As customer service technology has taken a giant leap forward in recent years, there has been a tendency to think of these artificial intelligence and automation tools as benefiting either the customer (chatbots, for instance) or the agent (voice recognition). While this may make sense when it comes to plugging numbers into budget line items, when it comes to implementation and best practice, we feel it makes sense to view these tools as a continuum – not an either/or, but an and. Thinking about it in any other way will needlessly restrict your contact center operations and, eventually, the success of your business.
The fact is that the experiences of your customers and your agents are tightly intertwined. Actions taken inside your customer service department directly affect what happens during customer interactions, and vice versa. Engaged customers lead to happier, more satisfied agents, which in turn lead to better interactions and more happy customers. And one thing that we’ve relearned in recent years is that happy customers more often become loyal customers. The corollary would be that satisfied agents are also more loyal, resulting in lower turnover rates.
Artificial intelligence certainly offers a wide variety of tools that can improve a plethora of functions within the contact center. However, the time for rushing headlong into AI implementation just to avoid being left behind is over. To determine your organization’s best use of any of these options, you must understand:
- What your customers truly want
- The real reasons your agents aren’t able to meet your customers’ expectations
- How specific tools can bridge the gap between your customers’ experience and your agents’ experience in order to build a cohesive whole.
The Human Element
Both your customers and your agents are human, and humans tends to be frustrated by the same sorts of problems. With that in mind, compare and contrast these often-cited complaints:
Customers’ biggest frustrations:
- Long wait times
- The need to repeat information when switching channels or between agents
- Clunky, limited self-service platforms
Agents’ biggest frustrations come from disconnected, slow and difficult technologies, including such limitations as:
- Difficult-to-use knowledge bases
- The need to access multiple screens per customer interaction
Want to see specific, recent statistics? Consider these from CCW’s 2019 special report titled “Augmenting Contact Center Automation”:
- Only 20 percent of customers believe agents know about them and their concerns
- More than 81 percent of agents typically access multiple screens or systems while supporting customers
- The amount of time agents spend on repetitive tasks is the #2 performance challenge in contact centers
- Nearly 40 percent of organizations say their agents can’t “recognize” customers as they escalate from digital channels
Defrag the System
At first glance, it seems that all these frustrations likely involve a tech problem that recent advances haven’t yet adequately addressed: system fragmentation.
On your customers’ side, all this terminology we throw around means nothing to your customers. They don’t care which of the latest bells and whistles are implemented, as long as the end result is an experience for them that is quick, convenient, and requires little effort on their part. If your customer journey can be planned to automatically offer more signposts to help them make decisions from the plethora of options they face, all the better.
On your agents’ side, they need effective tools and actionable information in the form of real-time customer insights. AI can help by collecting and sharing information about the customer based on past interactions, purchases, web traffic, and more. Further, by comparing each customer to customers with similar profiles, AI can provide insights that help agents proactively address potential customer problems that haven’t even happened yet. Ironically, these automated insights actually help agents provide the feeling of empathetic, personalized interaction that helps build relationships and customer loyalty.
But where is the best place to start to integrate the parallel experiences of your customers and your agents?
Walk it back to the human element and focus on their biggest frustrations.
For instance, CCW’s Future of the Contact Center in 2019 reports that contact centers today serve an average of nine channel options – but if your customers use only four of them, prioritize the ability for customers to move as smoothly between them as if they’d picked up the phone for help, instead of operationally treating anything beyond the phone as a “bonus channel.” If both customers and agents are frustrated by long hold times and awkward call transfers, invest in virtual queuing and routing automation solutions. If your customers are complaining about starting over every time they change channels, and agents are spending too much time and effort on tracking down customer data, you need an API-based harvesting tool that rides over the top of all your existing systems, collects data, and displays it in a centralized, real-time dashboard.
Solving experience problems and improving your center’s metrics don’t have to be a choice between benefiting your agents or your customers. Invest in the solutions that will serve the needs of both groups, and you’ll realize gains across the board.
Jaime Bailey: Vice President of Marketing at VHT, a leader in callback solutions. With more than 16 years of experience, she stewards a team focused on understanding the customer experience, applying new marketing techniques, and maximizing ROI. A devout proponent of the importance of a well-crafted marketing strategy, Jaime’s efforts have helped companies enrich customer relationships, drive revenue, and grow brand equity.