Improve Contact Center Operations to Keep Customers

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Companies that address the top issues that irk customers calling into their contact centers can significantly improve retention rates, according to research from the Northridge Group. 

So what is it that bothers customers the most? The top three factors causing customers to stop doing business with companies, according to Northridge’s latest “State of Customer Service Experience” report, are (1) agents that aren’t knowledgeable; (2) long wait times before reaching agents, and; (3) agents who aren’t friendly or polite. 

Yet 64 percent of consumers surveyed said they frequently or very frequently encounter long wait times when trying to reach live agents, difficulty and confusion when navigating automated voice systems, or the need to repeat their personal information. At least 35 percent of customers frequently or very frequently interact with service agents who lack manners or the knowledge necessary to help them and find the hours of operation inconvenient. 

“While these insights are not really surprising to us, as we also see these gaps in our operational assessments, the magnitude of the problem is concerning,” says Pam Plyler, executive practice lead of customer experience and contact center management at the Northridge Group. “All of these are basic table stakes from a service perspective, and many companies are focused on trying to create a more personalized customer experience yet still missing the mark with many of the basics that are also critical to their overall objective.” 

Equally concerning is the fact that more than half of customers also said they tell others about bad service experiences and would try a new company—and they’d even spend more money with that new company if it meant a far better experience. 

“Our research highlighted that the number-one issue that will cause a customer to stop doing business with a particular company is reaching an agent who is not knowledgeable,” Plyler says. “This is a clear call to action for companies to invest in their front-line supervisors and agents to ensure customers are confident that they have reached an expert who cares and is willing and able to resolve their issue or question.”

As more customers leverage online self-service to resolve transactional issues, the interactions that agents handle become much more complex, time-sensitive, and consultative in nature, Plyler points out. Therefore, agent skills development and quality management programs are two critical areas of investment for contact centers looking to deliver the level of service their customers expect. 

Plyler also suggests investing in technologies that provide agents timely updates on product information and business changes, in addition to leveraging CRM, interactive voice response systems, speech analytics, and third-party quality monitoring programs that can reveal clues about cross-channel customer interactions. 

“The key is to start with a comprehensive and accurate view of the current customer experience across all of your service channels, including web/mobile, [interactive virtual assistants], chat, SMS, email, phone, and social,” she notes. In this way, contact centers will be able to clearly identify what is working well and where the company needs to focus. 

“Many well-intentioned companies jump in to begin addressing process pain points within each channel without having a macro view of what is driving customer frustration, unnecessary contacts, and increased effort,” leading to only incremental improvements that miss the customer experience transformation that can be realized on a broader scale, Plyler says.

“In today’s digital world, omnichannel and voice-of-the-customer analytics are the best investments that an organization can make,” Plyler says, noting that analytics provide invaluable insights on operational health and clearly point to areas of improvement that can streamline processes, improve customer experience, and dramatically reduce costs. 

“In addition, investing in a robust AI strategy that drives your routing, virtual agent, search, and personalization efforts is also critical to creating a more seamless, integrated, and cost-effective experience across your digital and live interaction channels,” she adds.

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