Self-Service Isn’t Enough

Conventional wisdom says that the need for contact center agents is diminishing with the adoption of automation and self-service channels. New research from Harris Poll, conducted among 2,208 U.S. adults for inContact, says this just isn't so. Contact center agents are alive and well. In fact, I assert that in today's hyper-modern, hyper-connected world, the live agent is more important than ever before because our customers expect more than ever before. Here are four research findings that back this up.

Consumers are interacting with live agent agents all along their journey.

Consumers reported direct interaction with company representatives before placing the order (41 percent), during the order process (28 percent), and after receiving their order (28 percent) when thinking of their most expensive phone or online purchase during the past six months. That's right, contact center agents are impacting purchase decisions, helping complete transactions, and resolving customer issues after purchase.

Furthermore, customers and agents are talking often. The Harris research found that when making purchases online, 43 percent of U.S. adults had interacted directly with customer service agents an average of two times. When making purchases via phone, 84 percent had interacted directly with customer service agents an average of five times. Agents are involved at the most critical junctures of customer relationships—they impact customer decisions, effort outlay, satisfaction, and long-term brand loyalty.

When dissatisfied, the vast majority of U.S. adults (four in five) prefer to get assistance from a live representative via phone or chat rather than using email or online self-service.

In our drive toward simplicity, we've actually created complexity. The more choices we give consumers, the more confusing things can become. There are times when, at the end of the day, we just need someone to tell us what to do or explain how to execute something. There are times when we're not happy and we want to speak to a real, live person who understands and can make things right. We want our live customer service agent.

Nine in 10 U.S. adults agree that companies need to work harder to provide a better customer experience.

Whether this stat is a reminder or a wake-up call, we can know one thing for certain: There's no downtime when it comes to sustaining great customer relationships. Because if we don't keep up the good work, well, as the next finding indicates, we'll lose the customer.

Nine in 10 U.S. adults report that if they have a bad customer service experience, they are very likely to switch to another company.

Attrition. Brand-switching. Churn. Whatever you call it, it's bad: bad for your company, bad for your team, bad for you. What can we do to turn this around? Leverage customer analytics and business intelligence to improve and personalize customer experiences. What else? Well, how about the contact center agent? Do you even think about what your contact center agents are saying to customers? What solutions they're offering? What special offers and programs they're aware of? Do they even know your customers' purchase histories?

Again, automation doesn't negate the need for great customer service agents. But cloud technology and the intelligent automation it enables contributes to real success in complex, multichannel environments. The cloud provides a unique opportunity to modernize without making big capital outlays, and to be flexible and nimble. Comprehensive cloud contact-center solutions that seamlessly integrate with other cloud solutions, like CRM, can change the customer service game.

A unified and seamlessly integrated cloud contact-center solution gives agents real-time visibility and context-aware insights into the customer's journey. To improve each and every customer's personal journey on the fly, it intelligently and automatically matches callers with the best and most qualified agents and sends agents real-time and individualized feedback for immediate improvements.

In our quest to create the best customer journeys possible, let's take note of a critical player: the contact center agent. Our customers have told us they want to interact with live agents; they've shown us that they do interact with live agents. So, let's give agents their due. Let's give agents the tools, the training, the real-time insights, the cloud technology they need to succeed.

Mariann McDonagh is the chief marketing officer at inContact, where she is responsible for brand strategy, demand generation, and channel marketing and development.

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