Five technology resolutions for the contact center in 2017 – Insights from our CIO

Posted December 13, 2016

By Michael Ringman, CIO, TELUS International

The end of the year marks the perfect time for reflection and promise for improvement in the year ahead.

One of the more exciting developments from 2016 was that we finally began to witness top executives across organizations declare the importance of customer service. This prioritization is a trend I believe will continue to grow well into 2017, with technology playing a critical role in service excellence.

In my view, here are five tech related resolutions companies and their contact centers can embrace in the New Year in order to better meet customer needs:

1. Pay attention to the small data

Big data is such a popular buzzword these days that it’s easy to forget about its smaller counterpart, but small data can have a significant impact on the delivery of exceptional customer service.

The challenge with big data is that it’s only useful if you can take the massive amounts of information being produced and turn it into actionable results – often requiring a large investment in complex technologies and new analytics tools. Small data on the other hand is readily available, derived directly from the immediate interactions with customers. More often than not, consumers are looking for personalized service and small data can help brands deliver by capturing customers’ likes, dislikes, preferences and values.

Utilizing integrated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology can provide detailed customer information to contact center agents in real-time to create a greater level of engagement and loyalty. For example, being able to see how many times the customer called in the past along with their previous issues, purchasing history, feedback survey results, and support channel preferences can all help to paint a better picture of the person on the other end of the line.

Ultimately, the relationship between big data and small data is symbiotic in nature with small data helping to determine causation in the trends indicated by big data. Leveraging both buckets of information will lead to more informed business decisions and a greater level of customer service.

2. Establish a purposeful omnichannel strategy (beyond technology)

Technology has added new levels of engagement, creating a multichannel approach where the customer has access to kiosks, online chat, email, help lines and more. But unfortunately, not all individuals in a multichannel organization are on the same page. There is no unanimous agreement on what constitutes a world-class customer experience, or a clear vision for execution.

Omnichannel has attempted to fill some customer service gaps – but without much success to date. Part of the problem is that brands need a purposeful omnichannel strategy where it’s not just about technology but the overall commitment to delivering exceptional customer experiences. Omnichannel is about ensuring that your organization is setup operationally (hiring, training, analytics, and so on) to deliver on that omnichannel experience across all customer touchpoints.

Yes, omnichannel will require investments in technology in order to execute across all channels, but to quote Steve Jobs – “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology.”  Very few brands do omnichannel well today, but by taking a more holistic “beyond technology” approach, we’re likely to see some true omnichannel successes in the years ahead.

3. Automate processes, not relationships

In addition to time and cost savings, leveraging machine learning and automating processes can actually help improve the relationship with customers. Companies that deal frequently with product returns, for example, should have an easily accessible template containing instructions on how to return an item along with the return policy. This will give agents time to add a bit of personalization (and personality!) instead of spending their time manually typing out each step in the return process.

Additionally, rather than having agents manually sift through and route individual emails to the right person for providing support, set up automated routing rules that generate a high probability of reaching the proper agent. You could also use text analytics to spot long-term email trends and use keywords in conjunction with routing rules. Some email systems now have the option to automate responses using artificial intelligence based on the initial inquiry. Beyond an initial touch, these intelligent inputs can be effective in resolving simple service issues with a single, automated response.

Automated digital channels will continue to grow as a convenient and cost-efficient means of communication but they are not yet capable of achieving all the benefits of direct person-to-person interaction. A genuine empathetic response is not something that can be delivered through a chatbot or an automatic email (although technology is getting closer). A study by Accenture found that 80% of American consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels when it comes to solving customer service issues. For all benefits of technology, the human element is still something customers expect and it needs to remains a core component of your customer service offering.

4. Prepare for the IoT-connected consumer

According to the research firm IDC, 35 million American households today have some kind of multimedia home networking application, yet only 31 percent are taking full advantage of their digital capabilities. Further, nearly 16 percent of users reported not knowing how to set up and fully utilize their devices and 24 percent felt that their digital devices had capabilities that would be useful, but they were unsure of what they were. Lack of consumer awareness combined with the complexities of solving Internet of Things (IoT) related issues is leading to an evolution in customer service as we know it.

Delivering exceptional support in the IoT era will require a greater investment in agent training, a willingness to embrace new service models and the use of different success metrics in order to meet the changing needs of customers. For example, Average Handle Time (AHT) is the antithesis of a human-friendly metric, especially with the complex support requirements related to connected devices. Instead, brands should focus on Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) or Likelihood to Recommend (L2R) as better indicators of great customer service.

Those companies who are proactive, knowledgeable and willing to go above and beyond with a more holistic approach to customer service will likely prove more successful. For more key factors to delivering a superior IoT customer experience download our free InfoBrief: “Preparing your support team for the IoT-connected consumer.”

5. Go back to basics – staring with email support

Call Centre Helper found that 26 percent of contact centers rank email as their fastest growing form of communication, and as the most-used first channel of support for customers. With the likes of chat, social and video generating significant attention these days, it’s easy to forget about the “little support channel that could” but email still has an important place in the contact center.

There are big benefits to email from both sides of the customer support equation. For consumers, it’s quick, efficient and can be sent easily from any mobile device. There is no waiting on hold or being bounced around from one agent to the next. For contact centers, email has huge time and cost-savings benefits. Further, with the advancement of machine learning, well-designed auto-responses and templates backed by intelligent inputs can, at least initially, be as effective as a direct engagement with a live agent.

Given the fluid nature of technology and customer expectations, organizations should look for opportunities to maximize what email can do for them operationally. Creating a world-class email program requires a smart utilization of best practices and continuous learning within the contact center.  For expert tips on improving your email support program, download our free paper: “The workhorse of the contact center: Optimizing email for the modern customer service environment.”

In closing, as we move into 2017, it will be paramount for companies to effectively leverage and combine the best of both the high-tech and ‘high-touch’ worlds in order to delight and retain customers. While most New Year’s resolutions tend to fall by the wayside after a month or two, investing in a contact center partner that can help navigate new technology while maintaining strong customer connections could make all the difference in achieving lasting success.


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