By Cecilia Jofré, executive of Intuate Group

JOHANNESBURG – September 2, 2015 – In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive markets, attracting new customers while retaining existing ones requires a fresh approach from companies. It has become clear that in the Web-enabled world, customers expect a positive experience and outcome every time they contact a company. The discipline of customer experience management (CEM) helps organisations respond to this challenge by allowing them to change the way they handle customer interactions as they happen.

Multichannel multitasking

Any customer service initiative needs to recognise that consumers are changing the way they communicate. Pushed by time constraints and pulled by the convenience of new technology options, they increasingly use the Web, instant messaging (IM), SMS messaging, e-mail, smartphones and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The challenge for companies is to implement customer access through all these channels in a coordinated way, to create a customer-focused multi-channel service operation that will deliver a consistent, and unfailingly positive customer experience, whichever channel or mix of channels is used. Companies need to offer these channels to customers or risk losing them to companies that do.

Six steps to improve customer interaction-handling

Focusing more on the customer and expanding the channels of consistent, positive interactions form the foundation of CEM. Intuate Group partner company, numero, recently commissioned a benchmark research paper on CEM. The report evaluated the level of maturity of organisations in their application and use of their people, processes, information and technology for handling customer interactions. Based on the findings, the company devised six concrete steps that should lead an organisation towards more satisfied customers and improved business outcomes.

1.     Route calls to the right agent

The research showed that mature companies recognise the effects agents have on the customer’s experience; these participants cited agents’ attitudes and abilities to understand customer issues as the two factors most likely to influence the customer experience. These companies deploy a call-routing application that is linked to both customer and agent skills databases so that calls are directed to the agent, or other employee, best equipped to handle the call as effectively as possible.

2.     Improve Web-based self-service

Mature companies pay more attention to their websites than others do. Unlike the majority of companies which focus on basics such as “look and feel” and navigation of their sites, they work to make their sites more intuitive to use. They replace old-style FAQ’s and search facilities with scripts based on natural language that more closely resemble real conversations a customer would have with an agent. They ensure that questions and answers are personalised depending on the profile of the customer and the direction the interaction takes. They do this through systems that automatically search across different data sources to retrieve customer data and present options based on the results. And, perhaps most importantly, they let the customer interact online through functionalities such as online accounts and the ability to chat online with agents.

3.     Increase support at the desktop for all who handle interactions

Mature companies have made the computer desktop system used by agents to resolve customer interactions easier to use and “smarter.” In most contact centres, the agent’s desktop is a complex environment that requires access to and navigation between multiple applications to complete even simple transactions, such as taking an order. Innovative companies however are building desktop systems that follow the flow of interactions and remove the need for agents to switch applications by hiding them behind a single user interface. The most mature companies go one step further and deploy a smart desktop that uses preconfigured rules to automatically retrieve relevant customer data from predefined sources, presenting the agent with the best possible results for the customer and recommending the next actions they should take to arrive at the most positive business outcome.

4.     Refine your multichannel customer service strategy

As noted above, enabling customers to interact with the company through the channel of their choice involves more than just implementing the technology to handle different channels; it is important to have an operation that provides consistent information and experiences across all channels. The most developed companies have an integrated strategy that uses customer profile information to decide which channel to use for a certain interaction and uses the same information to personalise each interaction as it occurs.

5.     Improve responses to e-mail

A simple automated response saying the company has received a customer’s e-mail message and will respond in a given period is no longer enough. E-mail has become a popular form of communication for seeking information, responding to requests and placing orders. Customers therefore expect a timely response that reflects their personal circumstances. More mature companies craft such responses by automatically analysing the content of e-mail messages, categorising them by message type and at least partially creating a response based on the type and the customer’s profile. This can be sent directly to the customers or forwarded to an employee who completes or approves the content before it is sent.

6.     Utilise social media as a customer support channel

The natural successor to e-mail for many customer segments is social media, including favourites such as Facebook and Twitter. Leaders in the field of customer service are embracing the platform and making it an integral part of their multi-channel strategy. Some pioneering organisations even provide the ability for consumers to access personalised FAQs and account information directly from Facebook walls and to enter into customer service and sales dialogue via Twitter. With social media use forecasted to grow further with the rise of smartphones, mobile applications are set to become channel of choice for consumers, requiring organisation to embrace this channel also.

Business benefits of improved interaction-handling

Companies that adopt the six steps described above can expect to see corresponding business benefits:

  1. Routing calls to the most-qualified agents has two benefits. First, it utilises agents to their best effect, which can motivate them and reduce attrition in the workforce. And secondly, it also can increase customer satisfaction because callers get to interact with a competent person who knows their circumstances and can suggest the right remedy.
  2. Making the website more intuitive can increase customer satisfaction and the percentage of visitors who complete purchases online; it also can reduce the number of visitors to the site who end up calling the contact centre.
  3. Providing better support for the agent at the desktop has multiple benefits, including decreasing average call-handling times because the agent doesn’t have to navigate through multiple systems to complete an interaction. Ease of use reduces the time it takes to train an agent and can even lower attrition because agents will find their job more fulfilling. It also can increase CSAT’s (Customer Satisfaction) and CES’s (Customer Effort Scores) as the agent concentrates fully on the caller and the system personalises the responses, which can improve up-selling opportunities by prompting the agent with offers and next best actions. As a result, developed companies see increased customer satisfaction scores and net promoter scores (NPS), lower agent costs, reduced call times, increased sales, increased first-call resolution rates and fewer call-backs.
  4. Companies have to create a multi-channel customer service strategy just to keep up with customer expectations, but if executed correctly it can reduce the cost of handling customer interactions without lowering customer satisfaction by routing customers to their preferred channel for interactions.
  5. Automating and personalising the handling of e-mail has the dual benefit of reducing costs for responding to e-mails and increasing customer satisfaction because responses will arrive faster and be more personal.

The will to change

Making changes to improve the customer’s experience requires a will to change. Like any other performance improvement initiative, it should not be undertaken without the information that can help people decide what to do or the systems to provide the information and monitor progress. At the outset, we advise companies to put in place a consistent source of customer data that is drawn from all relevant systems and integrated and use an analytics application to identify what needs to be changed and the impact of those changes on KPIs. Doing all this will allow your organisation to mature the management of the customer experience, influence customers’ behaviour at the point of contact, and in doing so produce your desired business outcomes.

 About Intuate Group

Intuate Group is a privately owned, broad based IT company that focuses on providing professional, integrated technology and people resources solutions. Its services encompass the provision of state-of-the-art contact centre solutions using Noble Technology, the supply and implementation of best-of-breed IT solutions, as well as IT strategy and consulting. The company is also a partner of choice for business intelligence, project management, the management and support of IT infrastructure – specifically storage and server consolidation – and the provision of resources.

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