One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to live-agent transactions. Treat customers as individuals, not account numbers.
While consumers increasingly turn to self-service to meet basic needs or to social media to share information, the phone is still the channel of choice for more complex service issues—even among tech-savvy millennials. Surprised? A survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers by personality-based software applications provider Mattersight Corp. found that, although 67% of brands believe that customer service via social media is growing in importance, only 1% of millennials are using Facebook or Twitter for customer service.
“When it matters, human beings want to talk to other human beings—especially when it comes to issues around money or help,” says Mattersight CMO Jason Wesbecher.
Customers tend to establish confidence and trust in companies that can communicate with them as unique individuals and not merely categories or account numbers. Thus, every call presents contact centers with an opportunity to create a memorable experience that engages customers and drives long-term loyalty.
Use Analytics to Refine Call Routing
Offering a personalized phone experience begins by getting callers to the right agent who can resolve their issue on that first contact. Nothing feels more impersonal than being passed around among multiple agents to get to the one who can help.
Skills-based routing is a common approach to offer first-level routing choices to callers (e.g., Press 1 for billing, Press 2 for technical support, etc.) with parameters typically defined by call type, agent function and/or experience level. Analytics-assisted routing further refines caller-to-agent matching by “using the power of big data and contextual information to route the call intelligently,” explains Marilyn Saulnier, director of Global Contact Center Consulting at Interactive Intelligence.
Instead of routing a call to the next available agent based on the customer’s IVR selection, analytics-assisted routing pulls demographic data based on the caller’s ANI (automatic number identification), as well as other available data—transaction history, website activity, open tickets, etc.—to provide context (i.e., possible reasons for the call) and a better match to the agent who has the unique skill sets or expertise to meet the caller’s needs. For instance, let’s say that a customer calls a retailer that sells recreational equipment. Analytics-assisted routing would incorporate demographic information about the caller (name, location, account information, previous purchases), as well as real-time intelligence about what the customer has been looking at on the website prior to making the call—high-end road-racing bicycles, for example.
“That contextual type of information could be used to route the call to someone who is an avid cyclist and knows about the components, performance, gearing—all of the things that are important to a road racer,” Saulnier says.
“The ultimate goal for every company is to provide a good experience for a customer, and to provide it in the most efficient means possible,” she adds. “Analytics-assisted routing has the potential to significantly improve call center performance by routing that interaction to the person who is best qualified handle it, not only efficiently, but by providing a quality customer experience.”
The Right Chemistry Creates a Better Outcome
In addition to matching callers to the agents’ skills and expertise, personality-influenced routing recognizes the caller’s personality type and then pairs that person with the agent who is best-suited to handle his or her specific communication style.
When you have a conversation with an agent with whom you have chemistry, you’re going to get your issue resolved in a more efficient manner, and you’re probably going to walk away a little bit happier, no matter what the initial problem was,” says Mattersight’s Wesbecher. “If you don’t have any chemistry with that agent, you’re most likely going to have a less favorable outcome.”
Here’s how it works: Mattersight’s Predictive Behavioral Routing solution integrates into a center’s existing telephony architecture without any changes to people or processes. When a call arrives, it uses millions of proprietary algorithms to identify the best agent to handle each caller based on the agent’s past performance and personal strengths, and the customer’s personality and other behavioral characteristics.
The agent’s recent call data is cross-referenced with Mattersight’s database, which includes the consumer’s ANI and personality style, Wesbecher explains. “We look at the last 90 days of an agent’s calls to quickly determine a set of patterns—for instance, certain agents may have great outcomes with certain ANIs and less great outcomes with others,” he says. “Those ANIs represent certain personality styles, so it requires no behavioral change or coaching on behalf of the agents. We simply look at the historical performance, understand what the patterns are and then associate a set of strengths and weaknesses for each agent based on personality style. That then serves as the logic for how we route incoming calls.”
Wesbecher says that matching callers with agents who understand their personality typically results in reduced handle time (15% to 20% shorter) and a significant increase in NPS scores. “Promoters increase by 5%, on average, and detractors decrease by 25%,” he says.
Let Customers Select Agents
Another way to pair customers with agents who can provide a more personalized experience is to is allow customers to select the associate with whom they wish to interact. Known as customer-choice routing or social routing, customers who are on a brand’s website or social media channel and wish to connect via chat, phone or email are presented with a menu of agents’ profiles, along with each person’s skills, interests, customer ratings and even wait times to connect. This approach is useful for niche businesses where customers may prefer to speak to an agent who has expertise in a particular product, Saulnier says.
Allowing customers to “meet” and choose the person they prefer to interact with also can be a successful strategy when delivering B-to-B service and support. ANCILE Solutions, a global provider of learning and performance software solutions, took a similar approach that earned the company three Bronze Stevie Awards in 2013 for Innovation in Customer Service, Best Use of Technology in Customer Service, and Relationship Management Solution.
To help accomplish its mission to provide the best possible customer support experience, VP of Customer Success Dave Baca had his entire Global Support Team participate in the Gallup Strength Finders Assessment to discover their top strengths and learn how to apply them. The company then posted a “Meet the Team” page within its support portal to introduce individual team members to customers. The page showed formal professional photos of each team member. Hovering over a photo brought up a more playful photo accompanied by that person’s strengths.
