Doing a better job than an agent
While a robot would never be able to take the place of agent 007, there is a school of thought that suggests that a personalized self-service solution offers many advantages over a human contact center agent.
There is no doubt that in the modern contact center, self-service customer support plays a critical part in the company-customer relationship. Today’s customers do like to do things for themselves, but at the same time, they tend to expect personalized experiences when they reach out to an organization. While there are more than a few challenges companies face when attempting to deliver personalized self-service to their customers, there are also many reasons why a personalized self-service can actually do a better job than a human agent.
An advanced and well-engineered automated self-service solution should, ultimately, be able to provide all but a few of the attributes that a live agent can, and often the attributes it does offer are done better.
Customers want answers
For one thing, customers are more concerned with getting the answer they seek – they don’t care whether it comes from an IVR or a human being - and a well-planned, multi-channel self-service solution will immediately enable the consumer to interact via the medium of their choice. This should deliver a far speedier response than if they had to call into the contact center and hold for an agent.
Another area where these systems can be better is in answering in the customers’ language of choice. It is worth noting that a fair percentage of US citizens today speak more than one language, and quite often English is only their second language. Since it is unlikely that you have too many agents who are multilingual, such a scenario could easily lead to a situation where a customer whose first language is not English ends up incurring a longer hold time. On the other hand, an intelligent automated system should be able to interact fluently in several languages. With the right intelligence built in, it may even be able to ‘learn’ the preferred language of frequent callers, enabling it to initiate the interaction in the customer’s chosen language. Not only does this eliminate the need for the caller to select a language preference, but it offers them a level of personalization they are unlikely to get from a human agent.
While a human agent obviously offers customers an attentive and courteous listener who is prepared to work with the customer to solve their problem, such a scenario is only really of value if the customer’s challenge is a complex and difficult one. For more common queries, the self-service solution can be programmed in such a manner that it can easily and quickly address and resolve these challenges, and do so consistently. In addition, automated speech is designed to be clear and precise, eliminating accents, colloquialisms, grammatical errors, abusive language or the simple problem of an agent speaking to softly or too rapidly.
Another challenge that can occur with human agents is that calls can occasionally become highly charged with emotions or end up going off on a tangent. In situations like these, it can be difficult for the agent to exhibit the correct levels of empathy and courtesy. An automated solution, on the other hand, will quite easily be able to keep interactions with the client linear, and a machine will never experience the type of emotions that might interfere with delivering the kind of customer service your company should pride itself on.
While humans are able to spot – and hopefully follow through – with opportunities to cross- or up-sell to clients, most contact centers still limit the decision-making authority of their agents, which in turn reduces their opportunities to creatively solve problems. A good automated solution, however, can be programmed with logic designed to parallel specific business rules, meaning that it can take the necessary decisions, while staying within the ground rules established by the programmer.
One of the most important issues related to personalizing customer service is to have access to as much information as possible about the individual customer, from the outset. While contact center agents generally have access to the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, which is usually integrated with the telephony system, there are many other databases within the organization that may also contain pertinent information about the consumer. Electronic self-service solutions can be programmed to cut through the traditional siloes within a business and access information from multiple databases, meaning they will be better positioned than a human agent to deliver a personalized service.
In addition, such a solution should have access to the complete contact history of the customer. The last thing you want is for a client who is presumably already-frustrated to have to repeat the details of their problem multiple times. Furthermore, it is often the case that customers with long contact histories are making contact with a view to querying a recent transaction or performing the same task, such as checking an account balance. Good self-service technology will be able to incorporate all of the customer’s history, across all channels of contact, meaning that its IVR menu can dynamically adapt to these recent interactions.
Self-service solutions also offer customers a higher level of security in certain situations. There are very few people who are comfortable giving out vital information like credit card details to a stranger on the other end of the phone. However, if they are passing such information over to an automated system, they are less likely to fear doing so. In addition, a self-service solution can be programmed to utilize security options like voice biometrics, to further enhance the clients’ sense of security.
We live in an era where compliance is critical and it is vital to adhere to applicable laws and regulations. Automated self-service solutions not only ensure that every transaction is handled with honesty and integrity – in a financial services center, for example, it would ensure that the mandatory disclosures were accurately recited – but being electronic, it also keeps a clear record and audit trail, should any compliance issues be raised.
Finally, an intelligent self-service solution should be able to leverage advanced Web and speech technologies to complete not only basic, but even some complex transactions, along the lines of providing airline reservations for a client. And because it is intelligent, it is also able to remember other recent transactions undertaken by the customer and can thus anticipate the reason for their call and present them with a decision tree built around this particular knowledge. And which customer doesn’t want to have their needs anticipated? This is personalization at its very best.
It is a good time to be involved in the contact center space, as technology limitations have mostly been overcome and businesses today have a strong base of best practices on which to build their self-service solutions. While challenges certainly remain, there is no doubt that it is possible to deliver a personalized self-service that is, in many ways, equal to or better than human assistance. We know that customers are demanding quick and accurate answers, via their channel of choice. A personalized self-service offering can not only deliver these in a way that makes the customer feel special, but at the same time can save the organization a small fortune by reducing the high costs associated with human agents.