Customer Self-Service Is Crucial for Contact Centers

Where it makes sense in your contact center, self-service can significantly improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs. As such, the self-service option is now a must for contact centers.

Consumer research shows that time-strapped customers are more likely to patronize businesses that enable them to take care of their own needs through self-service devices. The digital age has transformed the way that consumers interact with brands; now they expect to be served where and when they choose. This requires companies to deliver seamless service through the integration of the Internet, mobile devices and multipurpose kiosks. Keep in mind, however, that consumers still prefer person-to-person contact for complex transactions.

Speed is at the heart of self-service demand. It’s also empowering, giving customers ultimate control over an experience. For businesses, self-service means saving money. Consumer Reports found that a typical customer service transaction handled by a live customer care Communicator usually costs between $2 and $10, compared with just pennies for, say, placing an order online.

Modern technology gets the credit for this effective savings in time and costs. But companies shouldn’t get carried away replacing human contact with machinery. Self-service shouldn’t mean no service. When a transaction goes sour, your personal touch may be the only salve for customer frustration.

Plus, self-service isn’t a great option throughout consumer markets. Every organization needs to assess the demographics of their own customers and how they interact with the business, and then tailor self-service options to their wants and needs.

In general, today’s self-service offerings have benefitted from growing pains resolved over the past couple of decades. This means that even older generations are fairly comfortable and accepting of properly scripted and easy-to-navigate interactive voice response (IVR) systems, for example. Furthermore, with the growth of mobile technology, self-service applications have become a way of life.

A downside of self-service to consider before diving in head first, however, is lost opportunities to engage customers and enhance their relationships with your brand. For some companies, a large percentage of client business comes from contact center phone traffic. Think about organizations that need to educate customers on products, for instance. A commitment to self-service may result in customers making the wrong decisions for themselves.

The challenge for each company is to use its own data to determine which live interactions are valued by the customer and which can be handled through self-service offerings.

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.