Telephony has arguably not developed since its inception and has remained largely immune to the effects of digital transformation. Business as usual is therefore no longer an option. Customer service agents ought to be given new tools to meet the needs of future customers.
Our subscribers will know that we are not (yet) on the verge of a dystopian humanless future in customer service. In our last post, we looked at why interaction with human service agents has a value that robots simply cannot replicate. But does not mean that it should be business as usual within telephony.
With the exception of IVR, contact centres have arguably not evolved since their inception. However, technology that can streamline customer agent interactions is available now. Organisations therefore need to capitalise on the potential benefits of digital transformation in telephony if the needs of future customers are to be continually met. In other words, customer experience transformation starts with making agents bionic.
Generally, customers are no longer calling the contact centre to check a bill or reset a password. Simple journeys such as these can now be performed more easily and at greater convenience through online self-serve portals. Instead, customers want human support for high value or more emotional transactions. In fact, today 73% of contact centres are reporting an increase in the complexity interactions.
At the same time, fierce competition and threatened margins are increasing the pressure on established brands to reduce operating costs. The result of this means that many telephony agents are left battling conflicting challenges; often facing increasingly complex enquires, higher volumes of calls, across more channels, in less time and without the right tools.
I’m sure you can see the problem.
In the debates surrounding digital transformation, automation, AI and the like, it has often felt as though there are two rival camps, each proclaiming that they are right and the other is wrong. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who say that the future of customer experience is humanless, while at the other you’ll find those advocating a completely human solution.
Both sides miss an important point. There is a middle ground, in which organisations can augment customer service agents with technological tools to reduce journey, processing and handling times, improve performance and efficiency, reduce costs and enhance customer experience. In other words, organisations need to merge the digital and human worlds and make agents bionic.
Over the past few years, disruptors like Apple and Amazon have helped to transform customer expectations. No longer looking for organisations to set the terms of a journey, customers now expect to interact in a way that is convenient for them. Organisations are starting to respond and 88% of global contact centre executives cite customer experience and expectations as the main fuel for growth.
However, for customers the pace of change often remains too slow. While 43% of banking customers are now demanding a hybrid experience, in which they can have human support combined with digital capabilities, typical breaks within telephony are still generally defining the call centre experience and inhibiting a seamless experience.
‘Snail mail’ delays in which a customer must wait for documents to be sent in the post, or verification methods that require a customer to go into a branch or store, are typical examples of where agents could be given technological tools that close gaps and create a hybrid experience for customers. With today’s technology, there is no reason why an agent can’t show, send, collect documents and signatures from customers as part of a call, therefore avoiding these breaks.
By doing this, organisations improve the experience of their customers and deliver substantial value to the business. In fact, the Boston Consulting Group estimate that making telephony agents bionic in this way can improve cost-to-income ratio by 15% by reducing customer attrition, increasing sale value and improving efficiency of processes and delivery.
Consistency across channels
Related to improved customer experience, customers also expect the same degree of service across channels. Whether it be in person, via telephony or through a digital self-serve process, all journeys should be simple, easy and engaging. Despite this, the standard of service can vary according to which channel the customer chooses, e.g. one survey found that while 70% of banks provided an answer to questions via twitter, only 10% did so to enquiries via email.
Of course, while channel choice will obviously affect the type of experience a customer has, it should not be significantly more difficult to interact via any one particular channel over another. Despite this, it is more common for customers to encounter difficulties in telephony and 48% of customers agree it’s the most frustrating channel, highlighting the need to address key pain-points. With contact centres accounting for almost 70% of all customer interactions, it’s imperative that organisations give agents the tools to offer a similar degree of functionality as digital and in store or branch services.
Fluidity across channels
The number of channels for customers to interact through has grown substantially since the days of stores or branches alone. Today it’s rare for journeys to be confined to one channel, and Deloitte estimate that 60% span across multiple channels as part a single transaction.
Often, telephony is used as a source of support for a failed digital self-serve journey. However, at present, most customers are forced to start their journey again when escalating their journey to human support, since siloed channels mean telephony agents are often unable to access the data the customer previously supplied elsewhere.
Rather than customers being forced to start their journey again, a telephony agent ought to be able to help the customer from the point at which they encountered the difficulty. To be able to do this, agents must have the tools to extend beyond telephony and across the silo boundaries into other channels.
75% of customers expect to pick up where they left off when they encounter a difficulty and look for support in other channels. By providing targeted and focused support at the point of need, organisations can minimise drop off rates, as well as reducing lengthy and costly calls to telephony agents. And your customers will thank you for the time they save too.
Preparing for the future
Digital transformation has undoubtedly had numerous benefits to customer service. It has redefined and will continue to redefine the customer experience landscape. However, it’s important that organisations aren’t blinded by the predictions for a humanless future, when the more realistic option of a hybrid model is available now.
There will always be complex journeys that don’t fit the mould, failed digital journeys and, perhaps unsurprisingly, humans who want to speak to humans. For these interactions, the discussion should not be whether the solution is human or digital, but rather how agents can be augmented with technology to make it as streamlined and efficient as possible.
For those imagining a futuristic contact centre staffed by bionic man type clones, the reality may be closer than you think. In fact today, just 57% of contact centres remain voice-only and 35% of agents are now multiskilled across voice and non-voice engagement channels. If organisations are to continue to meet the growing expectations of empowered customers, the time to act is now.
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