Contact centers and customer care teams for enterprise brands have been operating in a certain way for decades. Many rely primarily on phone support to serve customers; others use slightly more advanced tools like synchronous web chat or even email.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, support volumes increased sharply, and contact center managers in various industries had to make difficult decisions. In many cases, they didn’t have the resources to expand their workforce to handle the volume spike; this left frustrated customers waiting on hold to speak to exhausted, frustrated agents. Some companies told their customers simply not to reach out unless their needs were urgent. For customer service, this is a recipe for disaster.
With customers growing more and more frustrated and no end in sight for the elevated inquiry volumes, many brands have had no choice but to improve their contact center’s efficiency. This often means moving to a digital-first business strategy. By adopting a digital-first mindset, using tools like asynchronous messaging, AI and predictive analytics, companies can position themselves to deliver enhanced experiences for their customers and maximize agent efficiency without increasing their workforce.
In this quick article, I’ll go over the top three ways that your contact center can get started on its digital transformation with the very same strategies that the top brands in the world use to support their customers.
1. Don’t Resist the Shift—Embrace It
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced brands to adopt digital modes of communication in order to maintain SLAs and retain customers. The companies leading this shift are the ones that have been thinking about it for some time or which have already modernized. These brands naturally turned to messaging and have implemented more channels.
There have been countless examples of brands doing a great job with digital-first communication over the past year. Some of the best are brands like T-Mobile, USAA and Peloton, which were already pushing for digital-first customer interaction before the pandemic even began. Once COVID-19 hit and lockdowns began in the U.S. and abroad, these brands were poised to help their customers through the difficult time. They started by reducing friction, offering customers the ability to contact them on the channels that they already use to communicate with friends and family: social media, SMS, modern chat and others. Some brands, such as European Wax Center, even took advantage of Instagram DMs to communicate with customers, offering them information about modified store hours and safety precautions during the pandemic.
The airline and financial services industries are also great examples of embracing a shift. Even as airlines faced over $84 billion in lost revenue during the pandemic, they found ways to modernize their communication, saving precious time and money in their contact centers. They took advantage of social media to rapidly disperse important information and used AI to answer simple, common questions.
Financial services brands have embraced mobile apps to keep their customers’ money and data safe and secure. Banks, credit card companies and credit unions can use digital care to give customers a single link that sends them to a portal to log in, then to a brand-owned messaging experience within their app or site. Once in that brand-owned, secure messaging conversation, brands can even build conversational banking functionality that makes use of the app’s existing features and available data, inserting opt-ins, payment submissions, loan requests, and qualification flows into the modern chat functionality.
2. Take Customer Care Out of the (Physical) Contact Center
Most of today’s brands rely heavily on on-premise contact centers to care for their customers. About 85% of the infrastructure that brands use to engage with customers is still on-premise, and of that, 70%-80% is 1-800 traffic. This sort of traffic is more difficult than other kinds to move away from a physical customer care center, so brands that want to move some of their agents off-site during the pandemic must first invest in more modern forms of support.
The ability to keep agents safe during a global health crisis is the most important concern of any contact center—but it’s not the only reason to steer away from relying primarily upon a 1-800 number. During COVID-19, the handle times on 1-800 numbers went from minutes to hours, and sometimes even days. If contact center managers didn’t already realize how fragile their infrastructure was, they do now. And, importantly, so do their CEOs. Improving the customer care experience has jumped to the forefront of nearly every brand’s overall strategy this year.
The mindset that brands are beginning to adopt with respect to customer care is, at its core, relatively simple. They are beginning to think from the customer’s perspective. KPIs like resolution rate and time to first response are important, as is keeping agents honest. But even if these metrics are strong, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand is doing as well as it could. Customers live digitally, and not all brands are digital-first. Investing in digital-first customer support—including multichannel engagement, AI and more—will drive up NPS and CSAT scores.
Of course, this shift to thinking from the customer’s perspective doesn’t mean companies have to do (or spend) more. On the contrary, modern digital solutions drive down costs, improve employee satisfaction and contribute to better business outcomes.
3. Focus on Effectiveness
One of the most common mistakes that brands make when they begin a digital-first transformation is that they focus too much on improving efficiency and lose sight of the customer’s needs. Channels like synchronous chat, which many websites now offer, are great for efficiency; they help agents deal with more customers more quickly—at least compared to phone support.
But in improving efficiency, these channels also sacrifice effectiveness. Customers who use a chat window on a brand’s website can’t go back and see their conversation history. And if they step away from their computer for too long (sometimes it’s 10 minutes or less), they have to start all over again the next time. This leads to a frustrating experience where customers have to come back again and again, and brands don’t have their information all in one place.
This is where asynchronous messaging comes in. With a digital-first customer care solution, a brand can create a world-class customer experience without adding staff, and still improve efficiency. Asynchronous messaging platforms allow customers to send a message then come back whenever they want to find a full conversation history waiting for them. Not only does this allow agents to handle multiple conversations at once, it also avoids some of the classic challenges of call centers: long wait times and customers having to repeat their issues again and again.
Asynchronous messaging can help drive other business outcomes as well. More and more often, potential customers will reach out to a brand’s customer service team (usually through social media) before deciding to purchase. Every part of this interaction is crucial to that decision. For example, imagine you’re on a website considering purchasing a product. You’ve heard from your friends that it’s a great product, read reviews, even tested it out with a free trial. But you have one final question.
If you ask your question through the brand’s web chat, you’ll want to click a button and have the agent know who you are, where you are on the website, and how to answer that question. If you send your question and forget about it, you’ll want to be able to come back three weeks later and pick up right where you left off. A good experience at this stage of the process has a high conversion rate for brands; it’s not an area they can afford to ignore. Modern chat helps brands provide this experience to their customers on multiple channels, from Facebook Messenger to Google Business Messages.
Build the Brand Journey You Want Customers to Take
If you haven’t invested in a digital-first strategy, it’s not too late. By pairing predictive analytics, AI and asynchronous messaging, you can build customers the journeys they’re looking for while driving your business objectives forward. Help your customers have the brand journey that you want them to take. And it’s a lot better when they share a satisfying experience with friends and family instead of a negative one.