According to the 2013 Global Contact Center Survey by Deloitte (News - Alert), 62 percent of organizations said they view customer experience provided through the contact center as a competitive differentiator. Many understand that exceptional service breeds brand loyalty, which helps to ensure future purchases or patronage. At the front line of this battle is the customer service agent.
People will always be the most expensive part of the equation when we are looking at the budget for contact centers. People require the most attention, the most training, the most resources. They also require raises, incentives, and benefits to stay engaged and motivated. Serving as a customer service agent is a tedious and demanding job, which is why delivering a superb customer experience on a continuous basis is such a difficult achievement.
Analyst firms often speak about modernizing the contact center through tactics, tools, and training mechanisms that aim to improve the efficiency and satisfaction of the customer service agent. Just like benefits and incentives, these can help, but they still fail to address the core issue. The overlooked, yet clearly impactful way to improve the job of the customer service agent is to modernize the role of the agent within the customer journey.
This involves elevating the job responsibilities of the agent. Why reduce such a valuable (and expensive) resource to redundant activities? Instead, customer service agents should be empowered to serve as critical thinkers that are capable of improving the organization’s revenue generating opportunities. How is this possible? With legacy contact center technology, it isn’t. However, new advancements in natural language understanding and virtual assistant technology are changing what is possible.
Here are three ways new technology can offset agent responsibilities to provide a more fulfilling customer (and agent) experience.
Deflect the Agent Responsibility
Self-service is often thought of as a procedure to automate simple processes. While this is true with touchtone and directed dialogue interactive voice response, it is not true with authentic, next generation speech recognition solutions. Conversational speech recognition can help automate complex processes currently handled by agents that require no critical thinking. One area of focus is high volume call types that require repetitive data collection, such as updating account information, enrolling in electronic billing, processing new applications, and making payment arrangements.
Offering self-service for transactional processes provides customer service representatives with an elevated job responsibility by deflecting processes that require little human intuition. Instead, agents can focus on calls that require a personal concierge experience, leverage opportunities to drive more revenue through cross-sell and upsell, or use a specialized skillset to troubleshoot an issue. Simply put: The job will now require agents to think more.
Why is this so important? Because an employee who feels that his or her work has purpose, meaning, and significance is 1.4 times more engaged at work, according to a 2012 study by consulting company Towers Watson. The study reports that companies with the most engaged employees achieve 22 percent higher profitability than companies with the least engaged employees.
Route the Call Better
The next generation contact center leverages data from voice self-service to better route customers. With the ability to capture more information through automation, contact centers are able to granularly route callers to specific agent skillsets, provide detailed context about a caller’s intents, and identify and authenticate callers.
The benefit derived from leveraging agent skillsets varies greatly from industry to industry. While some industries and businesses find that an overarching general agent can handle the majority of customer requests, many industries can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and reduce handle time by routing customers to an agent who is best prepared to handle their specific request, which in turn leads to a quicker resolution and happier customers. Furthermore, the agent is more engaged because he or she is fulfilling a significant purpose within the contact center.
By identifying and authenticating callers in self-service automation prior to routing the call, customer service organizations can offer more callers targeted self-service. New self-service technologies allow organizations to identify and authenticate through a variety of ways, via voice biometrics or by capturing email addresses or usernames. Callers who need to speak to an agent are able to do so without spending time verifying identities, which allows organizations to save upwards of a minute of handle time per call. This allows agents to focus on issue resolution without getting bogged down in data collection – further improving the role of the agent in the contact center.
Begin a Process
The distinction between self-service and live agent interactions does not have to be black and white. Best-in-class organizations look at unique ways to leverage automation where it works best, and live agents where they work best.
Think about the experience of calling the cable provider to troubleshoot a faulty Internet modem. The first 10 minutes involves basic by-the-rules troubleshooting – turning the router off and on, resetting the modem, and sending a test to the modem. These steps do not need to be done by a live agent.
With advances in self-service technologies, many companies are looking to automate routine processes with the caller, collecting the required information and going through the right steps, and then passing the call (with context) to a live agent.
By blending the experience, organizations can allow customers to self-serve complex but redundant tasks prior to making a seamless handoff to a live agent. In turn, the agent’s task requires much more thought and much less standard processes, elevating the agent’s purpose and engagement.
The Best of Both Worlds
The contact center is a rapidly evolving environment. The shift to providing multi-channel, on-demand service has dominated most conversations about how to modernize operations and improve the customer experience. Still, turnover will always be a challenge in the contact center industry.
This is an unusual juxtaposition as people are by far the most important asset in any customer service organization, but high performers are using new technologies to change this. By replacing legacy systems such as touch-tone and directed dialogue with modern virtual assistants, companies are not only able to provide more effective self-service – they can now modernize the role of the contact center agent.
With virtual assistants handling redundant processes, the agent can now operate as a knowledge worker with specialized skills. Not only will the customer receive a higher level of service, but agents will also feel more gratified in their positions. This best of both worlds combination will ultimately lead to greater profitability.
Dan Fox is marketing manager for Interactions LLC (www.interactions.net).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi