The 4 Things You Should Do (And the 4 You Should Avoid) When Delivering Omni-Channel Customer Support

In our last blog, we disclosed the 8 key questions that mid-market should ask when picking a services partner.

Just as important these days is finding the best way to meet the needs of ever-demanding customers looking for answers in the fastest possible time with the least amount of effort.

A recent survey showed that 93% of business managers recognize that failing to provide a holistic, personalized, proactive customer experience could lead to lost customers, missed sales opportunities, lower revenue, and reduced loyalty.

The Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers“–based on a survey of 75,000 customer interactions–identified five loyalty-building tactics:

  1. Reduce the need for repeat calls by anticipating and dealing with related downstream issues.
  2. Arm reps to address the emotional side of customer interactions.
  3. Minimize the need for customers to switch service channels.
  4. Elicit and use feedback from disgruntled or struggling customers.
  5. Focus on problem solving, not speed.

The same article goes on to state that “most customers encounter loyalty eroding problems when they engage with customer service,” including these reported problems:

  • 56% of those surveyed said that they have to re-explain an issue
  • 57% had to switch from the Web to the phone
  • 59% expended moderate-to-high effort to resolve an issue
  • 59% were transferred
  • 62% repeatedly contacted the company to resolve an issue

So what can IT managers do to help overcome these obstacles aggravating customers, while coming up with cost-effective solutions? Let’s take a look back at our December 2013 white paper, The Top 7 Communications Trends for 2014:

Businesses everywhere are experimenting with different communication modes for customer support. For example, Avaya Global Support Services has significantly shortened issue resolution times by escalating up and down in various modes – voice alone is often inadequate; voice-plus-Web is only marginally better; so voice-plus-Web-plus-chat-plus-video can put customers and support resources on the same page.

However, businesses deploying multiple modes will need to monitor and measure customer experience to determine when switching across modes becomes frustrating for customers – recent research indicates customer effort is becoming as important as customer satisfaction. With this realization, companies will seek help to orchestrate their different modes and to coordinate contextual information and analytics capabilities so they can monitor and measure customer effort.

Consider these 4 dos and 4 don’ts around minimizing customer effort in a multi-channel support environment:

  • Do minimize clicks: An extra click or two to test microphone and headset compatibility before an audio or video conversation can be the difference between 10% and 90% customer effort
  • Do go mobile! The customer is not chained to the desktop anymore. With the huge growth and proliferation of mobile devices, the channel and the interaction can vary significantly depending on location. Consider mobility when designing the omni-channel experience. Quick interactions are necessary. Develop a mobile application!
  • Do decide if multi-tasking is needed: Some channels enable agent multitasking better than others. Chat is great for multi-tasking; the video environment is not. One bad customer support experience can destroy personal brand equity and the customer relationship.
  • Do know your customer’s preferences, by industry or personal attributes: Some industries lean more toward specific channel communication preferences–high tech companies may gravitate to video while traditional manufacturing may want the asynchronicity of chat. While Baby Boomers still prefer phone and in-person contact, Generation X has shifted from the phone to e-mail and text while Generation Y turns to video and text as the first channel of communication.

For every do, there are don’ts that should not be avoided:

  • Don’t underestimate today’s customer! Empowered and fluent in a variety of technologies, today’s customer is more interactive, collaborative, knowledgeable, and time-sensitive than ever before. Make sure your channels can match your ever-demanding customer’s needs.
  • Don’t let your support personnel become complacent: Forever challenge your support agents to keep them on their toes. Are support agents answering the same questions over and over again? A survey of 3,000 agents at Avaya found that 85% of the time spent by agents was answering the same questions over and over again. At most, the agents said that they tackled new problems only 10-15% of the time. Avaya changed the paradigm by using applications that are much better than people at serving up existing solutions and then challenging the humans to solve new problems 85%+ of the time
  • Don’t assume that the customer knows your business: Develop channels with the novice customer in mind. Setting up a site assuming they know your business only creates friction for the customer. Avoid acronyms. Not all acronyms or customers are the same. While speaking to the lowest common denominator, enable power users and developers alike to quickly scale, while allowing others to stay with the most basic of information.
  • Don’t let your support agents be knowledge consumers, make them be knowledge generators: Agents should be trained and incentivized to publish their findings to the Web for all other customers to see in 30 minutes or less. At Avaya, the goal of posting new knowledge in 30 minutes or less is being achieved 85 to 90% of the time.

