Brands have never been more accessible to their customers than they are today.
Whether it’s through a voice call, chatbot, or WhatsApp, or via a company’s mobile app, website, or good old-fashioned email – there’s never been as many options for customers to interact with a brand.
But after what can only be described as an explosion in communications channels in recent years, how do brands keep on top of those interactions, coming at them via any channel (or several), at any given time?
And what’s more, how can they maintain the provision of consistent, memorable, and end-to-end customer experiences (CXs) in the face of such a tsunami of communication?
Each interaction has the potential to be either detrimental or beneficial to a customer’s experience of that brand.
One wrong move in one channel or a disconnected, clunky journey from one to another can leave a lasting impression that’s difficult to pull back. At the same time, an excellent experience can help to drive in new customers, for example through that customer’s positive social media posts.
So, with millions of interactions coming their way each and every day, it’s no wonder brands are desperate to get a handle on them.
Right Here, Right Now – What Customers Want When Contacting Brands
Customers want answers from brands right away – no matter the questions they have, the issues they’re experiencing, or the channels they’ve decided to use to get in touch.
If a quick resolution isn’t possible, then a seamless, smooth experience should be delivered until they get it.
This is where it becomes challenging for brands due to the sheer number of interaction avenues available to the customer today.
If a customer is conversing via a chatbot, switches to email, then a mobile app - but then decides to phone the contact center anyway, and sometimes over a matter of days – brands need to ensure they’re providing them with the same cross-channel experience.
The customer’s desire to achieve first contact resolution will never change. But what brands need to do is ensure that no matter the customer’s channel of choice, their experience remains positive and consistent.
Today’s Channels of Choice Are...
In a study conducted by Twilio, the number of digital touchpoints with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, on average, rose by 63% globally.
Twilio’s research was backed up by our own CX Realities research at Sabio, carried out in 2021. Within that, we found that interactions via WhatsApp, text, and email rose by 600%, 400%, and 400% respectively.
Telephony will always remain important, but those stats emphasize the need for brands to be able to support customers across every single channel equally – with a digital channel becoming first port of call.
The Interaction Battleground...
At the heart of all of this is the contact center itself - which is growing in importance for today’s brands.
Arguably accelerated by the pandemic, the global contact center landscape has been evolving rapidly in the last few years.
Indeed, accumulative investment this year will close at nearly $200 billion ($192 billion to be exact). Compare that figure to the $141 billion in 2019 and you can clearly see the importance that brands are placing on their contact center infrastructures and technologies in the battle to be a leader in CX and to now get a grip on customer interaction levels.
Contact center agents and management are playing increasingly critical roles in helping companies meet the constantly evolving needs and expectations of their customers no matter the channel.
To assist them, tools that have traditionally been used in the contact centers include the likes of workforce optimization (WFO) and reporting and analytics technologies and solutions. But now, used in isolation, these applications simply are not up to the job anymore.
Brands then need to be looking to introduce levels of automation to try and reduce the load on their agents, and at the same time use the technologies to assist people during the more complicated interactions that will emerge instead.
Automation, Home Working, and “3 A’s”
Thanks to the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies, lots of (and arguably simpler) transactions are now being automated and taken care of by bots.
What this has meant is that the types of interactions landing at the feet of the human agents are now more complicated, in-depth, and emotional - and ultimately more difficult to solve. When those types of interactions come from all channels, you can see how they can quickly become overwhelming.
The influx of new contact channels and subsequent interactions would have been a challenging enough situation in a physical contact center, surrounded by colleagues in close proximity.
But with the pandemic forcing agents into home working, the issue and workload has intensified to overwhelming levels with management struggling to stay in control.
Those agents that were based on-site, where they could work together and share ideas, get up to speed quicker when being onboarded, and where they could rub shoulders with colleagues and listen to what they say, are now home alone. In their bedrooms, studies, and front and dining rooms. In isolation, these agents are now not only dealing with just voice, but instead with various other channels including email, web, chat, SMS, and social media.
And – in addition to rising interaction levels – contact center management now have the problem of having adequate staff numbers to manage them thanks to the problem of the “three As” ...
- Attraction. There are certainly enhanced difficulties for brands when looking to hire within the contact center. We’ve spoken with a number of customers recently who are all saying the same thing. Indeed, one such customer revealed – quite alarmingly – that they had recently been looking to add 50 agents to a group within one of their centers, but after three months had managed to hire just two people. So, there’s a big problem; not only in attracting the right number of people into the contact center but the right caliber of person as well.
