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June 21, 2024

4 tips for championing contact center innovation from an award-winning customer experience leader

4 tips for championing contact center innovation from an award-winning customer experience leader

Jay Patel

GVP, Product Management

Innovation is essential, especially in the contact center as the tip of the spear in customer experience, but how do you activate your modernization plan? I had the opportunity to speak with Mary Daniel, VP of Customer Solutions Center for Aflac, a long-time Avaya customer, at the Gartner Symposium last fall. Mary is a veteran when it comes to customer experience and was most recently named by Constellation Research to the AX100 list, an elite group of executives who are breaking barriers and thinking outside the box to transform customer experiences.

Mary’s visionary approach is undoubtedly effective. In the last 18 months, Aflac has decreased specialist attrition by 20 percentage points, increased its number of tenured specialists by 10 percentage points (tenured defined as frontline production call center specialists who have been in the company’s call center for more than a year), reduced average handle time up to 15%, and significantly increased its Customer Ease scores 20 percentage points.

Here are four tips Mary shared with me for driving contact center innovation to fuel business performance and champion authentic experiences for all – and how Avaya’s industry-leading contact center solutions, along with the hard work of customer care professionals, enables Aflac to do so. 

Tip #1: Don’t over-digitize. 

There will always be simple administrative tasks like changing a customer’s address or adding someone to a policy. These are wonderful places to use technology, be it an app or your IVR or chatbot, but there will also be calls that are not an appropriate fit for these solutions. These conversations take longer to handle and need a human on the other end of the line. At Aflac, these experiences can also be emotional and/or complex, depending on the customer’s situation.

“In our line of work it is essential to understand that you can’t digitize empathy,” Mary said. “Companies are quick to scale digital solutions, but to achieve value at scale there needs to be a healthy balance between humans and technology.” 

Mary pioneers this approach at Aflac with various initiatives. For example, the company recently established a designated group of tenured specialists to only handle calls from customers who are first-time cancer claimants. “This can be a very traumatic and emotional time. You really don’t know how to navigate everything, you are scared, and processes can be complicated.  We recognize a special need for those customers,” she explained. 

Tip #2: Prioritize the holistic human experience.

What does the human experience mean in terms of business? From Avaya’s point of view, the human experience encompasses the entirety of someone’s interactions, emotions, perceptions, and thoughts of an organization, addressing the overlapping needs and interdependencies among customers and employees. This goes beyond internal culture or morale. The human experience is tied to the tangible results a company sees like increased customer loyalty, higher employee retention, and overall business performance.

This is something Mary is very passionate about. “Aflac’s goal is to help customers focus on recovery, not stress. The same goes for the specialists who help them. Having started on the phones myself, I am fortunate that I can relate with a variety of stakeholders, not the least of which are our customer care specialists.  It’s very important to me that the work we do doesn’t add to, and in fact, helps reduce burnout or stress experienced by our frontline workers.”  

Aflac trains new hires for nearly four months, a long process that’s well worth it for minimizing attrition and ensuring employee engagement. When it comes to frontline leaders, the company implements a myriad of specialized approaches. For example, in addition to standard coaching and training, last year, the company developed an employee advisory council made up of frontline production staff and specialists who meet with Mary and other call center leaders quarterly. 

“This is where we bring ideas to the table and have open-ended discussions. We want them to know that they are heard. It is not a complaint or gripe session. The rule is if you bring a problem, you must also bring a solution,” she explained. 

Tip #3: Digitizing is not the same as digital transformation. Be intentional with your desired future state.

Everybody wants to become a new kid on the block with the latest technology, but it’s not until you become intentional with it that you see the fruits of your labor. 

This is a lesson the executive team at Aflac learned a few years ago when implementing chat. “We had a fantastic idea that at least 40-50% of our calls could be transitioned to chat – how great!”  An example of over-digitizing occurred when the executive team decided to implement chat as a channel. “We assumed we could reach that goal, but after piloting this idea we reassessed. This is why Avaya has been an Aflac partner for so long. Something I firmly believe in is a non-disruptive approach to bringing in new capabilities. There’s something to be said about preserving all the training and workflows and processes and incrementally building in a way that makes sense for your organization. You can’t just paint a broad brushstroke over everything with digital technology. Avaya helps empower us to achieve our vision at our pace in our current environment.”

Looking ahead, executives are considering Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the goal of helping make the frontline employee’s job easier while, at the same time enhancing the personal touch for customers, particularly on complex and sensitive cases (again, we see the holistic human experience as the brand’s common denominator). 

Tip #4: Be wildly intentional about which metrics are most important to track.  

There are so many metrics you can track in the call center – service level, average speed of answer, first call resolution – but how do they translate to the customer experience? The average customer has no idea what “service level” is or how it’s calculated or defined. Redefining your metrics can help connect the employee experience and the customer experience to fuel business performance. 

“This was extremely important to us, so we changed course and began tracking ‘customer ease’ as our number one targeted metric to continuously improve,” Mary explained. “As opposed to just chasing metrics or technology, take what your brand stands for and align it with what you want to deliver for your end customers.” She added, “For example, we started adding questions to our surveys about the ease of doing business with Aflac; how simple or complicated it is to interact with Aflac’s customer service and resolve the issue prompting you to contact us.”

Congratulations to Mary for recently being named by Constellation Research to the AX100 list! Get in touch to learn more about driving better experiences with Avaya.

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