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.

Is Social Customer Care As Successful As We Think?

Every business puts “customer care” at the top of its priority list, particularly in today’s highly competitive environment where consumers have so many choices and loyalty is at a premium. Social media service has been touted as the next big thing, and headlines heralded that it would soon make the old fashioned call center a thing of the past. However, a recent news article revealed the fact that social customer care may already be falling behind, even though it seems to be just hitting its stride.

Customer care delivered via social media may not be as effective as once hoped for several reasons. For one, there aren’t enough well-trained customer care professionals handling social media inquiries. While phone-based customer service is often delivered with a personal touch and a professional attitude, people may lack understanding of how social media works. It is also difficult to finesse a complicated service conversation or complaint over social media without special training and know-how.

For social customer care to be successful, customer care specialists must handle social media interactions must with the same poise, compassion, and professionalism that they bring to telephone or in-person interactions. Social media service shouldn’t be looked at simply as an “add on” or “extra.” Instead, service professionals should strive to fully develop it as a service channel. There are fine points to communicating via social media, and the rules for high-quality telephone interactions should also apply here—such as resolving problems quickly, reducing the need to repeat information, and providing courteous service.

With the right education and understanding in place, social media can become a fully fledged and effective customer service channel, but right now the risk is that it will fall behind and out of customer preference.

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 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 Are Moving to Omnichannel

Your contact center probably already offers customers multiple channels for communication. Congratulations! This means that you’ve responded to consumer demand to connect with your brand through the channels they prefer.

Now that 68 percent of U.S. adults use smartphones and interact across multiple platforms and modes of communication, contact centers are answering the groundswell. They are meeting customer expectations to connect with their favorite companies through any mode of communication they prefer—from email to chat to mobile apps and websites.

Mobile—which itself comprises multiple channel platforms, like text, email and voice—has emerged as the primary vehicle for communicating with a brand and its contact center. Thanks to this all-in-one digital channel, customers have come to view engagement as a single continuous conversation, or “omnichannel.”

Social media has also contributed to customer expectations for contact center service. Today, a large percentage of our population has been raised on digital and is habituated to sharing and receiving information in near real time. In this fast-paced mobile world, customers expect quick resolution of their issues. In fact, 71 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important aspect of customer service.

As customers started lodging company complaints on social platforms, businesses learned to respond quickly—or suffer the repercussions of bad publicity. Both consumers and brands—brands that respond quickly on social platforms—have benefitted from leveraging the channel. Consumers receive a timely response and brands gain visibility. Companies that display good will on social platforms also grow brand interest, engagement and loyalty.

To drive rich omnichannel customer experiences in your contact center, consider the following tips:

Do digital better: Refine your brand’s digital presence by testing your conversion path and optimizing landing pages on your website—both online and on mobile. Make sure you’ve established a social presence and are engaging audiences across all major platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.

Optimize search: Implement a marketing search strategy that encourages more consumers to enter your brand’s name into search engines, like Google, and to visit your website and/or store.

Improve site retargeting: Use website visits and your CRM database to improve site retargeting, or re-engaging, of customers. Analyze data to gain insights about how to best personalize customer experiences with your brand.

Optimize mobile: Use mobile to strengthen your ability to connect with customers anywhere and at any time.

The time is now for all communication channels to be part of a holistic contact center customer experience.

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.”

You Don’t Need to Add Communicators to Improve Contact Center Service

Do your Communicators have the best tools and techniques to do their jobs well? If so, you’ve likely learned that less is more. Fewer Communicators with heightened skills are a greater contact center asset than more Communicators with fewer skills. That means it makes sense to develop a customer service approach that optimizes the customer experience as well as your business’s cost structure.

To reduce the need for more Communicators requires taking action on three fronts: Communicator utilization, productivity and call center volume.

Optimizing Communicator usage: Contact center managers can boost staff utilization by employing technology tools that ensure Communicators are scheduled effectively. Today’s workforce management software, which can capture all types of work, including interactions via phone, email and other communication channels, provides an alternative to inefficient paper- based staff planning. Communicators can be scheduled based on their skills—from fluency in two languages to training and experience with various technologies.

Increasing Communicator productivity: Instead of measuring productivity with the old standard average handle time (ADT) metric, contact center managers should track customer satisfaction across Communicator conversations. ADT can actually pressure Communicators to rush customers off a call instead of fully ensuring their satisfaction. Consequently, managers should not only guarantee that Communicators are following policy and procedure but make sure to monitor calls and coach staff on how well they controlled interactions and stayed on point.

Contact center managers should also track how often customers are placed on hold while Communicators look up information. This is usually an indication of training gaps or difficult searches on poorly designed information systems. To improve the customer experience, contact center decision makers must acknowledge and address Communicator challenges to quickly and effectively resolving customer issues.

Reducing call center volume: First-contact resolution (FCR) is the key metric to look at when trying to decrease the number of incoming call center inquiries. Your goal here is to ensure that more customer interactions are based on requests for more products or services—and not to resolve problems with existing ones.

To improve FCR success, proactively identify the root causes of customer problems and determine to prevent them. Do your due diligence to learn from customers whether your products are easy to use. Next, look into whether your processes and practices prevent Communicators from addressing problems on first contact. Check into whether it makes sense to give your Communicators more power to make decisions on customers’ behalves. Ensure they are properly trained for this sort of responsibility before moving ahead.

