Contact Centers: The Last Line of Defense
Originally published on Forbes.com
78% of consumers permanently change how they feel about a company based on a single interaction with the contact center, according to this Qualtrics study of 2,000+ consumers, 100+ contact center agents and thousands of customer journeys.
Companies have traditionally differentiated from competition with better offerings and services. Today, improvements in manufacturing and delivery processes have reduced inequality in the competitive landscape. Modern companies can no longer rise above the pack based strictly on quality or efficiency.
Providing the best experience has become the hallmark of business success, and a company striving for competitive advantage must differentiate based on the experiences they create and deliver.
Based on an annualized Statista study, there were over 1.9 billion customer calls in 2018 alone. Customer service and contact centers are among the most critical – and costly – areas for delivering a high quality customer experience when customers need it most. For many consumers, a digital-first world means that contact centers can be seen as the last human line of defense before customers might deflect to a competitor. A recent Qualtrics study uncovered that 78% of surveyed consumers indicated that a single contact center interaction permanently changed how they felt about a brand.
The good news is that companies can ensure their contact center experiences exceed expectations – or are even viewed as a differentiator. Organizations like Zappos, Patagonia, and American Express have built programs that elevate their brands and contribute positively to their overall customer experience, including a more positive brand perception.
We also studied the value and impact of the contact center experience for businesses. We researched thousands of customer journeys through the perspectives of over 2,000 consumers and over 100 contact center agents, across thousands of journeys. What emerged was an understanding of how contact center experiences impact companies and customers alike.
The results show how companies can build brand-differentiating contact center experiences that turn an activity many people dread and into a net-positive for the company and customer.
Reframe contact center metrics to drive lasting impact
Without question, contact centers are viewed as overhead and a very expensive service channel. Companies are unwilling to spend more on contact centers than absolutely necessary. As a result, they have developed extensive performance metrics that detail and account for every moment of an agent’s time: average hold time, customer wait time, issue resolution rates.. even how long an agent is on a break. When annual budgets are due, contact center managers regularly face significant pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency by reviewing these metrics, especially during times of economic slowdown.
However, focusing exclusively on contact center costs deprives the company of an opportunity to deliver greater value to the customer and the company alike. Companies need to shift their perspectives by associating upside benefits for their contact center.
There are several metrics proposed in the study, but one way is the adoption and tracking of the preservation and expansion of customer lifetime value (CLV) in addition to existing financial and operational numbers. CLV, which represents the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend with a business, enables contact center leaders to have more accurate conversations with C-level executives, particularly when defending their budgets.
Consider customer preferences and staffing issues when managing frontline employees
Multiple factors influence how customers choose to communicate with companies. For example, people are likely to use email for less time-sensitive journeys or when they want a record of the conversation. Customers use social channels because that’s where they spend most of their time or because a public forum often elicits faster responses. Phone journeys often happen when a digital channel doesn’t exist or has failed – but it’s also used for more complex or sensitive topics. While about 75% of easy customer journeys begin in digital channels, 33% of those end on the phone. Comparatively, 60% of consumers say they prefer a phone call for difficult journeys, bypassing self-serve channels altogether. These are significant volumes that should not be overlooked.
In addition, maintaining proper staffing is a major challenge for contact centers. Contact volume can be affected by many factors: time of day, day of the week, seasonality, website glitches, technical issues, product failures, and even news reports. Staff availability shifts on an equally broad series of variables, including local job market competition, public transit delays, local weather, and characteristics of the workforce such as average age.
Because of these factors, monitoring and balancing customer shifts versus staffing needs often presents a significant challenge. When the call volume forecast or staffing levels are too high, the contact center is perceived as inefficient. When the call volume forecast or staffing levels are too low, average wait times increase, average call abandonment rises, and both customer experience and employee experience decline. By understanding which journeys customers prefer within each channel, contact center leaders can better balance between call volumes and staff, and ultimately improve both experiences.
Leverage the right technology to shift from a reactive to proactive customer experience
Our study revealed over 80% of customers indicated that a contact center agent should call them back to fix an issue if a call ended unsuccessfully. On the other hand, most companies believe that there are simply too many calls for contact centers to close the loop with customers at scale. The good news is that this is actually possible by adopting the right technology platform.
Predictive analytics, a tool built into leading experience management platforms, can unlock the value of closed-loop for companies. This is critical for organizations to understand where and how they can drive systemic changes that have a business impact – not just on an individual customer. This provides companies with options for highlighting key focus areas and delivering personalized value to customers through individual actions, which directly ties to customer retention. On average, customers recovered as part of a closed-loop process are more than twice as loyal when compared to their attitudes before the issue occurred.
Simply put, closed-loop recovery is necessary for companies looking to compete on experiences. Firms can build strong customer-centric programs by investing in predictive analytics to close these experience gaps in the call center process.
For employees, the current state of working in contact centers is often rough. The pressure from companies to deliver efficiency while tracking dozens of high-profile metrics – all combined with an aura of negative consumer sentiment – weigh on one of the most critical avenues of delivering customer experience.
Companies that only see contact centers as a cost in need of optimization will find it difficult to compete in the experience economy. When they shift to viewing contact centers as experience centers, they can positively benefit their overall customer experience that impact business success.
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