Most digital customer transformation initiatives fail for similar reasons. We saw it play out repeatedly in 2020, and then in the first few quarters of 2021. All indications are this trend will continue.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced new behavioral changes — for companies as well as for customers — and accelerated and compressed many trends that were already underway. Companies caught off guard had to quickly adapt in ways they never imagined or planned.
It was a recipe for customer experience (CX) disaster. As companies transitioned their customer service agents to a work-from-home environment, digital demand exploded. Customers confronted long wait times and companies faced high abandonment rates and damaged reputations. Virtually overnight, companies scrambled to shift high-cost voice interactions to lower-cost digital channels, scale their automation capabilities, and create greater operational efficiencies wherever they could find them.
Companies realized it’s not easy or simple to fast-track digital customer service transformation. Now it’s time to get out in front.
Digital Customer Service Transformation
Customer service transformation goals are not one-size-fits-all. But in a post-pandemic world, all companies will have to focus on improving agility, scaling automation and reducing costs while making it simple for customers to do business.
A successful customer experience is seamless, personalized and convenient. Artificial intelligence enhances the customer journey by automating it, maintaining context across conversation channels, and predicting intent to quickly resolve inquiries. This reduces customer effort and boosts containment rates.
Let’s look at the key components that enable customer service organizations to achieve these goals.
New Digital Channels
In “The CX Reality Check — Research, Revelations, and the Route Forward,” a 2020 global study commissioned by my firm, 7.ai and conducted by Dimensional Research, 68% of customers said COVID-19 changed the way they interact with businesses. Meeting customers on new digital channels is now high stakes, so you’ve got to increase your web presence as well as support chat and multiple messaging channel interactions — including web chat, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messaging and WhatsApp.
Instead of creating sequential, episodic communications, the asynchronous messaging channels above create a continuous, ongoing conversation. This seamless experience speeds resolution, lowers costs and delights customers. For example, our in-house research found CSAT scores are 18% higher with async messaging than with chat.
Related Article: Is Messaging the Final Frontier in Customer Service?
Automate Through Self-Service
Forced during the COVID-19 pandemic to manage dramatically higher call and online volumes with fewer agents, many contact center leaders chose to implement more robust automation and self-serve capabilities.
Customers expect fast resolution through self-service. These intelligent journeys give customers more control while reducing your operational costs. A successful, digital transformation uses smart virtual agents that work across channels from web to chatbots to Facebook Messenger or Apple Business Chat. As these different channels have different UI and other technological requirements, choose a “build once, deploy anywhere” bot model, if at all possible, so you extend your investment and get to market faster with a lot less effort.
Boost Agent Efficiency With AI
Work-from-home (WFH) agents are part of the new normal. You need to implement strategies and tools that maintain agent productivity, continue to deliver a personalized customer experience, and ensure data privacy and security. You can empower agents with intelligent support built into every conversation. Agent assistance tools serve up personalized, relevant responses that speed interactions while ensuring uniformity. Intelligent support bots make the agent’s job easier by automating routine tasks and simplifying complex processes. Use automated monitoring tools to ensure that levels of security and compliance for WFH agents are as high as they were when agents were physically located in the contact center.
Related Article: Is 2021 the Year AI Dominates the Call Center?
Modernize Your Model
The Team of Experts (TEX) customer service model, introduced by T-Mobile in 2018, sought to reverse the years-long slide in the industry’s CSAT scores. How? By ending contact center runaround. Rather than randomly routing customers to agents likely evaluated on their Average Handle Time — which encourages them to send customers on their way as fast as they can — TEX is a self-sufficient, resource-rich business team dedicated to a specific client population. TEX customers are more satisfied. TEX agents are more satisfied (greater productivity, less turnover). TEX resolves issues more quickly at lower cost.
It’s important to note the TEX model works best when agents have time to fully research and resolve customer issues. Asynchronous business messaging gives them that time.
Why CX Transformation Initiatives Fail
CX transformation initiatives often fail because of underlying cross-departmental hurdles and poorly aligned vendors. Organizations must link teams, obtain executive sponsorship, change mindsets, connect technology silos and much more.
Competing — or Even Conflicting — Interests
Most enterprises work with various vendors that provide different CX capabilities and services. Each vendor has competing, and in some case conflicting, priorities. For example, your BPO vendors (or even your in-house contact center group) may resist automation if they are compensated on agent hours rather than on agent productivity or cost per contact. So it falls to you to harmonize these elements in a holistic way.
- CX consultants: Not responsible for outcomes resulting from CX recommendations.
- AI vendors: Offload responsibility for bot success to your IT resources and skills.
- Infrastructure vendors: Little to gain by shifting call volumes to digital channels.
- Bot vendors: Focused on automation perhaps at the expense of customer satisfaction.
- BPO vendors: No incentive to increase automation and self-service.
Driving alignment in such a vendor mix will not be easy. I think there’s a better way.
Why Choose a Unified CX Transformation Approach?
CX decision-makers need to integrate agents, technology and processes to significantly improve service quality while controlling costs. This requires diligent oversight of multiple vendors or partnering with a vendor who combines all capabilities. Either way, your CX operations group or external partner will need to understand your long-range CX strategy and blend existing staff, knowledge capital, and resources with new technologies and all-around support.
This unified approach should include:
- Integrated artificial and human intelligence.
- Predictable costs per resolved contact (and lower than current costs).
- Ability for customers to interact on their digital channel of choice.
- Friction-free ramp-up of new agents and reallocation of agents between channels.
- Ongoing analysis and optimization of agent and bot performance.
One Ring to Rule Them All
Customer experience has changed dramatically since 2019 but its importance to your brand remains paramount. To take advantage of the new normal — to survive, let alone thrive — you need to rethink your organization’s entire customer service operation. Get a handle on your strengths and weaknesses and get in front of your transformation efforts.
Patrick is Chief Technology Officer at 7.ai. He joined the company in 2011 with the acquisition of Voxify, where he led product and platform development teams in his role as CTO.