If you want your contact center to keep pace with increasing customer expectations, you need to focus on the key areas of choice, availability, responsiveness and personalization.
When it comes to the contact center, there are many things ingrained in the customer’s expectations. The customer of today understands that they have a choice, and so they expect it. They demand availability, and so you need to ensure it. They expect responsiveness, and so you must provide it. They want a personalized experience, and so you must offer it.
Today, most contact centers use multiple forms of communication, something that is driven significantly by demand from clients. Contact centers are opting for a multi- or omnichannel experience, not because of changes in how they wish to communicate with their customers, but rather because of how customers want to communicate with them.
Phone calls are becoming less the go-to avenue of choice for customers, who may prefer the option of e-mail, SMS, Web chat or even social media as a means by which to get hold of the contact center.
Their choice is driven not by the different technology so much as it is by the interaction that is involved. Another key driver of choice for customers is the need to be cost-effective. In today’s tough economic climate, staying on the phone for some time to sort out a problem may be too costly for some – hence the desire to find another way of communicating with the center.
In today’s multi-channel world, customers have an increasing number of ways by which to contact you, and most are choosing to use these new channels. Of course, just because you have many more channels to handle doesn’t mean the customer expectation of agent availability has changed at all.
Hold times have been an issue in contact centers since time immemorial, and although businesses are getting better at solving this problem – often through the use of call-back solutions – they are now faced with a similar challenge across a multitude of new channels.
Expectations are also different, depending on the medium. A customer may expect a response to an e-mail the same day, but they want a much quicker response to an SMS. And as for social media, consumers generally expect an almost immediate response here, so it is vital to have agents with relevant social media skills available to handle such instances.
Rapid responses, particularly to customer complaints on social media sites, will not only demonstrate you care but that you are on the case immediately. Looking at the more traditional form of contact – the telephone – you want to ensure that hold times are kept to a minimum and that agents are available more often than not.
Most contact center software solutions today offer some way of understanding agent status, enabling you to keep track of which agents are available and ready to take calls. Agent status is also important in guiding effective call routing strategies. If a customer’s call is transferred, you want to make sure they are routed to a queue or department with available agents. If customer satisfaction is your goal – and of course it should always be – Agent status should play a major role in your call routing rules so that they don’t have to wait for their call to be answered.
Availability is closely allied to responsiveness, which can be defined as your company’s speed of service, its sensitivity to client issues and its awareness of changes in the needs of your target customer.
This brings us back to the issue of omnichannel service: if done correctly and effectively, adding new service channels like e-mail, Web chat, and instant messaging as new channels through which to address service issues is a sure-fire way to boost your organization’s service responsiveness.
At the same time, improving responsiveness requires employees that not only understand the importance of customer service, but who also have the aptitude and fortitude to deliver effective resolutions to the customer, and to do so in the main during the first contact.
The best way of improving your customer responsiveness is quite simply to ask your clients themselves about it. Customer feedback – through telephone surveys, e-mail questionnaires or simple forms on your website - can go a long way towards understanding what the customer thinks of your existing responsiveness, as well as how to improve it. This approach will not only assist you in obtaining crucial information about your service levels and responsiveness but should also help you to boost customer loyalty and improve your brand’s image.
Something customers value at least as much as the other qualities already discussed is the personal touch. If your agent can demonstrate knowledge about a customer’s history and a strong understanding of their specific challenge, you can turn even the most unhappy customer into an advocate.
Remember that people have many emotional needs, such as acknowledgment, appreciation, being cared about, being seen as important, being listened to, getting noticed and, ultimately, being valued. If you can get your personalization approach right, you will demonstrate that you understand these emotional needs and this can serve as a key differentiator with consumers.
There are a number of ways to help your agents to deliver a more personalized customer experience.
Firstly, you should focus on developing customer profiles. Your agents should be able to assist in providing detailed insights from their personal experiences in dealing with consumers. They can, for example, tell you how different clients respond to various questions or prompts. They can also describe some of the varied customer personalities they have had to deal with. Of course, your agents’ views are only one small part of the equation - you should be leveraging all the data at your disposal to build the most complete profile you can.
Secondly, you should allow your agents a level of flexibility in dealing with individual clients. You don’t want customers to feel as if they are simply being processed like something on an assembly line. Therefore, agents should be trained how to listen, interpret and evaluate before responding. They should understand how to approach each customer in an empathetic and engaging manner.
Thirdly, you should ensure that your customer also has choices. Technology can assist greatly here as, for example, you can offer a customer who is holding for an agent the option of requesting a call back when the agent is free. Then, if they decide to continue holding, they will not feel so disgruntled about it.
Finally, you should carefully evaluate the culture of your contact center. While targets and metrics play an important role in the center, should they really be the primary focus? Isn’t it better to encourage your agents to focus on the customers and resolving their problems? Ultimately, successful personalization helps to create a great customer experience, and you can only achieve this if you place the desire to make each customer feel valued front and center.
So to sum up, in order to respond effectively to customers, you need to understand and meet their desire for choice in terms of the channel they contact you on. Once they have decided on a channel, you need to ensure that an agent is available to deal with them, or failing that, that you must have a call-back option for the customer to use.
Responsiveness means meeting customer demands quickly, effectively and with sensitivity to their individual requirements. Personalization follows responsiveness, in that it will not only greatly assist you in understanding these individual requirements, but it will also play a huge role in delivering the kind of warm and caring service that keeps customers coming back to your brand.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.