What communication channel do you expect to grow fastest this year?

When will your company rollout video in the contact center?

What questions are you asking of your omni-channel vendors?

Follow me on Twitter @Pat_Patterson_V

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Customers Explain Why Chatbots Matter for Contact Centers

I recently attended Jeff Pulver’s 2017 MoNage conference to get the latest views on chatbot usage and expectations for serving customers. Jeff Pulver created the Voice over the Net Conference when voice over the internet was in its infancy. As a co-founder of Vonage and other companies, his vision helped drive the industry we all take for granted. He’s brought his vision to the world of chat with his 140-Character conferences and most recently the MoNage conference.

Jeff says that “as chatbots get better and better, there may be less of a need to visit a business website.” We may reach a point where chatbots connected to Facebook pages and voice services via Amazon’s Alexa become the main conduit for getting information.” He probably is right. There is no shortage of software and services companies, including Avaya, that are investing significantly in the field of chatbot technology for contact centers applications.

Industry analyst Jon Arnold says contact center operators need to ensure millennials have a chat experience that is fast and personal. The ability for an agent to leverage the full context of all of the previous transactions is at the heart of providing a personalized one-to-one customer experience.

Anyone with a teenager knows if you want to reach them, you text them—unless you like the nostalgia of hearing a voice mail greeting and leaving a message that may not be picked up for a week. Those millennials, who use chat over email, including chat applications at work, are the same ones raising the bar for businesses to serve them via chat. How long will it be before the response a millennial expects for a package status is an emoji?

The introduction of chatbots represents the re-birth of interactive voice response in textual self-service instead of voice prompts. Chatbots enable a customer to answer questions via text. They ask, “How can I help you?” The customer’s answer of “What is my account balance?” is the equivalent of speaking to a speech recognition application.

With chat, recent AI innovations interpret your sentence and provide a response that is best matched to the context of your question. This is similar to Amazon’s Alexa listening to your voice and providing a response. Many companies are working to perfect the ability to interpret chat sequences, often to assuage the customers who press 0 multiple times to reach an agent. Today, customers can have the same frustrating experience with chat that they’ve had with interactive voice—ultimately they want to talk with a live agent. The goal has always been to enable more automation and self-service methods to reduce costs, without having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. There is a critical need to get it right.

Requesting a live agent to assist with a chat session introduces major challenges for businesses. They must staff a contact center with agents who can respond appropriately to chat messages. This introduces the need for typing and grammar skills and new staffing level challenges for balancing voice and chat demand.

Businesses must ensure consistency in chat responses and, most importantly, ensure a positive experience with the live agent during a transaction. So agent skills must now include the ability to respond to SMS and text chat sessions from websites and mobile applications. This includes the ability to type clearly, and often handle multiple transactions simultaneously to fill the delays with customer responses. Many of us have experienced chat sessions with agents where there is a long delay due to agents serving other customers.

Chat sessions are often emailed to customers at the end, creating a document that customers can use for many purposes: tweeting about what an agent just wrote, or using what an agent just wrote to get improper discounts or advantages from errors. To guard against such customer behavior, agents must have fast access to standard, consistent answers to common questions and ensure responses conform to company policies.

Customers Communicate with Companies—Not Agents

Customers expect a business that can communicate via live chat to ensure the agent understands their situation. The last thing they want is to send a lengthy email describing a situation, and then be offered a live chat with someone who doesn’t have access to the email. Internal information silos require the customer to ask if it is worth starting over again and again. They expect the agent to have the full context of all their interactions. The effort to serve the customer by chat can result in a negative experience even if the agent tried everything they could to serve them.

Agents Need Contextual Information

Chatbots start with an attempt to serve a customer via automation. Costs are avoided when customers serve themselves, just like they deposit a check by taking a photo instead of having a bank employee process it. Contact center managers must enable their agents to access the full context of the chat dialog, any emails, and CRM records so they can serve the customer without asking what they should already know.

