Digital-first, omnichannel platform built for enterprises
In this blog series, Khoros Associate Director of Product Marketing Lisa Hotchkiss discusses why a digital-first approach is critical to the success of your contact center and your business. The first blog in the series focused on defining the digital contact center. This blog focuses on how to use a digital contact center to deliver a better customer experience.
As you learned in the previous blog in this series, there’s a reason we’re calling it the digital contact center, and not just the contact center. That’s because today’s best contact centers don’t just operate on legacy channels like voice; they offer customers a wide variety of channels. This gives customers the convenience of talking to brands the same way they talk to their friends and family: on the channel of their choice.
Consumers’ demand for digital contact channels is growing rapidly, and demand for voice is shrinking just as quickly — especially among younger demographics. This trend has been coming for years, but the pandemic accelerated it significantly; more than 87% of consumers say they’ve increased their digital usage since COVID-19. Even consumers who had previously avoided digital channels quickly saw the benefits of simply touching a screen to connect with a company, as opposed to waiting on hold for a representative to pick up.
So what does all this mean for your business? You have to offer your customers digital service on the channels they’re already using. Competition is stiff in this area, and customers really notice. Recent studies show that 90% of customers say they evaluate brands based on the quality of their digital offerings, and 58% expect companies to unify their digital resources to better respond to future crises. If you’re not meeting those expectations, your customers are going to find a brand that will.
As the old adage goes, the customer is always right. They know what they want, and if you don’t provide it, they’ll take their business — and their money — elsewhere. They want to connect with you when, where and how they want. They want convenience. And they want fast, helpful service on the channel of their choice. Only a digital-first contact center can help you meet all of these needs. How? Glad you asked.
Customers are harder to please than ever, and that’s because they have lots of choices. The key to keeping them happy is to anticipate their needs and offer them what they didn’t know they wanted. Here are five of the most important things a digital contact center empowers you to do that will improve your customer experience and boost your CSAT.
It’s no secret that if you’re running a contact center, you don’t really want to talk to your customers. Every interaction costs precious time and money. Reducing the number of interactions you have to handle or shortening the time it takes to handle them benefits your business. Customers and agents will benefit as well — high interaction volumes and long handle times create longer hold times, frustrating customers and making it harder for agents to maintain SLAs.
The part that might surprise you is that your customers really don’t want to talk to you either. They live busy, stressful lives and have neither the time nor the patience to wait on hold for slow-to-respond customer service representatives. They’d rather use the fastest path to resolution: figuring it out themselves.
In other words, when your customers solve their own problems instead of contacting you for a solution, it’s a win-win. This is exactly why self-service — giving customers the resources they need to solve their own problems — is taking off in almost every industry. In fact, a recent CCW report showed that 82% of consumers are more comfortable with self-service now than they were before the pandemic. This huge behavioral shift proves that now is the time for you to evolve your self-service strategy beyond traditional IVR solutions that have been around for years.
You have a few ways to offer better self-service options to your customers. The most powerful option is to build an online brand community — a place where customers can share information, engage with one another, and find answers to their questions, without agents having to get involved. For simpler requests like checking order statuses, resetting passwords, or viewing account balances, chatbots can often resolve issues even faster and more securely than agents. Brands can also allow their customers to access the company's knowledge management system for easy access to FAQs or resolutions to known issues. Of course, these solutions are not mutually exclusive, and the best way to offer agile, convenient self-service is to invest in a combination of options.
Put yourself in a consumer’s shoes for a minute (it shouldn’t be too hard). You’re almost always surrounded by digital communication channels: SMS, web chat, social media, even email. These channels are easy to use, accessible 24/7 (whether it’s on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or something else), and, for the most part, asynchronous — you don’t have to be on them at the same time as the person you’re talking to. You can find any information, product, or service you need directly from your device. No matter your age, race, gender, or anything else, odds are you’re already using one or more of these channels daily, maybe even hourly.
Now imagine you’re looking for help from one of your favorite brands. Where do you go for help? (Hint: it’s not the phonebook.) You go to their website or app, or you Google their name. If that brand offers you nothing but a phone number, you have to stop streaming your favorite show or hold off figuring out today’s Wordle and actually call them. Ugh.
Okay, enough being a consumer; you can put your digital contact center hat back on. The point of that exercise is to recognize that your customers are already on digital channels — text, web chat, social media, and more — and that they usually prefer those channels to picking up the phone. If they’re searching for you online, give them the option to message you using Google Business Messages instead of calling. Connecting with you shouldn’t take searching for your phone number, dialing, and waiting for an agent for a customer to contact your brand. It should only take one click, directly within the channel your customers are already using.
The bottom line here is that regardless of how much phone volume your contact center gets, you simply can’t afford to have a phone-first mindset. It has to be digital-first, with the phone as a last resort
Sounds difficult, right? With a digital contact center solution, it’s easy. This solution is designed to quickly and easily support the endless stream of new third-party messaging channels — even ones that have been around for years but are always adding new capabilities. It can also help you handle as many interactions as possible with a “single pane of glass” design, which allows agents to manage incoming messages on multiple channels — and access the full customer history — all in the same window. This creates a seamless experience not just for agents, but for customers, who can freely move from channel to channel without having to start a new interaction or repeat themselves.
