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The cost of customization in the contact center

Trends

They call it the "marketer's trilemma." Balancing cost, personalization and customer experience (CX) is a tightrope walk that more and more companies are having to master in the quest for brand differentiation and profit. Throw today's consumers' high expectations into the mix, and many companies are at risk of falling off and into the chasm of customer attrition.

A 3,000 person survey by financial services consultancy, Broadridge, confirms the risk: Brands that don't invest in personalization risk losing customers, with more than one-third of Millennials willing to walk away from a brand that doesn't adequately personalize their experience.

Leading companies have always understood the power of delivering great customer service on a one-to-one basis. Now, the pressure is on to use technology to scale that level of personalization.

"Customer service hasn't changed at all. Fifty years ago, if someone had a problem or needed an answer, they wrote a letter or picked up the phone," says customer experience expert Shep Hyken. "The beginning and end won't change; it's what's in the middle — the technology — that's changed."

Today, companies are grappling with what that means to them. Large-scale, resource-intensive personalization efforts are fine for big brands with deep pockets — but how can small- and medium-sized businesses compete on customer experience, customization and cost?

And then there's the technology itself. With countless software, apps, CRMs, devices and more on the market, how can CX executives know where to put their dollars? Are their companies' needs genuinely unique, or could they stand to try an off-the-shelf solution?

There are a lot of CX questions weighing on decision-makers today. Here are some answers from experts in the space.

The big and small picture

To keep the right perspective on customization, Hyken suggests viewing it on both macro and micro levels. Macro-level personalization involves developing personas based on your typical buyers, such as Nike segmenting their customer base into runners, basketball players, soccer players and so on, then serving up content and experiences specific to these interests. Though not simple by any means, this level of customer experience personalization is attainable for many types and sizes of companies, thanks to marketing automation technology.

On the micro-personalization level, Hyken offers a hospitality industry example. "When I check into a hotel, and they pull up my record, they can say 'Welcome back. I see you were here two months ago. Did you like that room? It's available tonight.' That's one-to-one micro-personalization," Hyken says.

That style of micro-level personalization may be commonplace for a boutique hotel or even an owner-operated B&B, but it quickly becomes much more challenging — and expensive — to scale when you are handling tens of thousands of guests across different locations, geographies and customer contact channels.

Hyken says a quality Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can support frontline agents in providing that sought-after personalized experience, at the front desk and in the contact center. He recommends implementing systems that enable both groups to access the same non-sensitive customer information.

Artificial intelligence (AI), meanwhile, can enable a proactive level of service by making recommendations based on data from thousands, and even millions of people. AI can predict, "…problems that the customer might have, the next question they're going to ask or pinpoint up-selling or cross-selling opportunities," continues Hyken.

Overall, these kinds of scalable tools help make customization available to all companies, regardless of size or industry. The problem is, there are countless options to consider.

Off-the-shelf solutions

Unless you have a large team of developers with time to spare, building custom solutions for automation and personalization is typically not a reality for most companies. Not only is it incredibly expensive, but chances are it will ultimately resemble something that is already available for purchase. That's why, if you're thinking of boosting your brand's customized CX offering, off-the-shelf solutions aren't a bad way to go.

A lot can be accomplished with this more cost effective approach. For instance, chatbots have become a commonplace feature on most websites — something that was unthinkable just a few years ago. Working with a vendor that offers these types of customizable solutions can give you the best of both worlds: A tailored product in less time and a lower cost.

The bot-human balance

Whichever route you take — custom made or off-the-shelf — it's critical to ensure your solution has the functionality to create great customer service interactions.

For instance, some lower-cost chatbots may not have the capability to transfer to a human agent when a customer issue is beyond the scope of their programming. The option of switching to a live agent is an important part of the customer experience, especially in today's complex ecosystem of connected devices and services where problems often require a nuanced understanding to solve.

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Mór Mester, community specialist and marketer at Automizy, a marketing automation provider, advises companies to be very mindful of that bot-human balance. "You have to be careful not to over-automate and to personalize the experience with the information you have…Pay attention and monitor points of communication where human intervention is needed," says Mester.

There's no doubt that automation plays a significant role in delivering personalized CX at scale. However, it's important to remember that the heart of a personalized approach continues to reside with the people who deliver it. It may be a challenging balance to strike, and one that evolves and changes over time, but when you achieve it, your customers will definitely take note.

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