It would be great if your company didn’t need a contact center, but eventually something will go wrong with your product or service. What happens next can mean the difference between a loyal customer and a lost one.
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, when consumers were asked which are the most frustrating aspects of a bad customer service experience, more than half said long hold or wait times while interacting with an agent. About 40 percent said either automated systems that make it hard to reach a human agent or having to repeat information multiple times.
In terms of the most important aspects of a good customer service experience, 60 percent said it occurs when an issue is resolved quickly, and more than 40 percent said it happens when support is available 24/7.
The contact center trends that companies need to pay attention to are hiring, speed and consistency, self-service, and chatbots.
Contact Center Trend #1: Hiring
In the past, a contact center hired just a couple of demographics to fill customer service agent roles, and those agents had to be good at one thing: solving problems on the telephone.
Today, with people working longer and the oldest members of Generation Z having graduated college, some contact centers have five generations of employees handling telephone, email, live chat, social media, and private messaging.
Each of the five generations—the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z—prefers different methods of communication, has different attitudes toward technology, chooses different customer service channels as consumers, and is focused on different career goals.
To develop the most productive workforce, contact centers must be cognizant of different types of employees and their needs. These needs may include work schedules, work from home versus in person, dress code, subject matter expertise, familiarity with certain customer service channels, and more.
Mentoring and “reverse-mentoring” programs can also help build skill sets across generations and make everyone feel like they have something to contribute.
Writing has also become a key skill set for a role that required barely any of it a couple of decades ago. In fact, the majority of customer service interactions today, including on all digital channels, are done in writing.
Today’s customer service agents must be able to write well, with proper spelling and grammar, because their responses to customers reflect the brand. Further, in the public realm of social media, typographical errors and grammar mistakes can be costly from a public relations perspective.
Contact Center Trend #2: Speed and Consistency
Speed and consistent service delivery across channels are key success factors for contact centers today.
The need for speed has evolved since the advent of social media and “real-time” conversations.
According to a study by Medallia and Ipsos, 70 percent of consumers say they expect an immediate response when they submit a complaint. HubSpot research has found that number to be as high as 90 percent.
The consistency issue often shows up in social media, where agents can be more empowered than their counterparts in other channels to make problems go away so customers won’t complain publicly. But that just teaches people to come only to social media to get what they want.
The Medallia and Ipsos study found that 56 percent of online retail shoppers and 49 percent of offline shoppers expect consistent levels of service across physical and digital channels.
“Regardless of when, how, or why they are interacting with your brand, customers expect the experience to be seamless and efficient,” the report stated.
To avoid inadvertently creating an inconsistent experience for your customers, ensure that all contact center employees, regardless of channel, receive the same policy training and are empowered equally to solve customer problems.
Contact Center Trend #3: Self-Service
Another important trend in the contact center is the continued move to self-service.
According to American Express, more than 60 percent of US consumers said in 2017 that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-service tool (such as a website, mobile app, voice response system, or online chat). That number has surely risen in the past five years.
Despite that data, Zendesk found that “self-service is a missed opportunity” because “only a third of companies offer some form of self-service, whether through a help center, knowledge base, or FAQ.”
Self-service options provide a mutually beneficial solution to the customer and the company. For the customer, it saves time and effort (remember that reducing customer effort is the most important factor in customer loyalty). For the company, it saves the cost of handing additional customer service interactions for the same issue.
According to Zendesk, 69 percent of customers want to resolve as many issues as possible on their own, and 63 percent of customers always or almost always start with a search on a company’s online resources when they have an issue.
Contact Center Trend #4: Chatbots
What is a chatbot?
“At the most basic level, a chatbot is a computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person,” according to Oracle. “Chatbots can be as simple as rudimentary programs that answer a simple query with a single-line response, or as sophisticated as digital assistants that learn and evolve to deliver increasing levels of personalization as they gather and process information.”
The technology associated with chatbots is called artificial intelligence, or AI, which is just what it sounds like: Nonhumans (computers) demonstrating some form of “intelligent” thought. Often, AI is used to have computers sort and tabulate mountains of data in a fraction of the time it would take a human to perform the same task. In the case of chatbots, the computer is identifying words in a conversation, processing what they mean, and offering a response.
Effective chatbots can provide answers to routine or repetitive questions, allowing customer service agents to work on more difficult cases. Think of these questions as anything the customer probably could have Googled. You can also use them to guide the customer through a standard process, like ordering an item from an ecommerce site.
A big benefit of chatbots: They can be built once and then deployed across many platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, a website, Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Viber, and more.
Chatbots should not be used as a digital IVR, or interactive voice response system (think “Press 1 for your balance, Press 2 to pay your bill…”) because we already know these systems annoy and frustrate customers on the phone, so there is no sense in replicating that negative interaction digitally.
When combined with machine learning (ML), bots can “learn” over time, improving their performance and even personalizing interactions.
Like with other technology, the success or failure of a chatbot will depend on customers’ willingness to use them.
According to Acquia, 75 percent of customers say the problem with automated experiences (interacting with technology instead of a real human) with a brand is that they are too impersonal.
Chatbots can be incredibly valuable, however, when companies use them to help the human agent do a better job servicing the customer.
If you imagine a human agent sitting next to a supercomputer that’s got every piece of data that they could ever want, instantly, it means that the agent can spend more time being human instead of clack, clack, clacking on their computer keyboard to find information. They can pay more attention to the conversation with the customer and be better at solving problems.
The best chatbots can answer lots of customer questions and know exactly when to bring in a human agent when the questions get too complex or if the customer requests it.
Yes, it would be great if your company didn’t need a customer service team because it has a perfect customer experience. But as perfection in CX is unattainable, what happens next is critical.
Make the customer service experience a positive one for customers who do need your assistance by focusing on these four contact center trends: hiring, speed and consistency, self-service, and chatbots.
Exclusive excerpt from The Experience Maker: How To Create Remarkable Experiences That Your Customers Can’t Wait To Share (2021: Morgan James Publishing). Reprinted with permission. The book is available on Amazon and at other fine retailers. Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash.