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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.This is the fourth blog in the series, and it focuses on how to increase efficiency while running a world-class digital contact center. If you’re interested in the rest of this series, check out the first, second, and third blogs.
If you run a contact center, you’re always looking for ways to do more with less. With small budgets and big goals, efficiency is the name of the game. Unfortunately for you, the last two years have only increased the challenge of finding efficient solutions in the digital contact center industry. Work from home agents lead to new management challenges, skyrocketing contract volumes, labor market challenges, and record-setting agent attrition. 62% of contact teams consider labor challenges to be a concern.
All these issues leave contact center managers with a seemingly impossible task: drive operational efficiency without sacrificing customer experience. But the good news here is that maximizing efficiency doesn’t have to come at the cost of increasing attrition or decreasing customer satisfaction. That’s because digital-first contact center solutions offer brands new ways to balance all these competing priorities.
In this blog, I’ll cover five ways in which you can boost your contact center’s efficiency, without sacrificing either customer or agent experience.
Let’s dive in.
Let’s face it: interacting with customers is one of the most expensive and time-consuming things your company does. This doesn’t mean you should discourage customers from contacting you or that you should make your support channels difficult to find — but it does mean that offering customers alternatives to your support channels can be a huge cost saver.
The demand for self-service — which occurs when customers are empowered to solve their own problems using digital resources provided by a brand — has spiked since the beginning of the pandemic, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, 82% of consumers are more comfortable with self-service now than they were before the pandemic. Between working from home, home-schooling kids, and dealing with all the rest of the craziness that the pandemic threw our way, people simply don’t have the patience, time, or desire to wait on hold to speak to an agent.
But self-service isn’t just a cost-saver; it’s a necessity to remain competitive. Did you know that 90% of customers evaluate brands based on their digital service offerings? And among the most important of criteria they judge you on are ease-of-access, ease-of-use, and ability to resolve an entire issue. This means that your brand can’t afford not to offer a top-notch self-service option.
Since self-service is no longer optional, you’re probably wondering: what’s the best way to offer it to your customers? Well, the classics are always available. Providing IVR (interactive voice response) when customers call in is a tried-and-true way to reduce the burden on your contact center while helping customers solve their own problems. Adding an FAQ page to your website is also a great (and low-cost!) option to help customers help themselves.
But as digital contact center solutions improve, so do self-service options. The brands that set today’s best examples in self-service offer their customers the option to use online communities — places where many customers can go to share advice and answer questions for one another.
Communities offer customers 24/7/365 access to information and peers without the need for expensive agent interactions. Customers will be happy that they can easily access accurate answers without needing to contact you. And you’ll be happy because you’ve reduced your contact center traffic. Another bonus of a community is that it also boosts customer loyalty. A recent study showed that 56% of consumers say they would revisit a company website — instead of going to a search engine — if that website provided them direct answers to their questions. If your community site delivers the quickest path to answers, your customers will go there first, rather than turning to a Google search where your competition might be running ads to lure them away.
Okay, not literally. Don’t hang up mid-call, as that would (rightly) upset your customers.
However, as you already know, voice is the most expensive channel of all. Picking up the phone is inefficient for you, stressful for your agents, and frustrating for your customers.
If you’re a key contact center stakeholder, efficiency is king, and voice just isn’t efficient. A big part of the issue here is that when agents are on the phone, they can only handle one customer at a time. On other channels, such as web chat or social media messaging, agents can handle multiple concurrent interactions, alternating between them while they wait for customers to respond. Another reason voice is so expensive is that brands have to pay for toll-free calls, and those costs rack up while customers sit on hold. Finally, unlike many digital channels, voice doesn’t offer a full conversation history for customers to refer back to like a text message does. Even if customers take notes during calls, there’s a higher chance that they’ll need to call back to confirm information or next steps.
Gartner estimates the average cost of a voice interaction at around $8. In the same study, they found that self-service costs about $0.10, while SMS costs about $0.37 and web chat costs about $2.50. Over thousands or even millions of interactions, those numbers really add up.