Keep in mind that less can be more when it comes to both the number of Communicators in your contact center and your success at providing optimal customer service.

Long Hold Times Spell Disaster for Contact Centers

It’s no mystery that customers would prefer immediate service to being put on hold while awaiting customer service support. But how damaging is the hold practice to your business?

Consider that 32 percent of respondents to an online Google survey said, “none,” when asked how long they’d be willing to wait on hold for customer service.

The general assumption among contact center leaders is that as long as 80 percent of calls are being answered within 20 seconds (the 80/20 service-level “gold standard”), your center is satisfying customers. So, what do you do about research that indicates that how calls are handled is more important than wait time?

It’s best that you hedge your bets. After all, according to Consumer Reports, 66 percent of callers are “highly annoyed” by long waits on hold.

Yes, a stellar customer experience is the new gold standard for contact centers, but that includes the entire customer journey, wait times included. A NewVoiceMedia infographic reveals that 44 percent of U.S. consumers take their business elsewhere as a result of inadequate service. A large majority of those individuals (89 percent) switch at least once every year, and 25 percent of those people say it’s because they were tired of being kept on hold.

How ’bout some good news? Twice as many consumers (50 percent) use a company more often after a positive customer experience, per NewVoiceMedia.

Unfortunately, however, thanks to social media, even one dissatisfied customer can affect your business. The infographic further shows that 59 percent of 25 to 34 year olds share poor customer experiences online and 63 percent of consumers read damaging reviews. That’s a lot of negative energy directed at your brand.

Don’t be terribly discouraged: Aggregated research indicates that contact center hold times of less than 20 to 30 seconds do not strongly impact the customer experience. Certain industry experts steer businesses away from meeting strict 80/20 parameters for this reason. They tend to recommend that organizations focus more on the customer’s end-to-end journey to create happier customers overall.

Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

Your online business must be responsive—not only to visitors but to trends which, if ignored, may trip you up eventually. With the quick pace of modern societal and technological advances, organizations need to keep a finger on the pulse of their industries and develop the agility to react to pressures at the drop of a dime.

The outlook for 2017 includes several e-commerce trends that are primed to turn into major industry drivers. Find them listed here, along with steps you can take to stay ahead of the curve:

Dynamic real-time shopping: The online shopping experience is becoming personalized to each customer. Improvements in collecting, organizing and analyzing data mean that customers will no longer be asked to respond to product recommendations that seem to come out of left field. Instead, recommendations will be based on their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, past purchases, market trends and brand interactions—automatically. E-commerce businesses should tap into the technology of leading e-commerce platforms to enable this capability.

Cyber November: Online retailers have started to offer customers discounts in advance of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rushes—to offset unruly crowds in stores and to get a jump on holiday spending. In 2015, major retailers Target and Walmart announced in-store deals leading up to Black Friday, and mega online retailer Amazon took the cue, offering deals throughout the month of November. To gain a piece of the pie, focus on mobile spending, which is slated to account for 60 percent of online sales by year-end; offer stellar shopping experiences on smartphones and tablets.

Chatbots: These are fully automated “chat” agents that can act as a first point of contact for brands. Chatbots increase the number of platforms on which brands can offer transactions through guided, interactive browsing. In 2015, tech giants released the enabling application programming interfaces (APIs) that made it cost-effective for bot developers to create their own, using their own servers. Experts predict that the artificial intelligence that fuels chatbots will improve with time, making conversations more natural, with better response rates. Explore this technology now to reduce customer effort and lower support costs.

Checkout: Expect traditional wallets to be replaced by “mobile” payments, and set your site up to accept these new payment methods. Same-day delivery is also becoming a competitive differentiator, as is operating in smaller spaces that can serve as showrooms, fitting rooms, and pick-up/drop-off points.

In this era where power has shifted away from companies and toward digitally connected, technology-empowered customers, retailers need to fully embrace digital commerce to thrive. With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can easily switch companies to find a better online experience. In this environment, being customer-obsessed must be your competitive strategy.

Strategies for Implementing Live Chat

It’s no mystery that you need live chat on your website or app to stay competitive in the e-commerce world. A chat box dropping down onto the user screen is becoming a commonplace occurrence for Internet information-seekers and shoppers, enabling them to quickly and easily connect with a Communicator in real time. Many companies have employed the technology to better serve customers and improve the experience with their brands.

The added bonus for businesses with a chat box offering is the increased ability it gives them to capture visitor information that can then be used to engage potential and existing customers. Most businesses work hard to bring visitors to their sites but, once they’ve arrived, have no means to gain knowledge about them if they don’t stay. This is often the case; in fact, on average, approximately 45 percent to 50 percent of website visitors leave before moving on to a second webpage—with the bounce rate on mobile devices even higher.

Instead, if your visitor clicks on the chat box, you have an opening to start collecting data: “Welcome to live chat. Who am I speaking with today? Can I get a callback number/email in case we get disconnected?”

Rely on your live chat to gather information organically and even filter out visitors that aren’t a match for your products or services. Plus, if you don’t already offer 24/7 service, your cloud-based live chat solution can enable a cost-effective after-hours presence for basic inquiries. Regular daytime staff can follow up on leads and complex questions.

Keep in mind a finding from Forrester Research: Forty-four percent of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person during a purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.

Let your customers know you appreciate them by offering them real-time access to Communicators, helping them to quickly and easily resolve issues—and stay on your site through purchase.