Does this scenario sound familiar? Seven percent of your customer service agents call in sick with the flu on the day your marketing team is running a big promotion. Your phone and chat queues are bursting at the seams, with average wait times over thirty minutes. Police show up to question one of your agents and one of your supervisors quits without notice. And then the power goes out...
Just another day in the life of a contact center manager.
Contact centers are fast-paced environments that have a lot of moving parts and daily issues to resolve. Day-to-day responsibilities can distract from more strategic tasks, such as figuring out how to improve customer experience. Contact center leaders know that they need to continuously improve the quality of support interactions, but finding the time and energy to craft an approach can be daunting.
We'll do some of the heavy lifting for you by outlining what your customers want from your contact center and providing ten best practices to jump-start your CX improvement efforts.
Why is customer experience so important?
Customer experience is the opinion customers have about your business based on a cumulative set of diverse interactions that can range from Facebook ads to retail experiences to contact center interactions. Because it deals with people's opinions, CX is a combination of facts and emotions.
Because almost 90% of consumers are willing to buy more following an exceptional customer service experience and 80% are willing to switch companies due to poor customer service, CX has become the new competitive battleground. In fact, Gartner found that two-thirds of businesses compete mostly based on customer experience.
The contact center’s role in providing satisfying customer experiences
While the contact center isn't solely responsible for CX, it certainly plays a critical role. Other departments such as marketing, e-commerce, fulfillment, and product development also impact the customer experience. However, because contact centers interact with customers when they need help, the nature of those interactions is more sensitive and can have a bigger impact on a customer's opinion of the company. After all, for many people, customer service is the face and voice of the company.
And the contact center’s role is expanding and becoming more important than ever. Customer service is no longer a break-fix detour on the customer journey. Instead, it’s become the front door to the business, greeting customers and coordinating resolutions with the rest of the enterprise. Additionally, contact centers are involved in many more segments of the journey, from providing pre-sales advice to prospects to delivering post-sales support to customers.
The elevated role of the contact center and the increasing importance of CX create a business imperative for identifying how to improve customer experience.
What do customers want from your contact center?
Determining how to improve customer experience should be based on what your customers need and expect from your contact center. Let's take a look at several areas that impact CX. A majority of consumers want the following things:
To be able to solve their own problems
The first thing customers want is to bypass your call center altogether. Most people prefer to solve their own problems and most of your customers have used a search engine or visited your website before reaching out to customer service. According to an HBR article, the DIY preference is strong - 81% of consumers attempt to figure things out themselves before contacting customer service. Additionally, 84% of consumers are more willing to do business with companies that offer self-service options.
To be able to move across channels seamlessly
Today's consumers can choose from a multitude of channels when they need to communicate with a business, and they often use more than one during the same issue resolution journey. When they do, they expect to move from channel to channel seamlessly. This includes DIY-ers when they decide they need agent assistance. For many people, "seamless" means not being required to repeat the details of their issue. How prevalent is this expectation? Our consumer research found that 96% expect companies to make it easy to switch channels without the need to repeat information.
High first contact resolutions (FCR)
A Microsoft study revealed that 33% of consumers rate first contact resolution as the most important aspect of a good customer service experience, making it the top vote-getter. When your customers have an issue, they don't want it to drag out or require multiple interactions with your contact center. "One and done" is a critical factor in delivering satisfying CX.
When determining how to improve customer experience, take a look at how much work a customer has to do to get an issue resolved or a question answered. Signs of high customer effort include:
- High transfer rates
- High hold times
- High average speed to answer
- Low FCR
- Requiring customers to repeat themselves when they switch channels
According to Gartner's research, "96% of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience." Your CX improvements should make issue resolution easy.
Personalization is central to providing exceptional experiences to today's consumers. The first step is recognizing your customers in every channel, which 63% of your customers expect. Next, you should tailor each customer's experience according to factors such as purchase history, past customer service interactions, communication preferences, sentiment, and more. This can be a complex undertaking, but the results are worth it; Epsilon found that "80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences."
