The products and services that customers seek from companies – the features, pricing, delivery, and marketing - continue to change. Along with the technologies, like those driven by artificial intelligence (AI), that are used in customer engagement.
But the fundamentals of engaging with customers, like through the contact centers, remain constant. For people are people.
We expect high quality customer service. And agents have the role to provide it, and by and large want to deliver it well, giving them job satisfaction by satisfying customers.
To prosper, companies need to make and maintain connections with customers. Like us. And that means carefully listening to and learning from us in order to gather meaningful, actionable insights.
To obtain insights into this issue, we reached out to contact center operations and technology consultant Laura Sikorski. Here is our virtual conversation.
Q. What are key trends impacting the ability of contact centers to provide and to assure high quality customer service and their drivers?
It is important to review all customer interactions/journeys and define how they impact each of the following - customer service, customer experience, and employee experience - which ultimately is the TOTAL EXPERIENCE with your company. First impressions are lasting impressions!
Many of us use the term workforce optimization and there are many technologies and internal processes out there to assure you are providing high quality customer service.
“Remember, customer complaints are a gift. They enable you to correct issues quickly.” —Laura Sikorski
Here are a few examples.
- Quality management is the infrastructure or foundation on how to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of agent performance. Develop a standards chart with numeric points that will assist quality assurance staff on how to score critical components: quality of work, consistency of work, job knowledge, accuracy, work adaptability, reliability, work effort, and initiative. Also, on attitude toward customer, skill ingenuity, and aptitude.
- Speech analytics and recorded interactions will help you find out how your customers feel about your products and services. You should be able to easily find ways to lessen the number of steps a customer needs to complete an interaction to get the information they need.
- Train and coach using various methods: PowerPoints, classroom, labs, reference libraries, detailed curriculum, role play, manuals/workbooks, monitoring/recording, performance evaluations, KPIs, cross-training, and follow-up training.
- Customer effort should be minimal. This, in my opinion, will increase customer loyalty and revenue. Your agents can help you with this as they are the ones that hear the customer frustrations. Remember, customer complaints are a gift. They enable you to correct issues quickly. Use task forces for this one and have the facilitator be a senior agent.
Q. Are you seeing any changes in customer engagement, including attitudes and expectations?
There are no changes in customer expectations.
A customer has four basic needs:
- To be understood: are they communicating effectively?
- To feel welcome: are they wanted?
- To feel important and respected: ego and self-esteem are powerful human needs.
- To be comfortable: confident you will meet their needs.
To serve customers, technology and live agents must answer questions, solve problems, untangle organizational logjams, fix what’s broken, understand their expectations and what’s needed, soothe the irate, and reassure the timid. And remember HOW YOU ARE PERCEIVED IS HOW YOU ARE RECEIVED!
My advice to companies is to “think like a customer.” Remind your agents they are customers too and have the same expectations and frustrations when they contact a company. Attitude comes into play here. Empathy is critical for agents and customers.
Q. Are you seeing the customer engagements having less or more friction? Please discuss.
In my opinion, customer engagements have more friction because of technology.
Today, customers are technology savvy and companies have empowered them to get what they want, when they want, and on the channel of their choice. I am an advocate of this; however, I feel companies have lost control.
Many have become more reactionary to customer needs by wanting to anticipate their every move rather than keeping the customer journey simple to purchase and/or communicate when they have an issue.
“...most AI conversation topics are not developed appropriately for customer needs and answers. And chat sessions seem to go on forever.”
Yes, you may feel automation such as bot AI and Generative AI may be faster and require less staff; however, I feel we have totally forgotten about human interaction. We are a “touchy/feely” species!
Q. In understanding the customers, what listening/information channels are becoming more effective? Less effective?
Communications, collaboration, and active listening are important factors for your customer’s Total Experience. This applies to all channels: voice, self-service, FAX, text, web, chat, and social media.
Information should be presented in a manner that corresponds with the way your customer wants to receive it. Listen for ideas, not just facts, control emotional reactions, overcome personal prejudgments and distractions, keep an open mind, listen more than you talk, hear the other person out, and don’t interrupt.
I think chat is the least effective channel, especially with AI taking it over. When you were chatting with a live agent your sessions were quick and constructive. If you got a canned response you knew it was the correct answer or link.
Today, most AI conversation topics are not developed appropriately for customer needs and answers. And chat sessions seem to go on forever.
“Innovation should be a part of a company’s culture, start at the top, and involve all departments.”
I do think that chatbot conversation lengths need to be reviewed. The AI should be prompting the customer after their third attempt to get an answer if they would like to speak to a live agent.
I cannot even remember the number of times I have disconnected from a chat. The AI just didn’t understand what I wanted and I do think this is becoming the norm.
Q. Are there customer insights that companies through their contact centers are missing?
I think companies do not concentrate enough on what the customers want or need.
As an example, why is there a huge push for high-cost EV vehicles when there are not enough charging stations or electricity to charge the stations on the highways?
The dependency on contextual interaction is a concern. That companies try so hard to be sure the agent knows all about the customer BEFORE they even say “hello” makes me wonder if the agents really read the information and are trained on how to search, react, and discuss what they see.
Innovation should be a part of a company’s culture, start at the top, and involve all departments. To innovate is to improve by developing new products or services, technologies, processes, and marketing.
I miss proactive personalization: a call, a handwritten note, or even an email that a company appreciates my business and says thank you!
Q. Customers are often cynical about providing feedback either directly through surveys and/or indirectly through conversations. But do companies pay attention to what customers say? In employment engagement and quality? And, most critically, in product and service features, quality, delivery, and pricing.
In my opinion, feedback is the link between attrition and customer satisfaction. In most cases, management often sees these as two separate issues that require individual solutions.
Continuous feedback from your employees and customers must be a priority and should result in reduced turnover and improved customer experience. Your customers may feel the impact of constant turnover through the level of service they receive, which will influence their attitude toward your company.
We all know the following: happy employees mean happy customers!
As for surveys, they are only as good as the questions asked. If you are just ranking with numbers and never ask their reasons for a high or low rating you are just wasting their and your time.
Why not limit the number of survey questions to three or four and be specific? I’ll bet your staff will come up with scores of questions to ask your customers and employees.
For customers, ask them about the product they ordered, its value for cost paid and if you met their delivery expectations.
For employees, ask if your customer software is easy to navigate and if not, why, are systems reliable, do they freeze, and is the response time slow?
Reach out to survey recipients (employee or customer) to thank them for completing the survey and discuss their positive or negative comments.
You may be uncovering new insights. I can honestly say that I have never been contacted about my survey comments. Imagine what companies could learn from me and other customers if they had bothered to reach out!
“Continuous feedback from your employees and customers must be a priority and should result in reduced turnover and improved customer experience.”
Finally, focus groups are back. Bring your customers and staff to headquarters and have them meet your executives, discuss why they are part of this group, and that you value their input. Provide a light breakfast or lunch and ask them questions that will give you specific answers.
Here are a few questions:
- Use of product/service. How frequently do they use your product/service? For what purpose? What companies do they commonly use?
- Attitude about product/service. Describe a “good” service experience? What made it good? Describe a “bad” service experience? What makes it bad? What do participants expect in terms of customer service?
Q. What are your recommendations to ensure excellent, fulfilling customer and employee experiences?
ASK . . . and . . . ASK AGAIN . . . on what your company . . .
Can do to make your employee love their job and want to come to work every day!
Can do to increase customer loyalty and have them tell their friends and family why they should use your products and services!
If you would like to contact Laura, you can reach her at [email protected].