The contact center is being completely reimagined as the pandemic ushers in new ways of working and new consumer behaviors.
The move from inflexible working models and legacy contact center platforms to today’s work-from-home and cloud contact center solutions has gained momentum for many years. Still, this move dramatically accelerated during the COVID pandemic. Companies rapidly adapted to new customer needs and operational demands that have never been experienced before. In the face of these challenges, consumers have rapidly shifted to digital channels and contact center platforms have moved to the cloud.
Stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures caused major disruption in all our lives and caused contact centers to fundamentally rethink how they are serving customers. Companies either abandoned on-premises, legacy contact center platforms for the cloud, or they found ways to extend the capabilities to support the work-from-home necessity. Heroic stories abound of agents, supervisors, management, technology partners and IT teams going above and beyond to maintain service delivery during these challenging times. The entire industry should take a bow because while there was disruption, it is remarkable how rapidly this massive transition was executed.
The challenge now is that many organizations are suffering with unusually volatile voice service levels. Customers that are now working from home are calling at different and unpredictable times and Interactive Voice Response applications are 50-60% as effective as they were pre-COVID. This has led to a second wave of investment in contact center technology. Many companies are focused on increasing capacity for live support and upgrading IVR applications, both of which are logical to address the pain in satisfying customers that are on the phone.
The problem is that these measures are treating a symptom and not the core ailment. The pain of delivering a satisfactory customer experience to callers isn’t caused by an ineffective voice experience. It is a referred pain — discomfort felt in one part of the body that actually stems from an injury in another part of the body. In much the same way, referred pain in the cloud-based contact center can’t be soothed unless you diagnose and treat the root cause.
So, where does this pain come from?
Depending on the business, up to 80% of calls received in the contact center are from customers that were just on a digital channel. Listen to a few of these calls and you’ll soon identify the pattern and the cause:
“I was just on the website trying to pay my bill, but I have a question.”
“I am trying to contact my doctor, but he isn’t listed as my provider on the mobile app.”
"Before I hit purchase, I want to confirm it will be delivered by…”
The inability to solve customer needs in the initial and preferred channel of engagement leads customers to pick up the phone. These customers will not self-service in your IVR. These customers will not typically give you strong satisfaction scores. These customers can make life difficult for customer service representatives. No amount of investment in the voice channel will make this issue go away, unless you make your digital channels more capable.
How to soothe the referred pain that leads to customer and agent frustration
The adoption of digital channels across all demographics shot up dramatically in 2020, and it isn’t going to turn back. Customers expect to be able to bring their needs to any channel and have those needs satisfied. They are using social channels, mobile apps and even websites before they call the contact center. Transformation of customer service cannot center on the voice channel but must more urgently focus on serving customers at the start of their journey.
Brands need to understand the new customer journeys and use this as an opportunity to reimagine their customer experience from the consumer’s point of view:
- Can they engage with you on the digital channels they prefer, including your website or mobile app, and through social messaging and SMS?
- Are they forced to hop from one channel to the next looking for answers?
- When they transfer to a new channel, do they need to start all over again or does the conversation continue seamlessly?
- Are interactions on all channels informed by the same data and knowledge?
It’s also important to think of your agents.
- Are they answering the same questions over and over again?
- Are they dealing with disgruntled customers who come into calls already frustrated?
Ideally, the customer experience should feel effortless and natural, irrespective of channel, whether customers choose to use automated self-service, or converse with a human agent. For example, a customer can engage on one channel, such as a mobile app or direct messaging platform, and if the issue can’t be resolved there and then, an agent can seamlessly join the conversation and continue the dialogue.
This creates a customer experience that feels like one logical conversation, rather than a fragmented series of interactions that frustrate both customers and agents, no matter how high-tech the voice platform.
Ready to solve the root cause of referred pain?
The key to making progress on the pain you’re feeling in the voice channel is engagement with customers on digital channels, even if you aren’t prepared to automate these interactions. By engaging your customers in their initial channels, you immediately improve the customer experience and begin to build the data that will (or should) guide investment in future automation. The reward for enabling immediate customer satisfaction of needs at the first moment of engagement is significant. Digital native brands that have built support into the product experience have proven that to us all.