Company self-service web sites and mobile applications continue to improve and provide customers with more convenient ways to order items, troubleshoot an issue or get answers to questions they may have. Almost 58% of customers use the web self-service channel today as their primary form of interaction with any organization. What’s more, Gartner predicts that:
By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.
This trend has fundamental implications for existing contact centers. For one, call volumes should decrease as customers opt for self-service channels to address their more common issues. This leaves complex issues, which are typically far less frequent in occurrence, to be handled by a live agent using the voice channel. This presents a challenge for traditional contact center processes and policies as well as benchmarking and contact center metrics. Complex issues require agents to be more flexible in how they respond to each customer, making rigid agent scripting and customer handling procedures irrelevant. And because complex issues take more time to resolve, they will skew traditional call and handle time metrics. Agents evaluated against these metrics will find it increasingly difficult to meet a specific customer’s needs while trying to score favorable in their evaluations, which results in an overall poor experience for the customer.
Call deflection strategies such as redirecting customers to an IVR with a well hidden transfer to agent option will only increase customer effort and frustration. Sites such as GetHuman.com provide convenient shortcuts to most popular customer IVR systems that invalidate hundreds of hours (and thousands of dollars) of IVR programming. And if customers are opting to speak with an agent, their issue is one they feel needs prompt resolution in a way that is unavailable on any other channel. Leaving them on hold in an ACD will further increase effort and frustration. Agents providing scripted greetings and responses only serves to further frustrate customers who really need someone that can quickly understand their issue and the context for the call to speed up resolution.
It is time contact centers begin rethinking how they handle their voice traffic. Revisiting how a contact center defines agent metrics is one way to address the current gap that exists between customer expectations and how contact centers are delivering customer service on the voice channel. Agents should be given the flexibility to spend more time with the caller to help them address their specific issue. They should be evaluated on how efficiently they were able to help the customer solve their problem to that customer’s satisfaction. In the place of rigid one-size-fits-all scripting, agents can be provided with a peer-supported framework which will give them guidelines while allowing them to take initiative to taylor their interactions for a specific customer.
Another way to address this gap is for a company to reduce its current dependency on automated call distribution (ACD) systems or potentially eliminate this dependency all together. This can be accomplished by adding an option to contact the customer back in the event all agents are busy. Customers can choose to be contacted back when an agent is available or at a time and date that accommodates their schedule. The benefits of this approach are two-fold: customers aren’t tying up expensive telephony resources while waiting on hold for an agent ; customers don’t have to waste valuable time and effort waiting on hold which decreases customer effort and increases overall satisfaction. Customers can even select how they want to be contacted: voice, chat, SMS, email and so on. When they are contacted, agents are prepared with all of the relevant customer information and can help efficiently address their issue.
Over time, as self-service options are enhanced and more and more complex issues can be resolved without ever having to talk to an agent, companies can conceivably migrate to an exclusive contact back approach for customers who still need or prefer a real-time interaction with an agent. Contact centers can begin simplifying their internal telephony systems and do away with expensive contact center equipment and software such as private branch exchanges (PBXes), ACD and even computer telephony integration (CTI) software. The flexibility to choose alternate channels to voice when a return contact is made will further decrease a contact center’s overall dependency on expensive telephony resources, while putting customers in control of how and when a live interaction should occur.
For companies looking to continue to effectively respond to shifts in customer demands with regards to customer service, a migration to a full contact back approach to handle live interactions will have the dual benefit of reducing customer effort (and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty) while reducing the company’s time and costs associated with dealing with customers for live interactions. It’s a win-win strategy for both stakeholders.