The Contact Center of 2020 - Pipe dream or proven technology?
Customer service managers agree: the customer service field is becoming more valuable and more complex. Modern customers are smart: they educate themselves, and they interact and react using the channels they prefer – and increasingly, as recent studies have shown, those channels are digital.
As a result, it is becoming more important than ever for providers to understand customers’ wishes regarding all relevant digital communications channels – and to provide advice and support across all of these channels. In short, this means successfully constructing an “omnichannel” providing optimal service quality, a focus on sales, and cost-effective results. But what does this mean in practice for the contact center industry?
First of all, to be clear, this does not mean a total break with the past. The fact that right now everyone is talking about digitization does not mean there will be a complete U-turn in the way that contact centers currently work. The recent industry report OMNICHANNEL MONITOR 2015, published by Arvato Bertelsmann and CSC, indicates the same. Consumers in Germany continue to use traditional channels like telephone calls, visits to branches in person, and company websites. These channels are primarily used to make initial contact, however. Email remains a very popular choice for the communications that follow – when following up on unresolved inquiries, for example, or particularly when making complaints. But why is this true even now, in the age of social media, chat and video services – all of which are primarily used on smartphones? These are the core reasons:
1) When customers select a channel, the decisive criteria are speed (time from inquiry to response), simplicity (ease of access and usability)and any positive experiences the customer may have had with this option in the past.
2) Personal contact is still very important to consumers. At the same time, they now also expect more personalized customer service.
3) How are customers supposed to use other channels and services if these are barely supported by the company? And what offers and services do customers actually want?
Today’s customers value quality very highly. Quality consists of competent advice, a fast response and a resolution to their needs at the first point of contact whenever possible – as well as the added value that a service department should provide. More on this later.
Telephone contact still remains important. However, according to the Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report 2015, this channel will decline in popularity by around 39 % over the next two years. As a result, this paper will focus more closely on digital channels.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR BUSINESSES
Before even making contact with a business, the customer has already gone through a research and decision-making process which they will not want to repeat. The agent should therefore avoid asking questions which the customer has already answered through other channels. The challenge for businesses is to link their service channels together so that the agent can manage all of them at the same time, within the same application. Information and documents should be synchronized with the customer’s records in parallel and in real-time. This is the only way to ensure that the customer receives fast, personalized, solutions-focused customer service. After all, consumers want to communicate their needs with a minimum of effort and to find a permanent solution as quickly as possible.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR CUSTOMERS
The individuals surveyed by the Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report 2015 named three digital services which deliver actual added value to the customer: live chat, mobile apps and self-service customer portals. The conclusion is that, in our digital age, the “smart customer 2.0” wants to inform themselves and help themselves to the greatest extent possible, using tools such as FAQs. Once they have learned everything they can, a competent contact person should be available at all times. 70 % of those surveyed agreed that a central customer portal allowing access to their contact history, their documents and the services offered to them provided them with real added value. Around half of those surveyed showed interest in having mobile, personalized access to such a portal. If this service were offered in the form of a company-specific app, then trust and acceptance of its usage (in terms of data protection) would rise significantly among customers.
At the same time, however, customers’ opinions on this subject differ greatly from businesses’:
Businesses believe that their customer portals are already complete, mature services. Customers, on the other hand, remain unsatisfied and see a need for improvement: for each new service, they need to remember a new password and log in separately each time. In addition, these portals offer few extra services, such as the ability to store messages and documents with the business.
Let us suppose that a customer, having viewed a document on the customer portal, now has a question. How should they contact the company about it? Should they use the old but proven channels of phone or email? If the document is a contract, does the customer have to first print out and sign it before posting it through the mail? The business then needs to scan the contract back in so that it is once again available in a digital format. This fails to meet one of the customer’s key criteria: speed. So why not go back a step and make it possible to complete the whole thing through the portal – enabling exactly what customers want from a “self-service” approach? This would then also meet the simplicity criterion.
SYNCHRONIZATION BETWEEN BUSINESS AND CUSTOMER
The solution, then, is literally in the palm of the customer’s hand: a digital communication platform which acts as a self-service portal, allowing two-way communication. Not only can the business communicate with the customer, but the customer can also communicate with the business. How would it work? Simple: businesses seamlessly integrate this additional communication channel into their existing system environment, and customers simply install a business-specific app on their smartphone or tablet. The customer can then make personal contact with the business anywhere, at any time.