I’d love to be able to tell you that investing in great self-service options completely eliminates the need for contact center agents. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and it’s not going to be the case any time soon. Some customers won’t be able to solve their problem on their own. They might have a unique issue, or maybe they just want to talk to someone who knows the products because they’re not sure which one they need (although some chatbots can help with this as well). Some customers, as much as it pains me to say it, simply won’t want self-service.
As I said above, the best way to serve these customers is to give them digital communication options. But while these channels outstrip voice in terms of efficiency, convenience, and just about everything else, they come with challenges of their own. The hard part here is figuring out how to manage interactions quickly and efficiently — keeping your customers happy while also keeping your costs low.
Chatbots are a good option to start (they’re not just for self-service!). Chatbots can operate seamlessly on almost any digital channel, and they can save agents precious time by greeting customers and gathering basic information like names and account numbers. Chatbots can also determine a customer’s reason for calling and use that information to route the inquiry to the right agent. This can save agents the trouble of responding to an inquiry, realizing they can’t help, and then having to transfer the inquiry to someone else. It also often saves customers the trouble of repeating themselves to multiple agents.
Even though people know they are interacting with a bot, they feel they’re making progress with their issue because something is happening — they’re not wasting time on hold listening to muzak.
Digital contact center solutions also allow you to prioritize interactions and allows agents to manage queues from multiple channels, all in the same window. This assures that inquiries don’t fall through the cracks. It also helps agents prioritize the most urgent conversations, rather than having them all in a giant queue.
Using chatbots and prioritizing interactions leads to faster average handle times (AHTs) and happier customers, and that leads to a lower cost-per-interaction and better overall KPIs for your contact center.
Calling a brand and being put on hold is an extremely frustrating customer experience — even if you love jamming out to muzak.
But putting callers on hold isn’t just an annoying waste of time for them; it’s also by far the most expensive channel for your contact center. A big part of the problem is that voice is a synchronous channel — in other words, a channel where the agent and customer have to be interacting with one another at the same time. This sort of active, real-time interaction means that agents can only handle one inquiry at a time. Combine this with toll-free charges and costly equipment, and it’s no wonder why voice is so expensive to support.
Although voice is still a required channel for many contact centers, your business, customers, and agents will all be better off if you decrease your reliance on it. The best contact centers focus on asynchronous channels like messaging, SMS, chat, and email. On these channels, customers don’t necessarily expect an immediate response, nor do they have to give the interaction their undivided attention. It’s easy for customers to send a text, move on to doing something else, then come back when a brand responds — the same way they do it with their friends and family. Here, whether the customer comes back to the conversation in two minutes, two hours, or two days, there’s no need for them to start over or repeat themselves.
Asynchronous channels are just as convenient for agents, who can use these advantages to manage several inquiries at the same time. This decreases wait times and boosts efficiency for the contact center, while still keeping customers happy.
Prioritizing asynchronous communication isn’t as difficult as you might think — it’s all about giving customers the right entry points. For example, when a customer Googles your brand’s customer service number, you can offer them the option to use Google’s Business Messages instead of calling. The customer gets a one-click, immediate connection to your contact center, and you just avoided a costly phone call.
Even when customers do call, you can have your recorded message or IVR system offer to send them a text message instead. When they’re on your website, you can offer them a chat bubble instead of a phone number (although you shouldn’t hide your phone number, either).
In addition to giving your customers faster service and a more convenient experience, these strategies can also help you reduce the number of agents your contact center needs to support your customers.
Deflecting inquiry volume with self-service and prioritizing asynchronous channels aren’t the only ways to optimize customer experience in your digital contact center. There’s also what comes afterwards — the data and feedback that every single customer interaction generates. Omnichannel analytics solutions can augment your digital contact center by offering insights drawn from interactions.
You can use these insights to deliver more of what your customers want. For example, you can see which type of device customers use to get in touch; this might highlight a need to add Apple Business Messaging or Google’s Business Messages. Or maybe you discover that you get more inquiries through Instagram than you expected, which highlights that you should increase advertising on that platform. You can also use natural language understanding (NLU) to track sentiment during conversations, even on the phone. Did customers start out upset? Were agents able to calm them down? What worked well? What didn’t?
Insights gained from these interactions don’t stop in the contact center; customer feedback applies to nearly every aspect of your business. For example, if your data analysis reveals that lots of customers are complaining about a missing part, it might indicate an issue on the manufacturing or product side. Or maybe customers are talking about switching to a competitor; your analytics solution can help you flag that early so you can quickly develop a customer retention offer. The magic of the analytics solution is that it can help you catch these issues early so you can adjust quickly to avoid upsetting or even losing customers.
What does a digital-first mindset look like in the contact center? It starts with call deflection through self-service, then prioritizes asynchronous channels, and reserves phone calls for special cases or as a last resort. This structure will increase efficiency, agent happiness, and customer satisfaction and loyalty compared to a traditional voice-first contact center model.
Don’t know where to start your digital transformation? Khoros is here to help you make the transition. Our best-in-class digital contact center solution is part of a comprehensive customer engagement platform that also includes community, social media management, customer experience analytics, and global team of experts. With this industry leading suite, your agents will be ready to effectively serve customers on any channel, all from the same screen.