Chat Introduces a New Opportunity to Leverage Agent Attributes

Once you make the move to introducing live agent chat, you need to determine which agents have the proper attributes for handling chat, including multiple simultaneous chat sessions. You’ll need to train employees how to properly respond, including how to deliver recommended standard responses. In addition, you’ll have to evaluate how many multiple chats an agent can handle, which will vary based on individual abilities. Selecting agents based on these skills can make all the difference in customer satisfaction results.

Agent Attribute Models Increase Contact Center Operational Efficiency

There is a tremendous opportunity to increase contact center operations by having agents with the attributes for handling voice and chat and SMS sessions. Did you know 250+250=450. Here’s why: the workload of 250 voice-only agents plus 250 chat-only agents can be served by 450 agents who can do both. The result is a higher utilization level than with individual silos. Evaluating agent availability by their individual attributes and operating your contact center at higher utilization levels significantly reduces your most costly resource—your contact center agent labor expenses.

Interested in learning more about defining and leveraging agent attribute modeling? Get more info in this Avaya blog from Laura Bassett: “Get out of the Queue: Drive your CX with Attribute Matching?” And talk with Avaya Experts—we’re here to help you serve your customers like never before. We can help you match agents with the best attributes for each individual customer. The ultimate win for all. Contact us. Let’s chat!

Call it what you will: Multi-channel, Omnichannel—It isn’t about the Contact Center!

At this point, we know that most companies are competing exclusively on the customer experience (83%, according to Dimension Data). McKinsey Insights shows that effective customer journeys are impactful: increase revenue by up to 15%, boost customer satisfaction by up to 20%, and turn predictive insight into customers’ needs by up to 30%. The issue isn’t that companies fail to understand the importance of the customer experience (CX). The problem is that over half of companies today fail to grasp what is arguably the single most important driver of a successful CX strategy: organizational alignment.

This isn’t to say that companies aren’t taking the necessary steps to strengthen their CX strategies. Looking back five years ago, 92% of organizations were already working to integrate multiple interaction channels—call it multi-channel, omnichannel, digital transformation—to deliver more consistent, contextualized experiences. The needle is moving in the right direction. However, companies will find themselves in a stalemate if they limit the customer experience to the contact center.

Customer Experience is the Entire Brand Journey

That’s right, the customer experience is NOT about the contact center. In fact, it never was. The customer experience is instead about seamlessly supporting consumers across their entire brand journey regardless of where, when, how and with whom it happens. This means supporting not just one business area (i.e., the contact center), but the entire organization as one living, breathing entity. This means supporting not just one single interaction, but the entire experience a customer has with a company from start to—well, forever. After all, the customer journey never truly ends.

Are companies ready for this future of the customer experience? Perhaps not: 52% of companies currently don’t share customer intelligence outside of the contact center, according to Deloitte.

Executives are planning for not only contact channels to expand but most are expecting these interaction journeys to grow in complexity. It’s clear that a contact-center-only structure doesn’t cut it anymore. At today’s rate of growth and change, it’s easy to see how a CX strategy can miss the mark when the entire customer journey is being limited to the contact center. Imagine how much stronger a company would perform if it supported the customer experience as the natural enterprise-wide journey it is? A journey where interactions take place across multiple channels and devices, unfolding across multiple key areas of business (i.e., sales, HR, billing, marketing)?

Imagine, for instance, a hospital immediately routing an outpatient to the travel nurse who cared for him last week, although she is now on the road to her next location. Imagine a bank being able to automatically route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine a salesperson knowing that a customer attended a webinar last week on a new product launch and had submitted three questions—all before picking up the phone. Imagine a retail store associate knowing you walked in and that you were searching online for formal attire.

Contextual Awareness is Critical

Today’s CX strategy is no longer about asking the right questions: it’s about having the right information at the right time to drive anticipatory engagement. It’s no longer about being able to resolve a customer issue quickly. It’s about building an authentic, organization-wide relationship based on contextual awareness. In short, this means companies being able to openly track, measure, and share customer data across all teams, processes, and customer touch points. This ability either makes or breaks the CX today.

