This additional revenue can then be channeled back into agent upskilling
Contact centers, like any business, face a continuously mounting barrage of costs. Whether we are talking wage increases or rising operational costs, the need to improve efficiencies and limit overheads is a problem that simply won’t go away.
Perhaps one of the best ways to have a positive impact on costs is to focus on automating customer interactions, where possible. If your contact center deals with high volumes, increasing the automation used within it offers the potential for massive savings. Implementing – or making more effective use of – digital channels such as text-based online contacts, Web chat and social media, as well as interactive voice response (IVR), will increase the opportunity for customers to practice some form of self-service. This, in turn, will help to reduce the number of calls your live agents are expected to deal with.
Digital channels help to improve customer wait times too, as an agent that previously was able to only assist a single customer at a time via the phone now has the ability to assist multiple people at once, thanks to Web chat. Alternatively, they may be able to deal with similar queries in a much smaller timeframe, if they are responding via social media.
This, of course, not only saves the company money, but also helps to optimize the client experience – something that keeps the customer loyal and improves word-of-mouth about the business, likely leading to increased revenue as well.
The importance of going digital as a means to save costs can be highlighted by the simple statistic that an individual customer service phone call is considered to cost the contact center five times more than a single social media interaction or Web chat.
Add to this the fact that a growing number of customers actually prefer to make contact via e-mail, social media or Web chat, and you can quickly see that relying on telephony is costing you five times what you could be paying for a channel that many of your customers actually want to use anyway.
Many contact centers already use IVR solutions as their first line of digital connection, in order to move customers away from human agents. The trouble with IVR is that while it saves the center time and money, it often increases client frustration, as they either fail to understand how to navigate the IVR menu properly, or have a problem the IVR is simply not equipped to solve. This means they have to go back into the queue to wait for an agent, after already having been frustrated by their first point of call. In any language, this is not good customer service.
The challenges presented by IVR can, however, be overcome. The greater portion of callers today are using a smartphone to make the call, so the answer is, instead of directing them to a standard IVR, you can send them to what is referred to as Visual IVR – a solution that takes advantage of the fact that customers are using a smartphone. Visual IVR creates a visual version of the voice IVR, enabling customers to see the options for themselves and simply touch their way through the IVR. This means they have the ability to both absorb and enter complex data, as well as scrolling back in order to choose a different option.
A good example of how such a visual IVR can be effective is a situation where a customer wants to book an airline flight. With a typical IVR, they would have to answer a series of questions related to the simple matter of choosing their seat. Instead of asking them a raft of questions to determine the seat they want, a visual IVR could send a seat map to the phone, indicating which seats are available and the customer simply has to touch the seat they prefer. Simple, fast and efficient, and a solution that not only saves the company money, but leaves the customer more satisfied and well-serviced.
Social media, on the other hand, is a channel that tends to scare many contact center managers, and it certainly requires a deft touch to handle correctly. While there are always concerns about the very public nature of these forums, which amplifies any potential mistakes, you cannot choose to simply ignore messages posted via these channels, as this will ultimately see you losing customers.
On the other hand, if responses to social media are well handled, customer loyalty is increased, their social media messages about your business are positive, and the same amplification factor you fear with regard to mistakes can now work in favor of your corporate reputation. This, once again, not only saves you money because of the channel being used but also makes you money because happy customers buy more products, while also increasing the potential new audience who may also want to buy from you.
What to do with all that money you save
This segues nicely into the question of what do you do with the money you are saving by moving customers over to digital channels? Sadly, you are not going to be able to put it in a room and swim in it, Scrooge McDuck-style. You will need to reinvest this money in your agents, in order to maintain the high levels of efficiency and customer service that your contact center is now renowned for.
As we have just discussed, social media as a channel frightens many managers, because of the reputational damage that mistakes can cause. Therefore, if you are going to deal with customers through this channel – and in today’s world, you DO have to – you will need highly trained and skilled people to respond to customer posts.
This means spending money on cross-training agents in order to ensure they are skilled across multiple channels. In this way, they can get involved with whichever channel needs them most at any given time. This increases the overall agility of the contact center team and should once again lead to improved levels of customer service, with its attendant financial benefits.
Cross-skilling is one thing, but you must also be aware that new channels require a focus on different skills. For example, with digital channels where contact tends to made via the written word, spelling and grammar become a much higher priority. Agents dealing in this medium will also require a clear understanding of tone. Social posts are different in tone to the more formal e-mail approach, while Web chat may need a chattier style of communication.
There is no doubt that we are rapidly moving towards a digital engagement environment for customer service. Customers are increasingly going to choose self-service as their first option, and the various digital channels are only going to get better at delivering this. However, there will inevitably come a time when the digital customer requires the kind of help only an agent can give – and when that time comes, the agent will be expected to deliver a far superior level of skilled help than ever before. So you had better invest in the training required to ensure they have all the skills they require.
So there you have it: automating your contact center and shifting customers over the digital channels will not only help to reduce voice traffic, it will improve your profits, which can then be used to train your agents better and multi-skill them, so that you can continue to deliver world-class service to your customers.