- Attrition. Once you’ve got the right people and the right numbers though, you then have the problem of hanging on to them. Attrition levels across the industry as a whole are hovering between 20%-25% for contact center-based staff and in some countries, this has risen to around 50%. Combined with the difficulty in hiring and the talent market being ultra-competitive – this is a real problem.
- Absence. Finally, laying absence rates on top of the previous two problems means the three As become critical.
Obviously, COVID-19 has played a major role once again here. But there are also mental health issues behind absences. Both physical and mental health are equally as important as one another and both are completely interlinked.
Three Ways AI and Automation Technologies Can Help
AI and automation technologies and solutions shouldn’t just be thought about as a method of deflecting traffic or allowing the customer to self-serve. They can help with simplifying the management of customer interactions and in the monitoring of agent workload and wellbeing.
AI and automation technologies and solutions shouldn’t just be thought about as a method of deflecting traffic or allowing the customer to self-serve.
Conversational AI technologies can ensure the customer has a smooth, self-service experience, manage the increasing influx of digital interactions, and make it easier for contact center agents to do their jobs: while monitoring their mental health and wellbeing.
1. Simplify the management of customer interactions and integrate contact channels with conversational AI capability.
Brands that value the power of CX as a differentiator in their markets are turning to AI to help with simplifying the management of customer interactions across multiple channels.
They’re integrating customer contact channels such as voice, chat, SMS, and WhatsApp into industry leading conversational AI platforms such as Google CCAI.
Organizations that handle millions of customer queries and which have large contact center or customer service operating costs can now design, build, deploy, and scale complex automated customer interactions across multiple channels using a single platform.
There is no doubt that brands are beginning to wake up to the increasingly urgent need to begin simplifying the management of interactions, and tech will be the enabler.
Introducing a simple, single solution for AI and automation and being able to connect any channel with an AI engine that is integrated with the CRM/desktop will reduce contact volumes for agents, make self-service more intuitive and flexible, and improve the CX.
2. Turn your AI and automation technologies inwards. Outstanding EX (employee experience) = outstanding CX.
Disruptive factors such as digital transformation, the increased use of automation and AI, smarter use of data across the business, and the transition to the cloud are all combining to bring huge change across the customer service sector.
Each of these areas open significant opportunities for improvements in efficiency and customer engagement. But, as we rush to transform our customer service operations and secure the benefits of these innovations, it’s all too easy to overlook the impact they can have on the CX world’s #1 asset – your people.
Modern tech stacks and agile processes are helping to drive this innovation, with many organizations now dealing with potentially millions of interactions a year in what is now a digital-first world. However, when things don’t work out digitally - or if customers have issues that are too complicated to self-serve – they’re still going to be reaching out to your people.
There’s nothing artificial about the people who work alongside your digital CX engagement programs. Indeed, it is critical to remember that these innovations don’t only impact your customers but also the people in your contact centers.
That’s why CX innovation also needs to reach inwards into the contact center, using the same powerful technologies to support your advisors with their more complex workloads.
3. Wellbeing starts in the workplace – help contact center management to understand issues around agent wellness, emotions, and stresses.
Our industry should also be doing much more to acknowledge the key role that agent/service advisor mental health and wellbeing plays in delivering excellent customer service.
If we continue to overlook our agents’/advisors’ mental health, then organizations are failing to provide the rounded support that they need to continue delivering high quality CXs.
A key goal for contact center management now should be to make the health and wellbeing of its people a key priority.
And because we don’t tend to monitor staff wellbeing on a regular basis, then we shouldn’t be surprised that so many of them end up being frustrated and burned out - with a significant proportion feeling the need to quit their roles.
With annual attrition effectively now costing a 500-seat contact center approaching $1.3 million to replace and train colleagues that have left, it clearly makes sense for contact center management to provide their staff with the support they need to remain engaged.
We believe that a key goal for contact center management now should be to make the health and wellbeing of its people a key priority. Even the smallest improvements in contact center agent/service advisor wellbeing can translate into a positive impact, unlocking measurable improvements in absence and attrition.
After all - happier staff inevitably lead to happier customers. So, everybody wins!