At this point, I would like to explain in more detail how a self-service portal of this type would work.
Imagine a student on a year abroad who has forgotten to send a doctor’s bill to his health insurance provider. The student picks up his smartphone and opens the app, the hotline to the insurer. The next step is to start the chat function and contact the company in real time. Over chat, the agent recommends that he simply photograph the invoice and send it directly through the app. This is personalized customer service.
After the student sends the bill, it occurs to him that he forgot to take out any travel insurance before the trip. He therefore asks his contact over the live chat what the terms of the company’s travel insurance are. The agent then sends the student an offer through the chat dialog. Assume that the student agrees to the terms and wants to take up the insurance now. He opens the contract, signs it directly on his smartphone using a digital signature, and sends it back to the agent through the chat dialog.
Thanks to the app, this was all possible in the space of just a few minutes, and it required an absolute minimum of effort. The “speed” factor has therefore been satisfied, and the insurer has access to all information in real time, forming a complete customer record. Money has also been saved on postage, printing costs and paper.
BUT HOW CAN THE AGENT CONTROL THESE FUNCTIONS?
This requires no great effort on the administrator’s part, either. No matter what channel the customer uses to contact the business – be it the telephone, email, fax, mail, social media, chat, or something else entirely – the agent is able to see everything at once.
With all information visible at a glance, the agent can use this application to manage the customer dialog from start to finish. As all information and all documents are stored in the customer’s file in real time, the agent has a 360o view of the customer. Critical information can also be passed on to others, such as off-site employees, in real time. The benefits are clear: there is no need for the customer to explain their situation over and over again, and the company is able to present just one face to the customer. The interface also shows which customer is being contacted, and through which channel, meaning that personalized, integrated customer service is guaranteed.
WHAT ABOUT THE COSTS?
As OMNICHANNEL MONITOR 2015 shows, uncertainty is the order of the day among many companies as a result of several factors: the coming changes, the increasing complexity, the need to invest in solutions and for employees to accept new ways of working. Despite this, constructing an omnichannel need not incur extreme costs. The dialog platform described here, for example, can be fully integrated into the company’s existing system environment. This platform complements existing channels, opening up the customer’s preferred path of communication: mobile. Rather than thinking of it as adding a brand new channel, consider it an expansion for your existing service which overcomes the limitations of your current customer portal.
- Reduced service and process costs (Example: The average cost of a telephone call is approximately €3; a chat dialog averages out to €1.80)
- More efficient communication between business and customer (faster reaction times)
- Process everything on mobile devices
- Customers check their own data, reducing error rates
- Complete support for your off-site employees thanks to up-to-the-minute documentation and seamless communication
- More cost-effective digital customer dialog (Reducing printing costs to achieve “green IT”)
- Customers serve themselves and check their own data, reducing your internal throughput times from days to minutes
- Staff have more time to focus on critical tasks
- Reduced processing costs thanks to more efficient business processes and information logistics
- Optimize and improve quality of service by adapting to the customer’s communication preferences
- Unified communications
An omnichannel-type approach is considered successfully implemented once all channels are integrated into the existing system. All inquiries can be handled as part of your existing processes, no matter the channel used to communicate them. Customers can therefore use any and all channels to address their individual requirements in a fast, cost-effective and optimized fashion. OMNICHANNEL MONITOR 2015 indicates that new technological opportunities – including mobile devices in particular – present a link between the two great demands for self-service portals and personalized customer service. So far, however, consumers are clearly not seeing these demands met. This is primarily because these services are barely being offered by businesses. This also means, however, that there is an opportunity here for companies to establish standards in the near future, to surprise and delight customers with new highly-functional offerings. When customer service managers are interviewed, they too agree that a central customer portal and an app to provide services are the most important concepts for the future of customer service. The number of contact centers hoping to provide a web chat service is expected to more than double (to 70 %) in 2016. 54 % of customer service managers hope to implement smart apps by the end of 2016.
Integrating new digital channels such as web chat and mobile apps into an omnichannel strategy therefore presents great opportunities for businesses to fulfil their customers’ quality expectations and to meet customers’ key criteria when choosing a communications channel: speed, simplicity and personalized support.