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.

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.

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.”

Millennials and WebRTC in the Contact Center

Contact centers are making significant investments in human capital and real-time communications technology to interact with millennials and other customers more effectively via virtual queues, SMS and video. In fact, WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communications) is an open source project supported by Google that is furthering the use of unified communications (UC) in businesses.

With WebRTC, video, voice and chat can occur in real time using browser-to-browser applications. For instance, users can initiate a chat interaction and then connect instantly—at no charge—to a live Communicator just by clicking a link (without any software or plug-in). Benefits include constant voice and data encryption that ensures secure communications, excellent voice and video quality based on codec technology, device independence and reliability.

Organizations have been taking advantage of the open source community to develop and/or deploy integrated technology solutions that help employees to collaborate and communicate more effectively—often using cloud-based services. They are gaining functionality through small teams of developers at lower cost and time expenditures than they could have during the days of projects led by outsourcers and systems integrators.

What companies are learning, after years of investing in technology, is that the strategy only results in small advances in overall customer service unless the investments are combined with human capital investments (think treating Communicators and employees as key team members).

To meet the needs of the large millennial population in the United States, companies are finding that leveraging real-time communications is improving interactions. Millennials—raised on digital technologies and quick and easy communications with family and friends—expect companies to provide similarly seamless experiences. They don’t want to be hung up in IVR queues or connected to a Communicator who can’t address their issues on first contact.

Toward this end, organizations are developing omni-channel customer service practices so that millennials can engage with them over their preferred channels. Businesses must be careful in this regard to bring on new channels one at a time and with full understanding of the requirements of each as well as how millennials use them.

Self-service is another contact center initiative fueled by millennials and the evolution of smartphones, Internet speeds and phone applications. Self-service offerings are helping to offset customer frustration with long hold times; yet, companies must provide easy elevation of these interactions to phone call resolution in urgent situations so customers don’t become irritated.

Millennials are also driving companies to respond to social channels since this is where they are and where they have significant power to express their views and affect brand reputations. Many brands monitor social platforms so they can respond immediately to customers’ comments—both positive and negative.

In addition, companies are monitoring big data and analytics to pinpoint when and where customers are learning and buying online. Intimate knowledge of consumer behaviors is allowing these organizations to personalize messaging aimed at key targets such as millennials and other demographics.

Easy browser-to-browser interactions and flows of information are enabling companies to establish deeper relationships with customers, developing brand trust and loyalty that should well-serve both their customers and their business revenues.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

The Big (Global) Picture in the Contact Center Space

Consider this; there are 3.75 billion active Internet users, 2.206 billion active social media users, 3.734 billion unique mobile users, and 1.925 billion active mobile social users currently living in the world.

The ubiquity of digital channels is precisely why contact center leaders are now racing to implement an omni-channel customer care strategy. This all encompassing strategy ideally suits today’s consumers who are always connected to their personal devices. Whether they are scrolling through social media new feeds or checking their emails, consumers have become increasingly reliant on these devices.

In fact, 85 percent of survey respondents said mobile devices are a central part of everyday life, according to Salesforce’s “2014 Mobile Behavior Report.” Furthermore, 89 percent said that mobile devices allow them to stay up to date with loved ones and social events, which explains why mobile devices are used so frequently.

To effectively communicate with consumers who are “always connected” it’s important that businesses create omni-channel customer care strategies that employ multiple channels—such as live chat, SMS, email—to communicate with consumers. As such, contact centers ought to implement integrated marketing solutions to help them facilitate better communication standards amongst their target audiences.

Today’s consumers expect, and deserve, the utmost quality of customer care from the companies they chose to do business with. For this very reason, customer care leaders must provide a myriad of communication channels, 24/7 support, and most importantly personalization. After all, consumers need to be able to communicate with a qualified customer care agent at any time and from the devices they feel most comfortable using, whether it’s their mobile phones, laptops, or desktops.

Implementing integrated marketing solutions such as website and landing page development, email marketing services, and live web chat enable contact centers to connect with a wider range of consumers—and the way in which they prefer to be reached. Convenience is at the crux of a successful customer care strategy as today’s consumers have no qualms about switching to another provider if they aren’t receiving the type of care they’re expecting.

So, provide your consumers with an omni-channel experience that enables them to leverage the communications channels they prefer the most. Employing integrated marketing strategies will certainly help contact centers reach their full “global” potential.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Five Tools to Help You Provide a Stellar Customer Experience

We’ve evolved the term “customer service” into the more apt phrase “customer care” as it encapsulates the delivery, process and results that contact center leaders strive to produce for their consumers. As such, contact center employees are now expected to do more than solve problems, but provide a customer experience as well.

Providing an all-encompassing customer experience means that contact center leaders must extend their services beyond the customer care hotline and into digital and mobile realms as well. After all, providing an appropriate combination of mobile support, live chat, self-service, social media support and omnichannel support will ensure that you’ve established touch points in every area that is now available to your consumers.

In fact, a recent report from online CRM comparison business Software Advice substantiates the need for contact centers to employ the aforementioned list of must-have customer care tools. Indeed, the report claims that these are providing a well-rounded customer experience.

Let’s dig deeper into the advantages afforded by each tool:

1. Mobile support: Make sure your website is optimized for mobile so that your consumers can reach you when they are on-the-go. What’s more, today’s consumers are attached at the hip to their mobile devices even when they are in the comfort of their own homes so providing a method of contact that is convenient and preferable to your consumers is of the utmost importance.

