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harvesting the benefits of digital self service

There are many advantages to be gained from guiding customers into channels where they can resolve their problems without requiring an agent’s help.

In the contact center, Average Handle Time (AHT) is a metric that is used to measure the total length of time it takes the agent to deal with the customer and whatever their issue is. Obviously, the shorter the time in which this can be done, the quicker the agent is able to handle the next customer in line. And the more customers being handled, the fewer there are waiting in the queue, slowly but surely becoming irritated.

The trouble with AHT is that simply encouraging agents to handle their calls as quickly as possible is not an effective way to drive the most important metric in the center, namely that of ensuring customer satisfaction. This means that it becomes crucial for contact centers to strike a balance between keeping call lengths down and making sure all the customer’s queries are dealt with properly.

One way of not only improving customer satisfaction but also limiting the need for rapid average handling times within the contract center is to offer the customer the opportunity to resolve their challenge without talking to an agent at all, via the medium of digital self-service.

After all, in the modern world, the concept of 9-to-5 service barely exists anymore, as the digital environment means that customers expect their service providers to be available at any given time, and via the channel that is most convenient for the user at the time.

This, in turn, has given rise to an increasing number of enterprises investing in omnichannel customer service strategies, since omnichannel enables them to choose which channels they think will best meet their customers’ needs. In these omnichannel strategies, self-service is one of the most common support channels.

The idea is to take customer service to a new level, one where you are able to give customers access to the information they need, thereby empowering them to make decisions faster. An effective self-service channel not only increases the customer’s satisfaction – as they have been able to sort the issue out for themselves, without having to sit on hold on the phone, waiting for help – but means their overall experience is a quality one that will mean they remain happy with your business.

The most logical self-service channel is the organization’s website, which can assist customers through an FAQ section or knowledge base, or even via a true self-service portal. In addition, there are interactive voice response (IVR) technologies that can provide automated responses and menus to customers who call the contact center.

The beauty of these digital self-service channels is that they enable contact centers to cut costs by reducing the ticket burden faced by other channels. If one considers that voice is one of the most expensive service channels, reducing the number of calls coming through the contact center will have a positive impact on the overall costs of the center.

In conjunction with the cost issue, it also has the positive spin-off that agent efficiency is increased. Self-service support is most useful when dealing with repetitive customer questions (which is why a website FAQ often works) which means agents are able to spend more time on the complicated cases instead. This means their levels of happiness will also increase, as their skills are being put to the test, rather than them being bored for much of the time answering the same questions over and over again.

As a result of agents being freed up from the mundane, they are also presented with the opportunity to specialize by assisting clients who are reaching out for help with their more complex problems via different channels. In other words, the agents can improve their skills in different areas of the omnichannel center and can invest more time and energy in helping customers who may be pivoting between different channels.

Of course, this is only one side of the coin. Digital self-service channels also offer benefits on the customer side of the equation. For one thing, self-service solutions are inherently user-friendly because they eliminate the middleman. Customers don’t feel rushed and are able to take their time in understanding and consuming the information they are seeking.

Secondly, a self-service option is always available. Since these offerings do not require staff, they can be available at all times, and since they are available through digital channels, they are always on, 24/7/365. This provides a level of convenience that can’t be obtained from the traditional call center.

The other benefit offered by digital self-service channels is that they can prove useful even when customers choose to call the center with a view to speaking to a human agent. There are occasions when this happens where the possibility arises to digitally pivot the customer away from the voice channel and into a digital self-service session. Once again, this works best in those instances where the query is a simpler one and offers the center the opportunity to reduce the costs associated with the more expensive voice channel.

Since an increasing number of customers come to the contact center via the Internet or a smartphone application, it has also become possible to provide these ‘callers’ with a menu on their screen that acts as a visual IVR, enabling them to choose commands that will guide them towards a web-based self-service experience.

In the end, the effective use of digital self-service can have a potentially positive impact not only on your levels of first call resolution (FCR) but on overall customer satisfaction and loyalty. As long as your digital self-service channels are easy to navigate and simple to use, they should help with faster FCR in those instances where customers have simple questions that need answers. At the same time, they will assist you in reducing operational costs, as it will mean fewer repeat calls.

More crucially, with the customers achieving such FCR by themselves, you should also witness improved customer satisfaction and the concomitant loyalty they are likely to feel towards the enterprise. Furthermore, it may even lead to increased revenues, as these satisfied customers spread the message of how effective your service is via word of mouth and social media.

Research has long demonstrated that customer experience has a direct impact on revenue and efficiency, not to mention on reputation. By providing your customers with additional, self-service channels to enable them to be more proactive in solving their own challenges, you are able to turn the customer experience into a competitive advantage.