How brands need to adopt a new model to deliver meaningful conversations

By Neil Titcomb, Regional Sales Director Northern Europe at Eptica... The growing importance of customer experience is fundamentally changing how companies are structuring and delivering service to consumers. The old model of a voice-centric call centre that was expanded piecemeal to cover new channels is simply too labour-intensive and fails to deliver the fast, consistent and high quality conversations that today’s consumers are demanding.

There is increasing evidence to back this up. For example research by ContactBabel reveals that 41% of contact centre organisations themselves admit they have difficulty in following and understanding the customer journey across different departments – with 33% struggling to follow customers as they move between different channels. And worryingly, more than 60% of decision-makers feel that their infrastructure is holding them back from achieving the contact centre’s full potential – with non-integrated and siloed channels to blame for a major part of the problem.

At same time, customer satisfaction is falling and customers are voting with their feet. A global study by Accenture reveals that 52% of consumers have switched providers in the past year because of poor customer service – and 82% of them said they felt the company could have done something to retain their business.

What is the new model?

Instead of a voice-centric approach, the industry needs to move to a fully integrated, multichannel model that is flexible and supports the sharing of information (knowledge) between channels. It needs to have multi-skilled agents empowered and augmented by technology and tools that help them to understand a customer’s previous interactions – regardless of if they were via another channel – in order to deliver an intelligent, personalised service.

This kind of fully integrated model will help to overcome the four key pain-points that get in the way of a creating high quality multichannel experience which were outlined at the Gartner Customer Experience & Technologies Summit earlier this year:

1. Achieving a single view of the customer
2. Integrating new channels
3. Staying within budget
4. Keeping employees engaged

How can organisations evolve and upgrade their approach to customer service, particularly given that the complexity of their systems and the costs involved mean that replacing their entire infrastructure is not an option?

Gartner points out that the central aim is to achieve a fluidity in the customer experience, which means customers are able to explore, evaluate and engage with a company via a mix of channels – and can easily switch between these channels without experiencing any friction.

Below are four important areas companies should consider investing in to deliver tangible results when it comes building a superior multichannel customer experience for the longer term:

1. Automation and self-service

Deflecting simple, routine enquiries away from expensive channels such as voice and email towards self-service via the web, mobile web and chatbots delivers numerous benefits. For example it reduces the number of calls and emails into the contact centre and gives agents more time to handle complex queries.

However, it’s also important not to view this kind of self-service approach as purely a cost cutting measure. By empowering customers to find their own answers and freeing them from having to make contact and wait for answer, it should also help to smooth the customer journey and contribute to enhancing the overall experience.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI)

Deploying AI-based customer experience technology brings a number of advantages. For example natural language processing (NLP) systems can be used to understand customers’ queries and fetch the best available answers from a self-learning knowledge base. Consumers receive a personal response, based on the specific questions they asked, improving the experience and driving greater efficiency.

When customers are looking for answers to more complex queries, pioneering contact centres are starting to introduce augmented agents – employees who are supported by AI to bring together the best of human and technology skills. In this case queries are analysed and forwarded to an appropriate agent that has the expertise, knowledge and tools to help, along with information to help them deliver excellent service. Using AI also enables organisations to pick up on the tone and emotional context of queries so that agents are made aware – and so are ready – if a customer is angry or disappointed and has to be reassured, for example. This ensures that the customer experience is seamless, personalised, fast and efficient, whatever the complexity of the conversation.

3. Knowledge management

At the heart of providing a consistent, high quality, multichannel customer experience is the ability to provide accurate responses to all customer questions regardless of the channel. At the heart of this is the need to centralise knowledge and ensure it is available across all your channels. Essentially the same knowledge base should power self-service systems on your website, mobile site and chatbots, and be available to agents working on the email, phone, social media and chat channels.

Ideally you want to use the centralised knowledge base in conjunction with AI in order to create a system that automatically suggests relevant answers, whether that is to agents or directly to customers. Knowledge is never static, so the system needs to learn and evolve – by using feedback from agents and customers on the responses it provides.

4. Open technology

Customer experience technology has many facets and is constantly evolving. With so much change and innovation, there is unlikely to be any one vendor who can provide everything required. So insist on working with companies that have open technology that is easy to integrate with other systems. This best-of-breed approach protects your existing investments while still enabling innovation and improvement by integrating new technology.

Consumers are demanding a superior frictionless multichannel experience. The old siloed model that grew out of the voice-centric call centre – even if it has embraced multiple channels – is no longer fit for purpose. To succeed with CX today, you need to provide a truly integrated approach in which knowledge is shared across channels and technologies such as self-service and AI help to drive speed, efficiency and personalisation.