So, are you near the breaking point? Consider that nearly 40% of executives say their agents’ top frustration is that they can’t access all of the information they need. Less than 25% of contact centers today enjoy full collaboration on process design with their entire enterprise. Connected customer journeys and the overall CX are now top areas of focus as most organizations support up to nine channel options. CX will encounter a dramatic shift of reimagined customer engagements that will be able to incorporate technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, analytics, and augmented reality and virtual reality.

The bottom line is this: organizations must support an enterprise-wide customer journey to support the future of the CX now! They must share contextual data inside and outside of the contact center, and they need seamless and immediate access to that data anytime, anywhere, under any given circumstance. Above all, organizations need the right architectural foundation to support this anytime, anywhere ecosystem—otherwise, even their best moves will always result in a draw.

Get out of the Queue: Drive Your CX with Attribute Matching

At this point, nearly every company is working overtime to realign around two simple words: customer experience (CX). So much so that nearly 90% of companies now compete solely on CX—a drastic increase from 36 % in 2010—and 50 % of consumer product investments are expected to be redirected to CX innovations—like attribute matching—by the end of this year.

But what exactly does the CX consist of, especially in today’s new world of digital business innovation? This next-generation CX is supported by several advanced technologies—big data analytics, omnichannel, automation—however, these investments are all aimed at driving one thing: contextualization.

The rise of contextualized service—the ability for companies to not only gain insightful information about their customers but also deliver information in a way that is relevant and meaningful to customers based on individual circumstances to improve their experience—has evolved the CX to a point where it looks virtually nothing like it did as recently as 10 years ago. Whereas consumers once primarily focused on the act of purchasing, driven by such things as product quality and price, they now focus on the richness of brand relationships, driven by the personal value that companies deliver throughout the customer journey. Just consider that 70% of buying experiences are now based on how customers feel they are being treated. This is the key factor that sets apart market leaders like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and Apple from the competition.

According to Accenture, there is an estimated $6 trillion in global revenue up for grabs due to dissatisfied customers constantly switching providers. The ability for companies to offer contextualized service is vital for operating at the speed of the consumer and capturing more of this market share. There’s just one thing preventing companies from seizing this limitless potential: the traditional call queue.

Every customer is familiar with the call queue. This is the place where statements like, “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold,” and “Let me transfer you to a specialized team who can help you with that” perpetually live. It’s where exhaustive efforts to route customers to the correct service rep become lost, or where consumers must repeat the same information to multiple agents across different teams. It’s the greatest barrier preventing companies from being more dynamically connected to their consumers, and one of the greatest reasons why customers reduce their commitment to a brand.

Driving Contextualization with Attribute Matching

In a world where customers demand a profound level of connection and transparency, organizations can no longer support a contact center environment in which calls are distributed among agents who are organized by function (i.e., sales, service, support). In today’s smart, digital world, companies must transform the traditional call center into an integrated, digital communications hub. This means moving away from a siloed, metric-driven queue and instead working to put customers in touch with the best organizational resource depending on their exact need or circumstance as immediately as possible. The most effective way to achieve this is to migrate from archaic infrastructure towards an integrated, agile, next-generation platform built on open communications architecture.

Open communications architecture allows organizations to seamlessly collect, track and share contextual data across various teams, processes, and customer touch points. This integrated environment supports a real-time data repository from which businesses can pull from to route customers based on needs beyond traditional characteristics (like language preference). Rather, the technology allows companies to build customized learning algorithms that drive anticipatory engagement, enabling them to match customers based on next-level variables like personality, emotion and relatability.

Imagine, for example, a hotel routing a customer directly to an IT staffer after seeing that the person tweeted about a poor in-room Wi-Fi connection. Imagine a bank being able to route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine an athletic apparel company matching a customer with an agent who is an avid runner after noticing that the individual recently signed up for a 5K.

The future of the CX means creating and continually building a contextualized view of customers throughout their entire brand journey. It means going beyond customer service to establish unparalleled, organization-wide relationships. It means transforming peoples’ lives, verses simply answering questions. This is what companies must work to align themselves with. The good news is that technology has evolved to a point where they can now easily, effectively and cost-efficiently do so.

Interested in learning more or getting beyond the queue to Redefine Your Customer and Employee Experiences? Contact us. We’d love to hear from you.