Let’s imagine you’ve got a problem with your cable. Say, you’ve ordered HBO to catch the new Game of Thrones season, but you can’t see the channel. Who would you contact? And how would you contact them? Your options, these days, range from your cell phone to your Twitter account. What if it was a problem with the DVR, alarm system, or internet router that your cable company has recently started offering to you?
More than that, how would you judge a successful customer service interaction? I’m betting you wouldn’t like it if someone brushed past your concerns, did the bare minimum to resolve your complaint, and then got you off the phone as soon as possible.
To put it simply: the contact center is changing, because both the business behind it and the customers in front of it are changing. There are four trends you ought to know about to make sure that you don’t get left behind.
In the past day, I’ve texted, called, tweeted, Facebook messaged, Google+ tagged, and e-mailed. I’m starting to lose track of all these interactions, so can you imagine how tough it must be to manage all these different channels when thousands of customers are trying to contact you!
And it’s not just a problem with volume. Each communication technology carries its own challenges and benefits. Like Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message” - and the medium can affect everything from customer satisfaction to average complaint resolution time.
First, let's look at whether each communication technology and channel is synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous. The phone is the classic synchronous interaction: what you hear, the other person hears, at the same time. What you see, they see too. Because people are especially sensitive to wait-times, these touchpoints require more manpower to cover, but they're associated with higher rates of customer satisfaction. Asynchronous mediums are like e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. The interaction isn’t completely interactive — you have to wait until someone has the time to look at your message and then (hopefully) replies. Because it's not as time sensitive, these media are easier to manage.
The cable company might be the best example of this. They no longer offer a single product for your TV. Instead, they’ve branched out into everything that can transmit data along a wired connection, which is tons. It’s a lot for a contact center employee to keep track of, and to resolve customer complaints quickly and effectively, you need an ever increasing amount of knowledge.
So how do you resolve the problem of complexity? With your employees. More important than anything is the ability and willingness to collaborate. Building up internal social networks (like Chatter) can enable the right person to contribute their knowledge to the right problem at the right time. For instance, instead of bouncing a customer with a complicated question about his DVR around from agent to agent, the agent takes on the responsibility of finding the solution, which isn’t such a tall order when internal knowledge repositories can deliver her right to an answer. In another case, at a software solutions company, a really complicated problem with a back-end system gets sent in its entirety to the engineer who has experience dealing with that system. Instead of putting the first agent through a really steep learning curve for a rare problem, the right person made the solution happen quickly.
No matter the specifics, agents should be “empowered to act, flexible in approach, and dynamic in delivery.” That’s what makes collaboration really work.
I was at a conference once and sat in on a panel called “Moving Beyond Standard Metrics.” Three executives presented their own solutions to what had become a business-crushing problem: there were too many metrics, and too much time and energy was spent improving measures of little consequence.
The solutions were radical. Each company that presented on the panel decided to dramatically cut the number of metrics. One company actually decided to comletely stop all reporting while they figured out what to do next. They also decided to move from caring about action-based metrics (like how many calls an agent got through in a day) to outcome-based metrics (like customer satisfaction). The details varied a bit from case-to-case, but the lesson was clear: to cure paralysis in the face of too much data, focus only on the few numbers that are fundamental to business success.
If the above trends are the effects of changing circumstances, then this one is the result of a changing philosophy. Customer experience matters now more than ever because it really does matter to revenues. What’s more, it’s driving new direction for old parts of the enterprise. Customer service departments, for instance, are being considered as part of a holistic approach to amazing customer experiences. That’s a lot different from looking at customer service with an eye to saving costs, or to putting out fires that may have started in other areas of the enterprise. It looks like customer experience is the objective that’s providing a banner for all departments to gather under, and the companies that do it well are seeing extraordinary results.
Expect these trends to accelerate. The risk of information overload isn't going to decrease. Luckily, though, the tools for dealing with data effectively are going to proliferate, and that should hopefully make the rapidly-multiplying number of customer touchpoints more manageable.
But the most potent antidote to added complexity isn't a technological solution. Instead, it's remembering the real purpose of customer interactions: to offer a truly great customer experience. Keeping that goal in mind can help you in separating the wheat from the chaff. At every juncture, ask if what you're doing matters for your customers. If it does, you're well on your way to where you need to be.