As Contact Centers Become More Complex, Testing Grows in Importance
The market for software that goes through companies’ automated customer service systems to make sure everything works as it should (that transfers happen smoothly, that links work, that phone tree menus actually reflect the options available, etc.) is rather mature. Solutions have been able to evaluate wait and hold times, voice quality, voice recognition accuracy, phone/internet connection reliability, and much more, but as contact center operations have become more dispersed and complicated, testing and tuning solutions have had to evolve quickly.
Automated solutions are increasingly important today, but it is becoming widely evident that the testing and tuning process cannot be an occasional event. Such activity needs to occur frequently so companies can detect customer service issues quickly before they become major problems.
According to testing provider Cyara, one defect that prevents a customer from self-servicing could cost businesses anywhere from $5.75 to $11.75 per call. As call volume grows, that could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in wasted or unnecessary costs.
“While it may be costly to deploy comprehensive service solutions across your various customer channels, those solutions aren’t complete without automated testing,” Cyara says in a company blog. “In fact, if you only go halfway when implementing the system, you could end up with far lower profit increases than you had planned and have a lot of frustrated customers on your hands.”
“An effective testing program must match the scale and scope of digital customer experiences, especially as these experiences and the technology that supports them become even more complex,” a separate Cyara blog notes. “When complexity is high, organizations need to consider adopting a robust, automated testing program, incorporating AI testing to consistently monitor when the business hits technological limits with traditional testing practices. Achieving test automation isn’t simply a switch you turn on or off, though; it’s a goal toward which your company can grow and mature.”
And luckily, as the market has grown and matured, so has the number of solutions available and the number of vendors that offer them.
“There are several testing solutions out there,” says John Quaglietta, a senior director analyst in the Customer Service and Support Practice at Gartner. Choosing the best solution comes down to what companies want to test. Some might want a solution to simply see whether cross-channel handoffs occur as expected, while others will want repression testing, application testing, full interactive voice response (IVR) testing, load testing, customer experience monitoring, and a host of other testing capabilities, he says.
“First look at your internal systems. Do you have speech? Customer intent? That should point you to the best potential testing vendors,” Quaglietta says, noting that companies with full IVR systems are likely to need testing partners that offer function, load, and regression testing. They might also need testing for performance, error management, security, and cross-channel capability, depending on the sophistication of their IVRs, he adds.
But testing can by no means stop with the voice channel, experts warn.
Many companies need to modernize their systems to adequately handle cross-channel journeys, Quaglietta says, noting that a single customer interaction could involve multiple contacts and 3.5 channels. Eighty-four percent start on the phone, and 86 percent end there, but other channels are often used in between. Fifty-four percent of customers use chatbots today, and 65 percent think they will be using chatbots in the next five years, so comprehensive testing across channels will become increasingly important, he maintains.
Cyara officials agree, noting that customer journeys have spread out over different channels, both digital and voice, to complete tasks. Additionally, several customer interactions use self-service and assisted-service channels. Customers will start by attempting to take care of their issues themselves on the web or in IVRs, then move to web chat or a live agent call when they cannot get their tasks done on their own.
As customers move between channels, ensuring proper handoffs, including forwarding customer identities, prior authorizations, and the reason for the contact, is critical. Testing for those capabilities is urgent, according to Cyara, which notes the following market dynamics:
- CX failures are more likely to occur when customers cross channels;
- customers expect companies to view them holistically, despite having interacted through multiple channels;
- it is likely that customers who come to assisted-service channels (web chat or call) were not able to get their transaction done in self-service;
- customer tolerance for bad CX is low; and
- agents are under pressure to resolve customer issues in real time, requiring immediate access to real-time customer data.
The challenge for contact centers is to ensure a seamless customer experience throughout all omnichannel journeys. While these journeys might be elegantly designed and driven by complex technologies, the CX must be thoroughly tested to ensure that journeys flow as designed. This is important prior to rolling out any service, but it is just as important throughout the deployment to make sure that connections don’t break down or capabilities don’t degrade as time goes by.
THE VARIED OPTIONS
While some companies might have the right technical capabilities to do their own testing, that is becoming less and less common, according to Quaglietta. As many as 60 percent of companies today use third-party solution or services providers due to the complexity of the testing itself.
“One advantage is that these [third-party] solutions are objective,” Quaglietta says. “Some of them do discovery as well as testing. There are a lot of different solutions out there.”
