where you are. Are you a phone-only call center? If so, you’re practically a dinosaur. Providing customer support over multiple communications channels is standard operating procedure these days. A 2015 study by ICMI and LiveOps shows that 92 percent of contact centers support email, 59 percent chat, 49 percent Web, 46 percent self-service, 45 percent mobile and 42 percent social media.

If you are a phone-only call center, the best channel to add first is almost certainly chat. Chat is the clear winner over email and social when it comes to consumer preference. In fact, chat has become the leading contact source within the online environment, with 42 percent of customers using chat vs. email (23 percent) or another social media form (16 percent), according to J.D. Power.

The reason being that phone and chat have a common denominator: the ability to have a conversation in real time. This helps customers—hungry for instant gratification—resolve their issues efficiently.

If you’re gung-ho to update your contact center in one fluid motion, look for a solution that includes voice, chat, email and social by one provider. Employee training will be more succinct and usage consistent across the board.

If cost restricts such an option, large CRM and contact center vendors offer modular application suites or platforms that allow you to add new services as needed.

It’s easy enough to stay competitive and meet customer expectations by following this simple list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Keep up with the channels your customers are using;
  • Add chat if you can only add one channel;
  • Look for a solution with one application for all channels;
  • Pick a good routing and reporting platform to manage interactions from the same interface;
  • Consider more self-service if you have high volume and low sales per customer;
  • Invest more in high-touch services if you have high-end products or service; and
  • Automate a callback option for your IVR.

Don’t:

  • Keep waiting for the next big thing;
  • Prioritize email over chat;
  • Choose a separate solution for each channel;
  • Add a channel that costs more than it benefits the organization in customer satisfaction or up-sales;
  • Do what everyone else is doing (not all companies need the same features); and
  • Try brand-new unproven technology if you are a high-touch company with long-term customer relationships.

Once you’ve added a new channel, be sure to connect the dots between channels for the customer. Remember, too, that each channel requires different Communicator skill sets, and be prepared to provide training as each new channel is added.

Five Common Obstacles to Great Customer Service

Very often in life, the things we do wrong are just as important as the things we do right. If you’ve been struggling to improve your customer service and aren’t seeing the desired results, maybe it’s time to look at your customers’ overall experience—the good and the bad—and then focus on fixing what’s wrong.

Below is a list of five common service issues that your customers may be experiencing which could be working against your efforts to improve their satisfaction. Remove these barriers, and you just may find your customer service approval ratings at an all-time high.

  • Customers typically contact you two or more times to resolve an issue. If your first-contact resolution (FCR) number isn’t up to par, you’re making customers work too hard to get what they need. (You should be measuring FCR on multiple channels, if you have them.)

To remove this barrier: First, make sure your Communicators are trained and well-equipped to handle the needs of even the most complex customer queries. That includes being knowledgeable about the technology they use, the procedures for finding information, and the product itself. Make sure you have provided enough resources for them to get the job done, like a knowledge base or product information sheets. Second, review your operations processes. Intelligent call routing and IVR menu options should be delivering customers to the right person the first time around.

  • Customers can only contact you via one or two channels. It’s a challenge to provide great service on multiple channels, but limiting options for contact simply means you’re shifting the burden onto your customers.

To remove this barrier: Make people’s lives easier by giving them a number of contact channels that also naturally fit your corporate strategy. There’s no need to jump into every contact channel available. Find out where your customers are, and use that as a starting point.

  • Customers contact you directly to resolve most issues. It’s burdensome for both you and your customers if there are no obvious avenues for issue resolution other than to contact customer service. You know there are solutions available, but it seems that they don’t.

To remove this barrier: Provide ways for customers to solve their own problems, and help guide them to the right solution. If the website is the best way to update account information, let them know. If billing issues are better handled with a call, tell them that, too. Other information, like frequently asked questions, should be prominently placed on your website.

  • Numerous customers call about the same issues. If customer feedback consistently relates to similar issues, that’s a clear sign of a problem (even if it isn’t communicated as a complaint). Hopefully you’ve been tracking customer feedback; now it’s time to take action.

To remove this barrier: Act now to ensure that future customers no longer have to contend with this issue. Identify the cause of the problem and fix it. If it’s related to product design, inform your design team and work on a solution. Is it a communication issue? Discuss it with marketing and sales and craft a new message. Whatever it is, use this opportunity to turn customer feedback into actionable insights.

  • Customers have to navigate a complex Web-based “help center” or phone IVR system before they can speak with a Communicator. Much customer frustration stems from feeling “trapped” in IVR systems or having to click through too many unhelpful help options. Some customers may end up abandoning the effort altogether.