10 best practices for improving customer experience in your contact center
Now that you know a little more about what your customers expect from your contact center, let's explore how to improve customer experience. The following are some best practices and tips to help you get started.
1. Omnichannel experiences
You knew this would be on here, right? With so many consumers expecting companies to make it easy to switch channels, omnichannel capabilities have become a business imperative. But silos and outdated technology within the contact center make this difficult, if not impossible, to execute.
Delivering seamless omnichannel experiences requires a modern platform that includes omnichannel routing, integrated channels, a unified agent desktop, and more.
2. Smart self-service
Offering multiple self-service options just makes sense. Your customers want self-service and it's so much cheaper than agent assistance, making it a win for both customers and the business. There are so many self-service options to choose from these days, ranging from conversational IVRs to online chatbots to online search powered by sophisticated knowledge management systems. Implement the right solution for your customers and organization and watch satisfaction increase and service costs decrease.
3. Optimized forecasting and scheduling
Making customers wait long in queue increases frustration and customer effort, which means high ASAs are bad for CX. Optimizing forecasts and schedules with AI-infused workforce management software will help ensure you're doing your best to meet service levels with the resources you have, which is particularly important in the current tight labor market.
4. Sophisticated routing
Because first contact resolution is so important to so many of your customers, it's critical to route them to the most qualified agent on the first attempt to increase the likelihood of resolving their issues during one interaction. Accurate routing will also reduce internal transfers, which will decrease friction and improve CX. And if you use AI-powered, data-driven routing, you can route customers based on sentiment and preferences, and match them to agents with compatible personalities, for even more satisfying experiences.
5. Knowledgeable agents
The skill and knowledge of your agents will also impact first contact resolution. Ensure your agents receive ongoing training and coaching on relevant topics. Additionally, put information at their fingertips by giving them access to a well-populated and maintained knowledge base. And to kick their access to information up a notch, consider implementing automated bots that can retrieve information for agents and suggest the next best steps.
6. Agents with strong soft skills
In addition to being technically proficient, agents need to be empathetic and have good active listening skills. Customers want to be heard and deserve empathy when they're having problems, especially if the business caused the issue. Soft skills should be taught and coached regularly. To supplement training and coaching, consider implementing real-time interaction guidance software, which leverages artificial intelligence to listen to and analyze every voice interaction, and coach agents in real-time about soft skills that can improve the conversation.
7. Integrated solutions that provide agents with the right information and capabilities
Agents are essential for providing quick, personalized, and competent CX. Given their elevated roles, they need the best technical tools. An integrated agent desktop can provide access to CRM information and other customer data sources needed to personalize each interaction. Additionally, when all the systems they use are available in one interface, agents can focus on developing relationships and resolving issues rather than navigating disparate applications.
8. Collect and act on customer input
Customer surveys are an effective way to gather intermittent feedback and can help you measure CX-related KPIs such as customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS). But you don't have to wait for survey results to know what your customers are thinking and feeling; they share that information with your agents every day. Interaction analytics software is the tool that enables you to mine these conversations for valuable, real-time insights. The software can also help you increase problem management effectiveness, which will also improve CX.
9. Align your KPIs to the customer experience
When identifying how to improve customer experience, don't overlook your KPIs. You may need to adjust them to better align with what's important to your customers. For example, instead of focusing heavily on average handle times (AHT), you might instead choose to prioritize metrics such as transfer rates and first contact resolution rates. Additionally, you may need to add KPIs, such as customer effort scores, to ensure you're getting a comprehensive view of CX.
10. Formalize customer experience and journey management
If you don't want to leave something as important as CX to chance, consider establishing a formal customer experience management (CEM) program. CEM teams coordinate across the organization and represent the voice of the customer to ensure CX is continuously optimized. A disciplined CEM program can drive change that ultimately results in increased revenue and higher customer lifetime value.
Now that you know how to improve customer experience, let's get started!
We've discussed some very impactful and practical ways to improve CX, and most of them require or are enhanced by technology. A unified, cloud contact center platform can help your business substantially move the needle on customer experience.