Agent attrition is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s contact centers, and one of the top complaints of agents is high stress levels — especially over the past two years with higher interaction volumes and lower levels of civility. One of the most stressful channels to serve customers on is voice.
With digital channels, agents can handle multiple interactions simultaneously, perhaps taking a break from a more stressful conversation to deal with a simpler one. Digital channels are also more easily integrated with AI and automation, easing agents’ workload and improving their performance. These benefits make it easier for agents to clear queues and maintain SLAs on digital channels. But perhaps most importantly, being on the receiving end of phone calls from irate or frustrated customers is emotionally draining. Imagine eight hours a day of getting yelled at for something that’s really not your fault — it takes a toll.
When your customers can’t find what they need through self-service, they’re bound to contact you. But they don’t want to take time out of their day to sit on hold waiting for an agent to answer the phone. Especially among younger demographics, they’d much rather use the channels they’re already familiar with: SMS text, social media, or other digital channels. The beauty of these channels is that they are asynchronous — agents and customers don’t have to be active at the same time in order to solve the problem. This leaves the customer free to send a message then continue with their day, knowing that they can return to the conversation again whenever it’s convenient for them.
Use of non-voice channels has exploded in the last two years; 87% of customers have increased their digital usage as a result of the pandemic. To be clear, you should never get rid of the phone as a way for customers to contact you. It’s an important option for really complex interactions, for sensitive issues that need a personal touch, or for those customers who just prefer to speak to a live person. But it’s really important to promote the digital channels you offer — like social media, SMS, web chat, and others — so customers can easily find and use them instead of calling. Picking up the phone should be a customer’s last resort, not their first choice.
Now it’s time to think about your agents. We’ve already talked about how digital channels are better for agents, but there’s still more you can do for them. Customer service technology has advanced a lot in recent years, and it’s making agents’ lives easier than ever before. Let’s focus on three areas of improvement: a single agent desktop, AI, and knowledge base systems. When these three systems work together, they create a streamlined, efficient, and low-stress workflow for the modern customer service agent.
One of the most stressful parts of being a customer service agent is dealing with incoming volume on multiple channels. When agents have to go to Instagram to handle a question submitted through a direct message, then jump over to another application to handle an incoming web chat, then check a CRM system for the customer information, it’s not only inconvenient and inefficient for the agent, it increases average handle time (AHT) and can lead to longer wait times.
But with a digital-first contact center solution, brands can completely eliminate this issue with a consolidated agent desktop. Interactions from every channel come into a single screen, allowing agents to prioritize channels and respond without ever leaving the window. The customer profile information and interaction history automatically pops up on the agent’s desktop, eliminating the need for them to go to another screen to manually look it up. Putting everything they need to handle any interaction in one place cuts down on agent stress, minimizing the chances of human error and keeping workflows organized.
Interacting with customers on digital channels is great, for all the reasons mentioned above. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely stress-free; agents still need to provide quick and accurate, often while interacting with multiple customers at once.
This is where bots can help. Instead of allowing agents to figure out what to say on their own, bots use artificial intelligence to provide suggested responses. This guidance ensures consistency and eliminates the need to manually type out responses. This helps reduce agent stress, improve time to proficiency and average handle time, and deliver a more consistent customer experience.
Bots can also completely automate basic tasks, allowing agents to focus on higher-value interactions. Customer-facing bots can collect customer information at the beginning of a chat, before handing off the interaction — and all that collected information — to an agent. Collecting this data upfront saves agent time, helps route the interaction to the best agent, and makes the customer feel that they are getting immediate service.
Bots can even fully handle routine interactions, such as order status updates or password resets. Automating these interactions gives customers 24/7 access to assistance, alleviates the agent workload, and allows agents to handle higher-value interactions.
While most agent-customer interactions are relatively simple and routine, agents also have to deal with customers who have complex or very uncommon issues. In these cases, agents often have to search frantically for information that they don’t know off the tops of their heads. This is where knowledge bases come in. Knowledge bases can take many forms, including databases and online communities, but what they all share in common is that they have the information that agents are searching for.
