There are two key aspects of contact centres: the first one is, without a doubt, that there are highly experienced agents working there, and the other is modern technology on which the agents can rely. These two aspects need to work in sync so that the contact centre provides the best available customer experience. Failure of one or the other may cause extensive damage and losses to your organisation. According to the latest State of the Connected Customer report by Salesforce, 57 % of customers abandoned their supplier/service provider due to better customer experience offered by a competitor. And 62 % of customers stated that they are likely to share their poor experience with their friends and family. Nowadays, with social media permeating every aspect of daily life, a situation like that may seriously damage your brand and its reputation.
Digital transformation and artificial intelligence represent key elements of customer expectations in a broad spectrum of activities. The above report also shows that 84 % of customers expect their interaction with your business to be personalised and contextualised. It is therefore vital to adapt the activities to cutting-edge technologies. What is their role in the processes of contact centres? Let's evaluate how workplace automation can support agents of contact centres to ensure that the majority of their interactions with your customers are positive.
Over the past years, we have observed in the Czech Republic an ongoing transformation of a support (i.e. contact) centre into an advanced form known from other countries. The operators of the centre no longer wait passively for an incoming call or email to resolve a specific issue the customer has, but they contact the customer proactively based on supporting business processes. Let's analyse a few interesting cases of automating a contact centre for active communication towards the customer. These solutions are becoming more and more popular with our clients.
The first case is focused on modern retention process. This process is generally established in companies whose product has a fixed lifetime, e.g. a financial loan, car leasing, magazine subscription, etc. At a certain time, the customer stops paying the company (the loan is paid off, or the magazine subscription expires). This is a signal that the product owner has to capture and attempt to "lure" the customer to another product, or e.g. to extending the magazine subscription. This is the moment where contact centres come to the scene. Such cases are often tracked through a system (CRM, ERP, etc.) which triggers an individual email campaign, generates a call list that the centre operators contact, or reaches out actively through WhatsApp. This method is a soft, non-aggressive way of retaining the customer.
The second case uses IVR (interactive voice response) when the contact centre is overloaded. We've all been through it: "I've contacted my mobile provider to change my plan. But there's been a 10-minute queue, so after those 10 minutes, I hung up." Could you imagine the outrage if the provider didn't initiate a callback? Nowadays, the providers call you back in almost all situations. This is another great automation scenario: the call centre sends a signal on a missed call e.g. to the CRM system where it is queued for a callback.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes an indispensable part of modern work environment, and contact centres are no exception. For new customers, communication with the customer centre agent may be their first interaction with the company. This interaction is absolutely vital and must result in a satisfied customer; unhappy customers will not return. Customer experience therefore has significant potential not just for acquiring new customers and retaining the existing ones, but also for increasing the organisation's KPIs.
It is important to keep in mind that the primary aim of AI is not to replace the agents in the contact centre. As mentioned before, experienced agents are a critical asset for any contact centre. AI increases the utility of many processes that were previously frustrating, but now have become automated and efficient. One such process is the abovementioned IVR.
AI enables the technological platforms to make decisions without having to query the customer multiple times. They can detect the language the customer speaks, they can identify the issue the customer called about the last time, they take into consideration if the customer placed an order recently, etc. There's no need to press 1 for English or 2 for Czech. To check on the current status of their order or refund, the customer needn't be connected to the contact centre agent, but can receive this information through IVR thanks to connection to the CRM or ERP system. This facilitates a more natural and better targeted interaction.
Similarly, if the customer decides to communicate through online chat, the information may be collected by a chatbot that evaluates dynamically the information provided by the customer together with other information that the company has about the customer, and directs the customer to the best available agent on the chat platform. AI can also teach the chatbot to respond directly to frequently asked questions by the customers, which directly contributes to the cost-saving measures of the contact centre and increases the time efficiency of answering the customer's question.
Unifying the communication channels should be another key activity to increase the operational efficiency of a contact centre and directly improve the customer experience. Omnichannel approach is based on guaranteed process consistency and approach to the individual communication channels. To put it simply, the customer's experience with contacting your organisation should always be the same, regardless of whether they contact you over the phone, using chat, by email, or on social networks. This requires a unified approach to interaction with the customer that is connected to the central customer data repository.
We can learn from a negative example of companies that offer e.g. chat or social network communication as a supplementary communication platform that, once the communication reaches a certain point, forces the customer to call the contact centre or to send an email. From the customer's point of view, such fragmented interaction may be even more frustrating than not offering these communication channels at all. Should the customer decide to use online chat, it has to be the only option they need to use to resolve their query, unless they explicitly wish to switch to another channel. If the customer decides to switch channels, it is vital that they needn't repeat any information that they had already provided via chat. All the contact platforms have to operate as fully equivalent alternatives.
Customer approach is changing rapidly in the Czech Republic. Companies are trying to be more proactive in their communication and retain the existing customers for as long as possible. Companies realise that acquiring new customers is important and often rather complex, but retaining the existing clientele is even more valuable in today's world. Czech customers are less and less focused on the price/quantity ratio. Quality of service plays a significant role and becomes a key pillar in ensuring the success of the company. This is supported by information systems such as CRM, ERP or SCM that automate specific processes and help us have the right data in the right place at the right time.
Josef Gorgan, Michal Baranec – Isobar Technologies
This article was originally published in Czech at SystemOnline.cz