Contact Center Infrastructure: It's Time to Assess Your Tools and Technology
According to a recent survey by Gladly, texting now accounts for 10 percent of all customer service interactions. Ansanelli believes this isn’t surprising, considering that consumers can text from anywhere and a real-time response isn’t expected.
“SMS is a channel that agents can field between calls or live chats without eroding the customer experience. Companies should invest in making SMS a core service channel and staff it with agents who handle voice, email, and other channels,” he says.
“Text is really important as a proactive strategy and a critical deflection channel that improves the customer experience immensely,” she says. “For instance, smart companies can proactively text their customers a link that lets them know where their order is or where their technician is along the route, preventing an expensive call to the contact center.”
Consider that the longer it takes companies to launch conversational AI solutions, the more they spend on live agents fielding routine queries that could otherwise be handled by a simple chatbot.
“Chatbot automation enables customer service representatives to focus on other strategic tasks, which can save an organization money and staffing in the long term,” Singer says. “Today, conversational AI and self-service technologies such as chatbots are more relevant than ever. Beyond helping to handle customer care and providing quick, personalized interactions, the technology offers enterprises stability in the post-COVID era.”
A case in point is Amtrak, which early in the pandemic had been inundated with questions from customers who wanted to know how train service had been affected and other changes they could expect. Amtrak’s intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) “Julie” was updated to tackle COVID-related questions and to get people the information they needed. Amtrak used Julie to direct people to a landing page that contained a host of information about service impacts, cancellation policies, and ongoing updates.
“The result was timely, accurate customer service that strived to provide clarity,” Singer explains.
Make no mistake: Social media has proved effective at amplifying brands, conveying messages to large audiences, and addressing mass servicing needs that can prevent call volumes from being otherwise directed to the contact center.
“We often see a role in social media listening, usually with and likely led by marketing, leveraging platforms and solutions to anticipate needs around contact types coming to the contact center,” Haas notes. “But direct customer engagement through social media requires great discipline to ensure discretion and privacy in direct messaging.”
Bird believes social media as a contact center channel is more appropriate if you have a large B2C business, tangible products, and a large following.
“I do not recommend social media as a first or even second choice, but consider it as your organization scales and when it makes sense for your business,” Bird says. “Allowing a transparent approach to your service can lead to high positive reviews toward your business, translating to more sales and increased customer service levels.”
CONTACT CENTER TECH AND TECHNIQUES TO AVOID
It’s equally important to eliminate inefficient technology that hampers productivity, believes Kate DeWald, CEO of Oncue, a provider of software and booking services for moving companies.
“Not doing so can end up costing more money in the long term because older and slower technology can slow down employees and increase downtime,” she says.
This might be the case with email. While there is still a place for this channel as a contact center option in plenty of businesses, companies would be wise to emphasize other options, many experts believe.
“According to Gladly survey results, email is losing ground to text, chat, and social as preferred communication channels. This is likely because consumers prefer real-time interactions rather than the [asynchronous] back and forth of email,” Ansanelli says. “It’s not time to shut down the [email] channel, but this is an area of decreasing investment.”
Additionally, eliminate manual, spreadsheet-driven processes, closed systems that lock down meaningful data, and technologies and practices that do not allow for integration into the ecosystem or third-party decision-making tools, Singer recommends.
ACTIONS TO TAKE WHEN ASSESSING YOUR CONTACT CENTER INFRASTRUCTURE
One of the most important elements of exceptional customer experience is the seamless handoff between channels. Ensuring that the disparate components are all working together effortlessly is a must.
“No customer wants to switch from a self-service channel to speaking with an agent, only to have to repeat all of the same information,” says Bauserman. “On the contact center end, that often requires transitioning to cloud solutions that are natively more flexible than their on-premises counterparts and allow for a single view of the customer across his or her journey. This creates more effective personalization by connecting all the dots of that customer experience across a website, mobile apps, contact center, and CRM.”
For many, that means shifting to a contact-center-as-a-service (CCaaS) model that enables companies to acquire only the contact center technology they require, thereby decreasing the need for IT support.
“It’s crucial to look for platforms that let you substantially reduce customer effort and power smarter service through AI, whether self-service or agent-assisted,” Bauserman continues.
When evaluating vendors that provide contact center technology solutions, Singer says it’s important to ask if the vendor’s technology can do the following:
- create differentiated experiences that are authentic, relevant, frictionless, and connected;
- scale to support billions of interactions, hundreds of journeys, and dozens of channels and touchpoints;
- maintain and empower a new AI-driven workforce of bots and humans working from anywhere; and
- achieve all of these goals with limited resources and without breaking the budget.
In addition, Iyer advises making sure customer engagement platforms are fully integrated with CRM platforms as a core technology by evaluating this interrelationship at least every five years.
“Also, remember that your infrastructure needs to be agile and flexible enough to cope with the unexpected. Step back and assess how ready you are for other disruptions,” Iyer advises “Savvy businesses have learned that they need to build flexibility and efficiency into their contact centers so they can quickly adapt to the unpredictable.”
DeWald seconds these suggestions.
“It’s critical to constantly re-evaluate your strategies and pursue opportunities that anticipate your customers’ future needs,” she says. “It can be time-consuming and expensive to make changes to your infrastructure, but these investments are crucial and should be made continuously to continue providing innovative solutions to customers.”
CASE STUDIES PROVE THE BENEFITS OF INFRASTRUCTURE ASSESSMENTS
Many contact centers have been overwhelmed by customer requests since the pandemic hit. This has been especially true for financial services companies that have tried to accommodate an increased number of requests for mortgage deferrals and relief programs and for healthcare businesses responding to consumers’ questions about COVID symptoms and vaccines. Retailers have also experienced greater e-commerce business orders and questions about new customer engagement models, such as buy online/pick up in store. Indeed, examples of enterprises that have had to adapt their contact centers quickly to properly serve customers are plentiful.
“Early on in the pandemic, when college campuses began to send students home just before spring break, U-Haul contact center agents were able to quickly scramble to meet the needs of students making the sudden and unexpected moves home, all while working remotely,” says Verint’s David Singer.
Additionally, COVID-19 caused a huge increase in calls coming into Navy Federal Credit Union’s collections department regarding payments affected by changed job situations.
“To continue providing a high level of service to its 9.2 million members, the collections department leveraged speech analytics to understand the scenarios affecting their members to better anticipate call volumes and expected payments,” Singer adds.
Chris Bauserman with NICE inContact, meanwhile, points to the pivot that Wine Country Gift Baskets was forced to make after its mix of outdated, disparate contact center solutions made it difficult to cross-train agents on different systems.
“The company started the search for a new solution that reduced costs while integrating chat, email, workforce management, and quality management into a single system,” he says. “By employing a cloud platform, the company decreased telecom costs by 98 percent and report creation time by 75 percent, reduced staff training by 20 percent, and shrunk seasonal headcount needs by 10 percent.”
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.