Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on just about everything, including what it means to be a customer. Check-ups and appointments went online. Brick-and-mortar retail turned to digital. Our entire experience with brands was contained within a few square inches of a screen.
Now, with social distancing restrictions lifting, the question on everyone’s mind is: “How much of it will last?”
There’s an eagerness to get back to place-based experiences. But some of the habits we picked up over the past year—ordering a meal online, subscribing to a grocery delivery service, hopping onto an event livestream—are bound to stick, and have reset what consumers expect from brands.
Flowing between in-person and virtual touch points, customer interactions are about to get a lot more complicated. It’s the job of contact center agents and CX experts to make those experiences feel simple. Doing so will lead to a deeper change, one that’s more permanent and positive than the upheaval caused by COVID-19. And it all starts before the customer even reaches out.
Before the Interaction
To prepare for multichannel interactions as the norm for post-pandemic CX, organizations must adopt a digital-by-design mentality. While businesses, in general, did an exceptional job adapting to the pressures of the pandemic, most approaches to customer support have been reactive. Agents followed customers as they engaged through new channels, tackling challenges on a case-by-case basis. That’s not a strategy for long-term, sustainable success. It’s time to get proactive.
Use your experience over the past year to determine a structure that works best to manage customer engagements, especially from new digital channels. Is your team centralized, and if so, how well have they been able to handle cases across regions? Have branches stepped up as the main point of contact, and how successful have those teams been engaging with customers digitally? Consider where responsibilities lie among departments when working with customers that hop between in-person and online interactions. Often, fulfillment teams have fielded cases on an ad hoc basis and aren’t prepared for the complexity multichannel brings. Luckily, they don’t have to go it alone. They can pick up strategies from contact center teams either within their own organization or in the broader industry, borrowing their most effective tools and technologies.
During the Interaction
Some of the most valuable of these tools are self-service solutions. The pandemic has shown that self-service is often customers’ preferred method of engaging with companies. Our 2020 CX Transformation Benchmark, Consumer Wave survey found that, for the first time, self-service outpaced agent-assisted channels, with 62% of consumers saying that they’re experiencing consistent first-contact resolution through self-service resources. In fact, 84% of consumers note they are more willing to do business with companies that offer self-service, yet only 61% feel that existing options are convenient and easy to use. That’s a powerful case for investing in self-service technologies that give customers the immediate interactions they want while easing the burden on your agents.
This starts with a strong knowledge management strategy that spans the range of channels customers use to seek out information. Be sure to optimize your website and mobile app so your audience can find the information they’re looking for in the ways they’re most comfortable with, whether that’s through search engine queries, voice assistant interactions, chatbots or by browsing your website and other resources. The goal is to expand the boundaries of the managed customer journey, reaching customers on their own terms and through the channels of their choice.
Choosing the best self-service tools to achieve this goal warrants its own discussion, but a critical feature to look out for is an intelligent agent assist function that makes it easy to escalate issues to an agent. Escalation should always be coupled with the right context on each customer, so agents have all the details they need to provide high-quality service.
Again, there are a lot of tools out there, but the best ones provide more than basic customer information, offering deeper insights into sentiment, which makes it easier to engage with customers on an empathetic, human level. AI-powered tools can be used to not only identify sentiment in real-time but also connect the right customers with the right agent, all but ensuring effective issue resolution and brand-defining CX. As an added bonus, investing in a more intuitive toolkit will reduce the learning curve for your team, letting you focus your efforts on helping agents effectively assist customers on different channels.
After the Interaction
The learning doesn’t stop when the customer logs off. Through natural language processing, teams can continue to use their AI-based tools as a secret weapon to hone their skills. The right tools can create a virtuous cycle of collecting better insights, leading to better-equipped agents, which, in turn, leads to better customer interactions. Natural language processing can also pinpoint critical behaviors during call recording of both individual agents and entire teams, offering suggestions that are statistically proven to boost customer satisfaction.
Even largely in-person experiences will most likely have some digital component to them. That means more data and more opportunities to learn from each interaction. Valuable context that was once limited to (and often lost with) each agent-customer interaction can now be saved, recalled and shared to benefit the whole organization.
The customer journey is changing, and each new channel introduces a fresh opportunity to gain a better understanding of CX. Leaders who learn to expect more from technology will get the most out of their investments. They’ll be well-positioned to draw meaningful insights from every stage of customer interactions. It’s those insights that will connect the dots in a multichannel customer journey, enabling faster, more fulfilling experiences.