Show me the numbers! Those are words every contact center manager lives by. The challenge of effective customer communication has never been more difficult—or critical. But even in the best of times, it’s all about optimization.
Usually this means having the right people in the right seat at the right time. Moreover, while that basic principle has not changed, consumer expectations and communication technologies have. We are always looking for ways to communicate more effectively with fewer resources, but we also have customer satisfaction metrics to meet and a burning desire to delight our customers with our services.
It’s incredibly tough to strike the right balance between optimizing your contact center for efficiency and delivering a highly positive customer experience, especially when the unexpected hits.
Imagine you are the manager of five contact centers on a Monday morning. You have just arrived at your office when your first text message shows up: “Fifteen agents out in Toronto, at least two have the flu.”
Immediately you are understaffed. You sigh and start walking into your office when a second text arrives: “Dominican having network issues – only 23 of 67 can log in. ETA repair unknown.”
Then another issue hits – your supervisor tells you the marketing department launched a new billing insert without telling the operations team. The insert has errors in it, and customers are already calling for clarification.
Then you are informed that a parts backorder will affect thousands of customers, who will – no doubt – be calling for updates.
Under these circumstances, how can you possibly meet your various efficiency metrics and provide a valuable, differentiated customer experience?
Think of your contact center as a companywide communications hub. Your customer sees no distinction between customer service and marketing. If messages are not coordinated, it is irritating and can damage your brand. For example, what impression does it leave if a customer is talking with an agent about problems they are having with a recently purchased product and then receives a cross-sell offer for a related product?
There are ways to arm your agents with information they need to handle multiple situations on the same call. This eliminates unnecessary communications, saves money and preserves your customer relationships.
Turn your contact center into a powerful set of eyes and ears. Your contact center captures intelligence that can and should be used by every part of the organization. At no other time does the customer share as much information as during a customer service call.
In addition to getting valuable data on their overall customer experience, you can glean specific insights into when, how and what to communicate to generate the desired response from each individual, as long as you have the right technology in place to capture the information.
Make sure you share and use this data appropriately. You want to avoid over-communicating and always consider each customer’s explicit and implicit preferences. In this era of ever-increasing customer expectations, personalization is the key.
Embrace the shift toward customer-centric metrics. The days of the contact center only focusing on operational metrics are over. Your contact center is your company’s front line for generating revenue and goodwill among your customer base. However, if you do not put strong customer-centric metrics in place to measure how well you are doing, you’re leaving your company’s reputation to chance.
Use proactive communications to shape inbound call volume. Waiting for customers to call you adds uncertainty to your operation and puts you in a reactive mode. Remember our Monday scenario? Two of the four crises could have been managed through proactive communications.
By notifying affected customers of the parts backorder and the billing insert errors, you could deflect a massive amount of inbound calls, and be on better footing to deal with the other two crises.
Consumers respond well to automated communications. A 2009 Harris Interactive survey showed that a whopping 96 percent of survey respondents said they would welcome an automated phone call or message to confirm their doctor appointment, notify them a package is ready for pick up, or even remind them to pay their credit card bill. The added bonus? Freeing up your agents to work on more complex issues that truly require human intervention.
Give your customers control. Increasingly, customers prefer self-service to other forms of interaction. And that’s a good thing. Self-serve options not only provide more convenience to your customers, but they also reduce costs for you. For example, automated payments cost less and are faster to process than manual payments over the phone with an agent. In addition, some IVR systems can reduce hold times by allowing customers to choose a call back at a later time.
Self-service is just one aspect of customer control. If you enable your customers to select how and when you communicate with them, you will get a better response. Allow them to choose communication windows and channels. While some consumers will answer any call on their mobile phones, others will not pick up unless they know who it is. Consider sending a text message to alert them you’ll be calling in two minutes.
Contact center optimization and customer experience goals need not be at odds with each other. Virtually everyone wants to do both really well. A customer service executive, who manages thousands of agents worldwide, said it best to me the other day. She said, “We love our customers. We really do. We just don’t want to speak to them.”
By thinking strategically about the contact center’s role, adopting customer-focused metrics and making use of appropriate technology, you can strike the right balance.
This article can also be read at the Call Centre Focus website at: http://bit.ly/e3zjIV.