Contact center agent starts their digital journey at CCW At Home August 11-27.

A Digital-First Contact Center Strategy Can Deliver Customers for Life. Is It Time to Start Your Digital Revolution?

Digital technology is everywhere, and consumers use it non-stop every day—to work, to play, to communicate, to shop.  So it’s only natural that these same consumers expect to have digital channel choices in contact centers, too. To win customers’ loyalty, organizations must connect with them in the digital world they’re already living in, providing engagement with the brand on their terms. In the contact center, this means adopting a digital-first philosophy and approach.  

Digital has far-reaching implications not just for how organizations provide service today, but also for how much more change is coming in the very near future. Those who “win” customer service will need to completely reimagine it—and digital will be central to that.

Before the pandemic, Digital preference was already gaining momentum

As digital communication has exploded around us, it has surged to a level that’s every bit as familiar as voice and is now preferred by most consumers. Not only do they want digital options, but the great majority prefer digital’s ease, convenience and speed. The statistics tell a generational story:

  • 90% of Gen Z use digital channels as their channel of choice, with only 10% choosing voice.
  • 84% of Millennials prefer digital channels, with only 16% preferring voice.
  • Nearly half of GenX (49%) prefer digital channels as their channel of choice. The other half prefer voice but their numbers are diminishing.
  • Only Boomers may still opt for voice over digital—and that’s rapidly changing.

Consumers’ voices are loud and clear: They like digital communication, they’re using it 24/7—and yes, they are demanding digital options for interacting with the brands they patronize. But contact centers aren’t necessarily on board: While digital channels offer unique value to both brands and consumers, companies have not yet embraced the digital channels their customers have welcomed into their lives. In fact, less than 10% of contact centers surveyed have a fully integrated channel strategy: Just 8.4% have all channels connected, while only 7.2% have an integrated omnichannel strategy that blends digital and voice. (Dimension Data / CX Benchmarking, 2019).    

That momentum of digital adoption took off like a rocket during the pandemic

Since the emergence of the pandemic in 2020, digital adoption has accelerated greatly, which makes sense.  All of us have been forced to adopt new means of communicating, not only with each other (who out there hasn’t had a virtual happy hour with friends and family) but also the companies that we do business with. In NICE's annual CX Transformation Benchmark Study, we found that contact centers universally experienced major disruptions: first, to move agents home very quickly, and next, to handle a surge in interaction volume. Those who already used cloud contact center technology had an advantage.  Cloud contact centers don’t just deliver scalability but also offer a platform that allows contact center leaders the ability to add new features.  As we have made our way through the pandemic, contact centers that were able to activate new channels had a significant advantage over those that did not and while the pandemic is far from over, we at least see a light at the end of the tunnel.  For consumers that embraced digital communication during the pandemic, it’s like riding a bike – you don’t forget.  Even when the world returns to some semblance of normal, the skills that consumers learned during the pandemic (which they have may have previously put off); will not be forgotten. 

But pay attention contact center leaders, those adoption trends aren’t just about accepting new channels as the new normal.  Those channels have also helped consumers realize that they are able to solve their own issues.  Giving them that ability is a game changer for all elements of the contact center.  For agents, it frees them from repeating the same transaction over and over and over again, allowing them to focus on more complex issues and allows them to develop new skills that offer advantages to customers and customer satisfaction.  For customers, empowering them to resolve issues, without needing to speak to an agent also plays an important role in the ever-evolving customer journey.   Perhaps this is why we found in our study, that over the last year businesses have expressed an increased preference for offering self-service, with 43% of businesses selecting self-service as their #1 channel of choice, this is up from 28% in 2019.

Digital Opens Doors for Interactions across Channels

A fully integrated digital/voice contact center strategy provides other critical benefits, too. One is “channel hopping”: Customers expect smooth hand-offs from one channel to another and seamless cross-channel interactions, especially if they pause or leave an interaction on one channel and want to pick up where they left off on another.       

