For Better Customer Service, Look into the Future
COVID-19 has accelerated the trend toward remote work and the use of digital channels for customer service. With this in mind, Hicks says, it is crucial for companies to implement solutions that provide omnichannel self-service and automated, AI-powered customer engagement.
“Today, very few call centers and support organizations in general are leveraging predictive data to any real effect,” he says. “Even fewer are utilizing prescriptive guidance to the agent, outside of some simple promotional offer generation or similar notions that do little to really build a relationship or trust.”
The pandemic has also accelerated companies’ migrations to the cloud, which will be beneficial in the long run, according to Reno.
“While the disruption caused by the pandemic was chaotic for many companies, the forced cloud migrations will reward companies many times over thanks to the vast array of digital tools and solutions that they can now use to enhance customer experiences and alleviate pain points,” he says.
Unified communications platforms that enable easy transfer between channels such as email, web chat, and phone are also essential, Reno states. He also recommends AI-enabled chatbot and conversational technology solutions that can assist agents when they experience an influx of requests and route customers to the appropriate agent. Data analytics are key as well, he says, as they can help companies develop an understanding of customer behavior and make decisions based on data.
“Each of these tools can help to prevent customer service issues and alleviate pain points,” Reno says.
Shanthala Balagopal, director of product marketing at Kustomer, says that AI-powered CRM systems that unify customer data can enable predictive capabilities and proactive customer outreach.
“For example, AI can do the heavy lifting of identifying customers who are being affected by an upcoming storm and power bulk messaging to these individuals to get ahead of any issues,” she says.
Speech analytics are another technology that can help companies become more proactive, delivering a better understanding of customer emotion and sentiment, Moore says, particularly when paired with customer feedback and other data. Companies can then use this information to identify at-risk customers and reduce churn.
“Utilizing customer feedback measurement—solicited and unsolicited feedback via tools like speech analytics—companies can look for negative emotion and sentiment and understand if it’s customer-specific or part of a larger issue,” he says.
Capturing a customer’s most recent satisfaction information and storing it in a CRM system enables customer service teams to understand how individuals view the company based on their recent interactions.
“That insight is incredibly valuable for the agent,” Moore says.
EMPOWERING CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES
Companies must ensure that customer service representatives are empowered with the right information to identify issues customers are experiencing and reach out to them proactively.
Often, organizations that are using predictive capabilities deliver those insights to managers and executives but not to the agents, who can best use the information, Hicks says.
“Too much of the AI analytics implementations today scour data warehouses and other silos and produce interesting outputs but are not useful for frontline support workers,” he says. “We need to be putting these insights squarely in front of a support center agent, along with reliable advice and guided actions.”
Customer service teams that are empowered by predictive technologies can become aware of potential issues before the customer does, Reno says.
He recommends that agents reach out to the affected customers using a channel that allows customers to respond on their own time, such as text or email. When they do respond, he recommends that an agent be immediately available to resolve the issue.
This kind of proactive outreach can apply to common contact center frustrations as well, according to Reno. By means of automated testing and validation of the customer experience from the outside in, customer service teams can be made aware of certain issues, such as long hold times and dropped calls, and address them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, agents can explain to customers that the team is aware of the issue and working to resolve it.
Agents must also be sensitive to customers’ emotional states when they reach out, Balagopal says.
“They want to be treated like a valued customer, with real thoughts, emotions, feedback, and values,” she says. “When conducting proactive outreach, ensure that you are treating customers personally and with empathy.”
To that end, Balagopal suggests that agents make sure that they are addressing customers by name, have an awareness of their histories with their companies, and are only communicating when it is relevant to the customer.
Furthermore, she suggests that when agents are preemptively reaching out to customers, they should emphasize not only that they are aware of the problem, but that the problem is being fixed.
“Ensure the customer that the issue is being addressed and you are doing everything in your power to make sure it will not happen again,” she says.
While customer service through the contact center is the prime target for proactive support, Donlan and others also see a few other applications.
Predictive customer service has already begun to take hold in technical support and field service, according to Donlan. He also sees the ability to provide solution suggestions to service agents or to customers themselves via self-service channels, based on data from previous similar problems, as a key element to providing excellent customer service experiences.
But in general, Donlan and others agree that B2B and B2C companies alike, from manufacturing to retail to life sciences, can benefit from predictive service. And it doesn’t require a crystal ball or ESP. With the right tools, knowledge, and expertise, companies can see into the future and proactively address any concerns before they spiral out of control.
Sam Del Rowe is a contributing writer based in the New York area. He can be reached at email@example.com.