2. Live chat: Sometimes, an issue just isn’t pressing enough to call a hotline. In these instances a consumer can simply visit your web site and initiate a live chat with an online Communicator for a quick fix. Furthermore, live chat enables Communicators to make the first move in contacting an employee as they can just as easily initiate the live chat session when they are alerted a new visitor has entered the web site.

3. Self-service: Consumers tend to conduct their own research on the Internet before reaching out for secondary assistance. As such, be sure to include the appropriate collateral on your web site such as FAQ’s so that your consumers can answer simple questions on their own time. They’ll greatly appreciate this convenience as 65 percent of consumers enjoy the freedom of finding answers through an online search, according to the report.

4. Social media support: Social media affords a casual and quick method of communication between brands and consumers. It’s also highly visible so when your brand provides excellent customer care by way of a social media platform, your greater audience will likely take notice.

5. Omnichannel: If your brand stretches across nearly all demographics then an omnichannel approach to support is the right decision for you. This means you would employee all of the aforementioned tools to create an integrated marketing solution to providing high quality customer care. If you are a small local business that caters to an older crowd this support system might not be for you as you wouldn’t want to waste any of your resources.

It’s important to strike the right balance in support systems to enhance your flagship telephony support system. Just remember to choose your solutions wisely and only employ the tools that make sense for your company size and demographics.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry, including the ATA’s highest honor, the prestigious Fulcrum Award.

Report Shows Financial Services Lagging Behind With Customer Service

Generally speaking, what people want out of a financial services organization is for that company to make them money. And while profitability will always be the name of the game in the industry, a report commissioned by Avaya entitled “Financial Services Sector: Missing Customer Expectations?” shows that many of these businesses are neglecting critical customer-facing operations.

The report is full of startling statistics, possibly none more shocking than the fact that 84 percent of organizations can only deliver on certain elements of a personalized customer experience automatically in real time and their efforts fall short of what customers now expect. It should come as no surprise, then, that the report—which includes results from both B2B and B2C businesses—also indicates that 87 percent of financial services companies saw customer experience management initiatives fail during the past three years.

So where are these organizations failing? Well according to the research, nearly half of all financial services companies struggling to provide a high quality of customer service are being held back by outdated technology and more than one-third indicated siloed departments were their primary obstacle. In other words, the data indicates that financial companies struggle with the same issues as many other U.S. businesses. 

At InfoCision, we like to deal in solutions, not dwell on problems. With that in mind, here are a few quick remedies for what ails these financial institutions:

Embrace the Omnichannel World

Customers expect to be able to contact companies—and to be contacted for special offers, etc.—on  their preferred channel, whether that is email, social media, phone, live chat or Web self-service. That means organizations essentially have two choices: offer consumers a wide array of channel options or fall behind the competition. In many cases offering channel choices may require investing in new technology or teaming with a multichannel marketing partner that can provide the solutions financial services organizations need.

Redefine the Culture

One of the most interesting facts in the Avaya report is that customer service becomes less important to respondents in middle and upper management than in the C-suite. That indicates a lack of a consistent attitude throughout these companies that must be addressed. Whether it’s through brainstorming sessions in small groups, town-hall-style gatherings or one-on-one meetings, executives must be sure their message about the customer experience permeates all levels of the organization.

Invest in Customer Analytics

The financial services industry is quite adept when it comes to using analytics to help make investments and evaluate deals, but many companies could benefit from adopting some business intelligence aimed at measuring and improving customer satisfaction. If an organization doesn’t know what frustrations customers are dealing with currently, it is nearly impossible to fix those problems.

The financial sector deals mostly in numbers, so here’s one that is likely to make an impact: according to the Avaya report, among those financial services companies with comprehensive customer experience management, 98 percent have seen improvements to their bottom line since those programs were implemented. It doesn’t get any more convincing than that.

Score Customer Service and Marketing Touchdowns This Season with InfoCision

Are you ready for some football? For millions of Americans excited about this NFL season, the answer is surely a resounding, “yes.” Fans hopeful to see their team hoist the championship Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season understand that the team that wins the title will work seamlessly together as a unit to do so.

Each player has a specific job he is assigned that plays well to his strengths and away from his weaknesses. As the season gets ready to kick off, business executives can take some inspiration from football for their customer service experts.

For instance, just because your company offers a better product or service than the competition doesn’t mean contact center customer service falls within your area of expertise. But considering how critical the customer experience is to today’s consumers, it should always be a point of emphasis.

Like a player on a championship football team, if you aren’t comfortable with a “do it yourself” approach to customer service it may make sense to partner with a strategic partner like InfoCision that offers top-of-the-line contact center technology designed to improve customer service, as well as a host of multichannel marketing solutions. Your reliable teammate can pick up the slack in areas outside of your core competencies, such as:

  • Omnichannel service and marketing that includes phone, direct mail, social media, email and other options
  • Call center technology that includes skills-based routing, call blending, IVR, remote call monitoring and more
  • Robust quality assurance that keeps contact centers running at a high level at all times

In business, as on the football field, having a capable teammate backing you up is a comforting feeling. So if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, it might be the perfect time to partner up with InfoCision and let us help push you over the goal line and into the end zone.