To remove this barrier: Though you might think all customers prefer to handle things themselves, many people still feel more comfortable speaking with a human (or require a person’s help to get the job done). Don’t make it difficult to reach a live Communicator. Make sure your website offers a clear contact number, and that your IVR system has an easy exit. Sometimes the sound of a live voice is all it takes for a customer to go from resentful to grateful.

The Omnichannel Contact Center: Three Changes You Need to Make

If someone were to ask you if your contact center is “multichannel,” what would you say? Most of us would probably say yes, noting that our services include voice calls, email, Web chat and social.

Now, if you were asked the same about “omnichannel,” is the answer yes or no? If you hedge and say something like, “We’re working on it,” you’d be in good company. Only 10 percent of contact center leaders surveyed for the 2015 Call Center IQ Executive Report on the Omnichannel Contact Center identified their center as omnichannel currently, and 25 percent said it topped their list of priorities for 2016.

When multichannel first came onto the scene, few people intended for the multitude of new channels to operate in isolation. In fact, omnichannel—which is the seamless integration of the channels to create an optimized customer experience—was probably the real goal all along. The challenges of providing a fully realized omnichannel experience, however, are not insignificant. Business leaders who want to succeed must be willing to make some fundamental changes before omnichannel can become a reality.

The Changes

In the push toward omnichannel, failures are bound to pop up along the way. To avoid being one of the fallen, take heed of the following list of the three biggest challenges faced by organizations as they strive to offer a more seamless customer experience, plus ideas on how to address them:

  1. Integrate the right channels. Many organizations start down the omnichannel road in an effort to keep up with customer service trends, forgetting about the real reason for the change, which is to support their customers. Thus they fall into the trap of trying to support too many channels without a bigger-picture strategy.

In reality, there’s no need for every business to utilize every channel, just the ones your customers prefer. There are too many channels—and too little time—to provide excellent support on all of them, so choose your channels wisely.

To do this you need a good understanding of your customer demographics. For instance, on which social media sites are your customers most active? If your product or service is business-related and you know most of your customers are on LinkedIn, you’ll want to be sure that your customers can reach you there. If you aren’t certain where they are, simply ask. A quick survey can give you all the information you need to get started.

  1. Overcome the organizational silos. In the beginning, the tactic of adding one channel after another made it easier to integrate new channels into contact center operations. But along with each channel came specialization (Communicators specifically trained to use it), ownership (a manager dedicated to its operation and success) and service goals (metrics specific to its use). Ultimately, those well-established channel divisions make it harder for all the channels to operate harmoniously.

While it’s not likely that one person would or could manage all the channels, organizational structures may require shifting to address a new mindset—one of working together.

  1. Incorporate the necessary technology. Those separate channels also pose a challenge for Communicators trying to provide the best customer experience possible. Barriers between channels make it difficult for Communicators to access knowledge and information that originates in a channel other than the one they’re currently in. If a customer making an online purchase is unable to complete the transaction due to a website malfunction, for example, or is confused about shipping or taxes, he or she might decide to call customer service or begin an online chat session. Without a way for Communicators to “see” the activity on all available channels easily and quickly, customers have to essentially start over, repeating themselves and possibly becoming frustrated.

Today’s technology tools can solve this problem. In the example above, Communicators could easily access information related to the website and pick up the transaction where the customer left off. In this way, knowledge across the organization can be leveraged to create a better customer experience.

The Unexpected Value of Sharing Knowledge

We hear a lot these days about customer service that goes “above and beyond,” but what does that really mean? Customers themselves may not even know, but they know it when they see it. One way your Communicators can provide this level of service is to answer questions that customers didn’t even know they had when they called.

Think about the last time someone gave you an unexpected “tip.” Maybe it was at the paint store, where the clerk steered you—without your having to ask—to a ½-inch-nap lambswool roller, and let you in on the secret that it’s considered the perfect roller by pro painters (it holds plenty of paint without adding too much texture). Or maybe you were wandering around the plant nursery and a worker suggested a trick for opening closed flower buds quickly (put them in warm water first, then cold water). She had no idea you were buying them for company that very night.

If you think people are delighted when they get tips and tricks like these about a purchase, you’re right. Why? Everyone feels good when someone else takes time out of their day, even if it’s just a moment, to help them. Second, we appreciate the “inside” information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else simply because we didn’t know enough to ask in the first place.

Here’s where your Communicators can elevate the customer experience. As brand ambassadors, they are considered experts about a product or service. They’ve answered thousands of questions about it, had the same number of conversations about it, and are privy to a great deal of information that customers will likely never know. Taking a bit of extra time on the phone or typing one extra text message with a golden nugget of useful information could be just what the situation needs to turn an ordinary service interaction into an extraordinary one.