With a digital-first contact center solution, agents can use advanced AI to automatically curate information from knowledge bases and have it at their fingertips exactly when they need it — no frantic searching required. This reduces not only agent stress, but also average handle time. The faster an agent can help a customer, the faster a customer is served, the faster they can go on to help the next customer. And the less time it takes to resolve an issue, the lower your per-interaction costs.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about contact centers in the COVID age, it’s that unexpected events and crises can send traffic through the roof. These huge traffic spikes overload contact centers, causing agent stress, missed SLAs, and inconsistent KPIs. The bad news here is that there’s no way to avoid these situations. They’re rarely within company control, and they’re going to happen sooner or later no matter how smart you are. Even worse, non-digital channels are unlikely to provide much help in these situations. Sending out automated phone calls, updating IVR messages, and updating websites can take a lot of time, effort, and money — and by the time you get it done, the crisis could be over.
The good news, however, is that your team can use digital interaction channels to avoid being inundated with customer questions when a crisis inevitably occurs. The easiest way to do this is through proactive communication. Anticipate which questions customers are most likely to ask, and answer them through mass communication via text, email, social media, your website, and other channels. Make sure your communication is apologetic, specific, and useful. Anticipate their questions and concerns and answer as many as you can. Give specific guidance on any actions they should take — for example, if there’s a security breach, make sure to tell customers to change their passwords.
Proactive communications can be used in any industry. For example, a cable or utilities company could use proactive texts or emails to notify customers of a planned service outage. Retailers could use automated messaging to inform customers of an issue with their check-out processes. Healthcare or insurance could proactively send out reminders for enrollment deadlines. Sending customers reminders or advance notices can help prevent slews of complaint calls, overwhelmed agents, social media backlashes, and more. Proactive communications show that you care enough about your customers to keep them informed and ease their stress. Best of all, a digital contact center lets you do this effectively and effIciently.
Your digital channels provide a wealth of data that your company can use to improve its customer experience. A digital contact center records every piece of information about every interaction: transcript, phone number, device used, even customer sentiment. All that data can be analyzed to find ways to improve contact center performance — best practices to repeat, processes to automate, customer friction points to address, and much more. The best part is that this process doesn’t have to be manual. You can use an omnichannel analytics solution to ingest data, search for trends you’d never have caught manually, and offer specific suggestions to improve performance.
NTT finds that top-rated channels can “extract multiple data points that can provide insight into customer journeys and opportunities for CX improvement.” This means faster, more efficient, and more effective customer interactions.
But the value of your customer interaction data goes beyond the walls of the contact center as well. Analytics software can also identify opportunities for new products or services by flagging trending words or phrases. Or, if there’s a particular issue with a certain part of the customer journey, such as checkout or shipping, the software can find it before your team even knows it’s there. If multiple customers call to complain about a missing part, the analytics program might indicate that you need to contact your warehouse to investigate the issue.
Of course, these are just a few examples of the nearly infinite applications of digging into contact center data. Your brand can find unique ways to use this data to improve nearly every business operation. The important thing to remember is that you’ll need a solution that can aggregate all your data across all channels and customer data systems, analyze it holistically, and pinpoint problem areas. This will allow you to take action in your contact center and beyond, to improve customer experience — and ultimately the bottom line.
With these five strategies, you can streamline your contact center into an efficient operation that produces a world-class experience for customers and agents alike. What do these strategies have in common? Each relies on industry-leading software. With a digital-first contact center solution, you’ll be able to connect faster and easier with customers and prospects on the channel of their choice, and improve your overall customer experience, which in turn will drive brand loyalty.
At Khoros, our Digital Contact Center Solution integrates with our Community, Social Media Management and CX Insights offerings to help you reduce your reliance on voice, empower your agents, serve customers on any channel, and take data-driven actions to improve your operations.
To learn more about how to better serve your customers in every interaction, check out our Digital Channel Guide.