“This allows our customers to get to know more about us as we start building relationships with them,” he said. “The customer can then understand who the team members are, what their strengths are—and it helps us to reduce the support cycle and reduce the time to getting the customer off the phone and on their way.” (See “Proactive Customer Care,” Pipeline, October 2013. http://bit.ly/1l1wbxX)
Share Relevant Data with Agents
Getting customers to the right agents is an important first step. Once customers connect with the call center, they expect agents to know who they are and what they’re calling about, to treat them as unique and to deliver an engaging experience.
It’s important to provide agents with customer information from the CRM system before they even start handling a contact, says Annette Miesbach, product marketing manager at inContact. At a minimum, agents need to know who is contacting them, their previous interactions and insights into the overall customer situation. “This will not only allow agents to personalize interactions, but also has the potential to improve average handle time,” she says. “Just consider how much time each agent in your center spends asking the caller for their identifying information, then pulling up the customer record while possibly juggling multiple different interfaces, windows or screens in the process. Multiply that by the number of agents and contacts handled in your contact center every day—the numbers can be surprisingly high!” (See “Contact Center and CRM Synergies,” Pipeline, April 2015).
In addition to providing relevant customer data, agents need easy access to accurate and current information and resources to resolve the caller’s issue. “Make sure that the knowledge management system is robust and up to date—and that there is a strategy in place to keep it updated as changes take place,” Saulnier says.
On the Call: Provide Guidelines, Training and Support
Ultimately, it’s up to your agents to add the human element that can make or break the customer’s experience. In addition to providing agents with current, relevant information, make sure that they know how to deliver it in a way that is personable and engaging and doesn’t feel robotic to the caller.
Ricoh’s Director of Customer Experience felt that focusing on the emotional connection was the logical next phase for the global technology manufacturer to build on its reputation for delivering top-quality service. An important first step was to emphasize customer satisfaction over handle time in agent training. Rather than using techniques and phrases to get the customer off the phone as soon as their issue was addressed, agents were taught that the customer decides when their issue is resolved and when the call is over. Before getting off the call, agents were instructed to always ask, “Is there anything more we can help you with?”
Agents also received training on how to create a reliable, professional experience over the phone. For instance, agents were coached to avoid using language that was forceful or abrupt. Training also included a component on how to project a professional image. Before defining what the Ricoh experience stood for, customer care leaders found that frontline employees had their own impressions of what a great customer experience was. For instance, some of the more mature service reps had adopted a casual approach in their calls, often calling customers “Honey” or “Sweetie” because they felt that was a warm, friendly expression. “But it doesn’t really portray a professional image,” the director said. “We had told them that we wanted them to provide a great experience, but we found that we needed to explain what that experience is and then give them the tools to provide it.”
At Stream Energy, customer feedback suggested that the call script was hindering the agent’s ability to develop a genuine relationship with customers. While getting rid of call center scripts is a viable way to improve customer and employee satisfaction, it’s not a step to take lightly. Unscripted interactions typically call for a high level of empowerment at the agent level, as well as additional training.
Stream Energy’s contact center leaders felt that a better customer experience would be one in which agents have the freedom (and time) to be personable by asking customers about their day, being empathetic to their concerns and offering different types of payment assistance. To provide agents with the appropriate skills, the Dallas-based power provider revised its call center training program to include empathy and engagement modules from Skillsoft and other training providers. The training acts as “a constant reminder that [agents] need to be engaged on the calls with customers and continue to be empathetic,” says Stream Energy’s quality manager. “It’s a learned behavior, and we just have to make sure that they retain that knowledge and continually use it.”
Noe Vazquez agrees that strict call quality guidelines and scripts can make agents seem robotic and impersonal. “Customers want to speak to a real person, not a machine. If you show them a little personality, the customer feels more comfortable and the conversation will go a lot smoother,” says Vazquez, winner of the ICMI Global Call Center 2013 Award Winner for Best Call Center Agent.
Vazquez’s advice for personalizing interactions: Coach agents to listen for red-flag words, phrases and sounds. Customers will not always come right out and tell you that they have a problem, Vazquez says. However, there are keywords and phrases that can signal agents to an underlying or upcoming issue. For example, if a customer asks about the length of time left on his contract or about cancellation fees, they are likely researching their options.
“Another sign of a frustrated customer is the loud, long sigh after you ask the first question,” Vazquez says. “Every call center agent knows that, when they hear this, the customer is frustrated. This is your cue to listen to what he is going to say, sound confident and take the bull by the horns.”
A Personalized Approach Differentiates Service
Today’s tech-savvy consumers are fully aware that companies have been tracking and collecting their data for years. When they contact a company, there is a basic expectation that the company knows who they are, why they’re calling and that they won’t have to provide their information multiple times.
A generic, one-size-fits-all approach is no longer acceptable. Companies that make use of customer data and insights to personalize interactions will be the ones to stand out in the face of fierce competition.