Preston Rogers, Assistant VP, Customer Contact Centers, Unum [NYSE: UNM]
Contact centers may exist to answer customer calls, but these organizations can do a whole lot more than just pick up the phone. With new technology and more customer-centric analysis behind them, these hubs of conversation are equipped with the know-how and tools to shape business strategy, put answers at the fingertips of customers and use deep-dive data to provide stellar experiences.
Say Hello to Strategy
According to global technology community CustomerThink, 96 percent of businesses expect growth within their contact centers by 2019. That growth–and the new representatives and touch points it represents–signals a tremendous opportunity when coupled with strategic thinking on the part of business leaders.
With intricate and frontline connections to consumers, representatives are equipped to go beyond solving seemingly disparate problems and actually use their knowledge to improve the way companies build, package, sell and market their products and services. That assumes, though, that the company will take a strategic approach to the way it engages its representatives.
"Whether through modern technology and mindsets or more traditional service, Contact Centers are the hub of knowledge that drives improvements to the customer experience"
Regardless of the size of your company, it’s critical to develop communities and knowledge-sharing platforms to first identify roadblocks in the customer experience, and then report those findings to other areas in the company so they can address the root cause of the call.
Are customers calling because they’re receiving a confusing letter? The contact center can quantify that problem and report on the need for a rewrite. Does an online process have a perplexing element that prompts people to reach for the phone? The contact center will see the results and can be a strong partner in finding the solution.
Knowledge bases and Customer Relationship Management will continue to be critical to collecting data and analyzing trends, but getting buy-in from senior executives, building strong partnerships and taking findings to the rest of the business will position contact centers as influencers of change. In short, contact centers are deep wells of information, and companies should tap into them.
Be Everywhere They Want To Be
Recent research from CFI Group indicates that how a consumer engages a contact center is closely tied to their satisfaction, even more than the knowledge of the representative they’re talking to. And that makes sense. According to Google, 90 percent of multiple device owners switch between devices at least three times in the same day, and more than 35 percent of customers expect to be able to contact customer service reps through any channel. Customers are using their smartphones for day-to-day tasks, entertainment and even ordering groceries to their front door; those same expectations carry over to their contact center interactions.
With that in mind, self-service and omni-channel offerings, which basically allow customers to pick up where they left off regardless of device or system, will continue to be differentiators in the coming years.
Self-service features can head off questions and provide critical information to a customer, improving their experience and increasing productivity and efficiency in contact centers. These details make self-service an important trend to watch, according to American market research company Forrester, but with some caveats. Self-service solutions from simple Frequently Asked Questions documents to video tutorials to Interactive Voice Response systems have to actually help the customer serve themselves. That same research from CFI Group shows that while self-service is important, if consumers first take a self-service approach to finding a solution but aren’t able to find what they need, it results in much lower satisfaction and lack of loyalty.
Omni-channel, basically multiple interconnected channels, is an enticing and important shift, too. According to Aberdeen Group, a technology and services company, businesses with strong omni-channel offerings retain close to 90 percent of customers compared to just over 30 percent who don’t.
A recent article by Forbes contributor Shep Hyken asserts that even omni-channel is a dated concept, noting that what businesses really need to do is offer a channel-less experience. Omni-channel or channel-less, the point is clear: It doesn’t matter to the customer how many channels you have, the shift is more about putting customers first and engaging them in ways they’re already working and living. This mindset, therefore, isn’t just for contact centers but for your whole company.
Consistently provide Excellent Service
While new technology and how to use it should be a major focus for forward-thinking organizations, it’s not time to “abandon ship” on phone support.
In fact, research shows 79 percent of interactions with contact centers are still phone calls. Is that because the self-service options weren’t actually very helpful or because people prefer phone calls? It depends on your industry and company, but making sure your representatives continue to provide excellent and personal service through more traditional channels continues to be paramount. After all, when it comes down to it, 63 percent of customers are still citing whether their issue was resolved quickly or during a single call as the top predictor of satisfaction with contact centers, according to CFI Group.
At Unum, an employee benefits provider, we understand that when people are contacting us, it’s often during a very difficult time in their lives. We hope they never have to call, but we want to respond quickly, accurately, and with empathy when they do.
Overall, contact centers can be catalysts for strategy in your company. Whether through sharing insights, modern technology and mindsets, or more traditional service, they are hubs of knowledge that can drive improvements to the customer experience.