Below are some of the major testing solution providers, with a breakdown of their capabilities:
Bautomate is a product from Vinga Software Solutions. It is designed to help companies with repetitive, mundane tasks using intelligent business automation for a variety of uses, including testing. The solution combines physical phone system setups with VOIP technology, IVR software, voice XML applications, speech recognition, text-to-speech, and IP telephony infrastructure. Bautomate also offers testing for intelligent call routing, testing for end-to-end quality, and detailed reporting of how many calls were answered, how many were abandoned, and how many were answered in a specific time frame.
Built specifically for businesses using Amazon Web Services’ Amazon Connect contact center systems and Amazon Lex voice systems, Bespoken automates testing for quality, accuracy, and scalability of systems using GitHub Account and Amazon Connect. It simulates users talking to the system as closely as possible to test call states, phone number verifications, and the entirety of customer interactions. It produces reports showing the different tests performed, the results, and recommendations for how to correct failures. Using continuous integration tools such as GitHub enables users to monitor contact center software on a regular basis, such as every hour or every day.
Cyara offers an extensive array of testing solutions for IVR, chatbot, cloud contact center, SMS, omnichannel, regression, web, and other elements. The Cyara platform can help establish a baseline of current IVR customer journeys and determine which paths need to be fully migrated and which ones can stay behind. The platform will also check to verify that the transfer to the cloud happened successfully.
Cyara’s testing capabilities include the following:
- IVR application discovery, which reviews menu options and produces baseline documentation. Cyara can crawl IVRs and automatically create a customer experience model that documents organizations’ current call flows.
- Automated testing, which repeatedly runs tests on applications and ensures that errors are caught early before they can create larger issues.
- Continuous CX monitoring for errors once systems are up and running, even if companies have migrated them to the cloud.
Hammer is part of Infovista, a company offering network life cycle automation to maximize productivity, security, and efficiency. Its end-to-end test automation and network and service performance monitoring, quality assurance, and analytics can identify service-impacting issues and their true root causes within and across networks, services, devices, and applications.
Hammer offers a full suite of solutions, including IVR discovery and testing, multichannel testing, contact center cloud migration assurance, security and interoperability testing, STIR/SHAKEN assurance, CX quality testing, and conference bridge monitoring.
In late October, Hammer added capabilities to its VoiceWatch automated CX quality testing and monitoring platform. The new data banking feature is designed to help contact centers monitor service availability for thousands of customer-facing telephone numbers to pinpoint CX failures rapidly at scale. Data banking enables the re-use of a single test script to execute hundreds or thousands of test cases. VoiceWatch now offers periodic and ongoing 24/7 testing of important customer-facing phone numbers. Built-in retesting capabilities means that any test failure gets validated and reproduced before an alert notification is generated.
“Quality assurance can be a huge challenge for global organizations that may be offering multiple toll-free numbers to their customers or needing to monitor distributed contact centers or branch-based businesses,” John D’Anna, president of Hammer, says. “Unfortunately, in many cases, quality monitoring is still a time-consuming, costly, and ineffective manual exercise, which means that quality assurance is overlooked, putting the customer experience at risk.”
D’Anna adds: “Unlike alternative solutions, [VoiceWatch] doesn’t just validate the connection; it also confirms IVR prompts, checks back-end system lookups, and ensures appropriate agent transfers.”
STAMP, Pointel’s System Test and Monitoring Platform offering, automates end-to-end testing to make sure that all systems work cohesively together under real-world conditions. It executes customer-to-agent interaction tests and measures interaction responses that affect customer experience by capturing prompts, responses, interaction times, speech recognition, back-end integration issues, and more. Tools cover load, regression, stress, and functional testing and heartbeat monitoring to alert operators to issues in real time.
These are just a few of the range of contact center testing and tuning solutions available. In the next year, companies will continue to pursue testing solutions that follow the entire customer journey from start to finish, Quaglietta predicts.
“There will be more workforce, personality, and intelligence testing. Companies will look for solutions that match their brands. Consideration of how well the testing solution engages with personas will become more important. There will also be a big focus on hyper-personalization,” he says.
None of this is surprising, given how many companies today are switching out and upgrading their contact center technology to positively impact customer-agent interactions and response times, increase operational efficiency, drive down costs, and even increase revenue.
But as you go forward, keep in mind that contact center testing is not simply a process to measure the quality of a call or how quickly you can resolve a client’s problem. The concept is a bit different. It is a means to measure your company’s ability to meet customer expectations day after day.
Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at email@example.com.