Avoid common CX pitfalls by fine-tuning business processes and leveraging a flexible, cloud-based contact center platform.
The customer experience has become a key focus of organizations in virtually every industry. Defined by Gartner as “the customer’s perceptions and related feelings caused by the one-off and cumulative effect of interactions” with an organization, the customer experience can be a true differentiator for companies that are able to consistently meet or exceed expectations. A high-quality customer experience will increase customer loyalty and even inspire some customers to become advocates for the brand.
The effects of a poor customer experience can be devastating. According to a new report from Zendesk, about half of customers will abandon a brand for a competitor after one bad experience, and 80 percent will do so after multiple bad experiences.
Although every aspect of an organization’s operations can impact the customer experience, the contact center plays the most critical role. In fact, six of the top customer complaints listed in the Zendesk report involve contact center interactions:
- Long hold / wait times
- Hard-to-use automated systems
- Having to repeat information
- Unfriendly agents
- Agents lacking sufficient information
- No support for the customer’s preferred contact method
- By putting these strategies into practice, organizations will be on their way toward improving the customer experience.
Minimize Hold / Wait Times
Long hold times can quickly frustrate the most loyal customers. Research shows that most callers will hang up within two minutes of being placed on hold, and one-third will not call back. Customers are used to receiving information instantly online, and many only place a call to the contact center as a last resort. Long hold times simply compound their frustration.
An obvious way to minimize hold times is to ensure there are enough agents to handle incoming call volumes. That can be difficult to predict, however, and budgets are limited. Technology can help reduce staffing requirements by streamlining contact center processes and making agents more efficient.
Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) contact center platforms can help optimize call flows by placing incoming calls into a queue and automatically routing them to the appropriate agent or group. Policies can be defined based upon call volume, time of day, the nature of the call and other criteria.
Intelligent, skills-based routing makes it possible to assign skills to each agent, such as areas of expertise and language fluency. Calls can then be routed to the right agent to maximize first-call resolution rates.
Provide Easy-to-Use Self-Service Tools
Customers love self-service. It’s often faster and more convenient than speaking with an agent for low-level inquiries, such as account balance or delivery status. It also makes life easier for agents, who can spend more time focusing on complex issues. However, the Zendesk study finds that just one-third of organizations offer some form of self-service.
Self-service options can enhance the customer experience if they are designed with the customer in mind. That requires analyzing call data to determine the kinds of questions that are asked most frequently, and which ones can be successfully answered through an automated system. Customers should be provided with a variety of communication options, including interactive voice response (IVR), chatbot and social messaging.
Artificial intelligence tools are advancing rapidly, allowing organizations to implement more sophisticated self-service options. It’s important to remember, however, that AI is no substitute for human agents. Self-service tools should transfer customers seamlessly to a live agent and give the agent access to the customer’s conversation history.
Contact center managers should track which types of inquiries shift from self-service to live agents and solicit input from agents on ways to improve self-service tools. This allows for ongoing adjustments to reduce call abandon rates and improve performance.
Eliminate the Need to Repeat Information
Nobody likes to repeat themselves, but too many contact centers require customers to do just that. The IVR system that picks up the call may ask for the customer’s account number, but the information isn’t passed along to the human agent. The agent has to ask for the information again and then look up the customer’s account information. It’s even worse when the customer has to repeat details of her request or problem when she’s transferred to a different agent.
The first step toward resolving this problem is to evaluate IVR prompts to determine what information needs to be collected. Consider that customers on mobile phones may not have their account number handy, but don’t ask for the customer’s name or date of birth unless it’s necessary. It’s also important to ensure that the IVR system can capture the information accurately the first time.
Ideally, the contact center platform will be integrated with the organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) software so the customer’s account information can be transferred to the agent along with the call. Details about the customer’s issue should be captured in the CRM record so the customer doesn’t have to repeat herself if the agent transfers the call to a specialist.
Ensure that Agents Are Friendly and Efficient
Most customers don’t want to call for support in the first place. If they reach a surly, unhelpful agent, they’re going to have a negative view of the company’s brand. Hiring friendly people won’t ensure a positive experience — it takes the right people, processes and technology working in tandem.
Business processes should be streamlined and optimized from the customer’s perspective. Contact center workflows should be streamlined as well, and that starts with the agent’s desktop. Manual tasks should be minimized, and agents should have ready access to all the tools they need to handle customer requests without toggling back and forth between applications.
Best-in-class contact center platforms provide seamless, plug-and-play integration with popular business applications. This makes it possible to unclutter the agent desktop and use customizable widgets to provide agents with relevant information. Applications should communicate and share data with one another to reduce call handling time, improve accuracy and increase first-contact resolution rates. Agents will have a better experience, so they can focus on making customers happy.
Provide Agents with the Information They Need
Ready access to customer information can make contact center agents more efficient and effective, but many organizations aren’t providing it. According to Zendesk, 37 percent of organizations are not using CRM software, a number that rises to 50 percent among those with fewer than 100 employees. At the same time, organizations that make the most use of customer data see a 79 percent reduction in call wait times and 36 percent faster call resolutions.
Giving agents access to CRM data is good start, but the data should be collected across all communication channels and presented in a way that’s easy to understand. Business intelligence and analytics tools can provide insights that help agents solve problems efficiently without the need to transfer the call to another team or escalate to a manager.
If the agent does need to engage experts, 70 percent of customers expect a collaborative approach. They prefer that the agent bring other team members onto the call and are annoyed when the call is transferred to another department. A cloud-based unified communications platform will include collaboration tools that allow agents to quickly get the help they need.
Allow Customers to Communicate via the Channel of their Choice
Voice remains the most prominent communication channel, but customers increasingly prefer to communicate via live chat, text messaging, social media and mobile apps. Many organizations are starting to offer these options, but the customer experience remains fragmented.
Problem is, organizations are moving to a multi-channel rather than an omnichannel model. In a multi-channel contact center, the various communication options operate in silos. In an omnichannel contact center they’re fully integrated, so customers can move seamlessly between channels without starting over or rehashing the same information.
Many organizations have implemented a multi-channel contact center out of necessity — legacy, on-premises systems weren’t designed for multiple communication channels, so third-party tools have to be “bolted on.” Cloud-based contact center platforms can route customer contacts to any channel via the same queue and unify data from all interactions. Resources can be centrally monitored and managed to ensure performance, efficiency and a consistent customer experience.
Getting the customer experience right requires careful analysis of interactions throughout the customer’s journey. Because the contact center is a focal point for customer interactions, it serves as a logical starting point for improving the customer experience.
Organizations with older, on-premises contact center platforms struggle to make these improvements. These solutions weren’t designed to support multiple communication channels, self-service tools or artificial intelligence. Cloud-based unified communications platforms give organizations access to these features without large upfront investments or complex, disruptive implementations.
Cerium Networks has extensive experience in the design and implementation of cloud-based contact center platforms, along with call flow optimization, application integration and more. Our team of experts can help organizations avoid common pitfalls and reap the rewards of a high-quality customer experience.