Digital messaging options and seamless channel hopping save time and effort for customers—and can for agents, too.  Moving easily from channel to channel reduces customer effort, improves efficiency significantly in the contact center, leads to stronger agent performance and most importantly, drives higher customer satisfaction.

But reality hasn’t quite caught up. According to the NICE CX Transformation Benchmark, although 91% of consumers expect a seamless cross-channel contact center experience—92% are unhappy with how that happens (or doesn’t) in actual interactions.  Only 27% of businesses gave themselves an excellent rating in seamless cross channel communication.

Problem resolution: Digital, a fit for complexity

And then there’s the issue of problem resolution. Contact centers report seeing an increase in both the volume and complexity of customer interactions. Since 2017 the percentage of businesses that rate phone interactions on resolving customer problems very successfully has decreased significantly – from 63% in 2017 to 53% in 2018 among businesses in the US (NICE 2019, CX Benchmark).

Here, too, digital channels—email, web chat, SMS text and even social media—are shown to be much more effective—and preferred—channels for all but the simplest problem solving.  Details are conveyed and captured more efficiently—and effectively—improving the entire problem-solving process for customers and agents alike.  Customers want the fastest resolution possible and they don’t want it to be difficult; agents, too, are looking to deliver the fastest resolution.

Contact center operations also benefit

The benefits of a “digital-first” contact center strategy extend to the contact center itself in terms of both improved efficiencies and reduced costs. Fully integrated digital channels save time and effort for everyone, improving contact center efficiencies along with agent productivity and performance.  Digital channels enable agents to readily handle more interactions—often simultaneously—which ultimately saves the cost of adding more agents as contact volume grows. Digital channels add scale to contact centers at a fraction of the cost of new agents.

Reduction of costs can occur in three distinct areas:

  1. Capital expenses – By choosing a solution that is rightsized for your contact center needs; offers you the ability to easily test and deploy advanced features.
  2. Operating expenses – Doing more with less allows agents to solve customer issues simultaneously on multiple channels.
  3. Personnel costs – By improving agent productivity, there’s less need to expand the workforce.

Integrating digital channels also enhances contact centers’ ability to generate revenue. According to Aberdeen Group research, companies with strong omnichannel support engagement note a 9.5% annual increase in revenue as compared to the 3.5% achieved by businesses with weak multichannel support.

The (digital) road ahead

As mentioned earlier, digital has far-reaching implications, now and in the future, and is reshaping our vision and customer service and CX, the global pandemic has proven out many of these predictions.

NICE CXone is a key driver because it empowers organizations to provide exceptional CX on any channel by acting smarter and responding faster to consumer expectations and giving consumers the choice on how to engage them.  Brands that embrace an integrated, “digital-first,” omnichannel strategy ensure more meaningful customer interactions and opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell, as well as experience improved customer acquisition, retention and growth.  For example:

Companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement retain an average 89% of their customers, as to compared to 33% of companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement. (Aberdeen Group)

Organizations committed to transforming their CX and leveraging new digital capabilities, alongside a human touch that’s available when necessary, are finding huge value. A staggering 91.6% report increased customer loyalty, while 84.4% report increased company profit/revenue.

But perhaps it’s brand differentiation and creating added value that continue to be the holy grail for brands that do business in a hyper-competitive arena. Many already understand that CX is pivotal. In fact, 62.4% see the opportunity inherent in evolving their CX transformation strategies to really stand out from competitors. (Dimension Data / CX Benchmarking, 2019).

There’s simply no downside to contact centers’ adoption of fully integrated, omnichannel strategies that seamlessly blend digital and voice channels. Regardless of industry or organization size, customers expect brands to meet them where they are. And where they are is digital.

Check out the NICE CX Transformation Benchmark to see how customer expectations for digital are only continuing to increase.  Also be sure to visit the  NICE CXone Resource Center, where you’ll find a robust library of information to help build the digital strategy for your contact center, including pieces like The Innovators Guide to the Digital First Contact Center.