From cost centre to strategic requirement: how consumer experience is driving business transformation

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The activities designed to enhance customer experience (CX) used to be seen as an overhead, or a tactical necessity. Do CX well and no one cares; do it badly and there is hell to pay. Within many organisations, contact centres were not always looked at as a strategic investment, and rarely did they ever get intensive scrutiny from the board.

Continuing this path is a mistake, but the tide is changing. Keeping existing customers is far less expensive than acquiring new ones. Developing processes to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction isn’t just the right thing to do, it generates additional profit, as happy customers tend to be more loyal and their lifetime value to your business tends to increase. Instead of being treated as a tedious expense, customer experience management should be seen as an exciting opportunity.

The right technology

An exceptional customer experience doesn’t appear from nowhere, of course. It needs to be supported by the right technology. Organisations planning to deliver excellence in CX need the right data, the right analytics and insights and efficient administrative processes so that customer requests are manged quickly and effectively. Similarly, they also need the right supporting technical infrastructure, so that issues such as security and communications latency are not a problem.

These days, more efficient use of IT – such as hosting in the cloud – allows organisations to focus on the customer journeys that they want to optimise, and not have to worry about maintaining and managing costly infrastructure.

The importance of people – and machines

We all know technology on its own can never deliver great service. Central to excellence in customer experience is having the right people: agents with the right attitude and the right skills, and  supervisors who can help balance team burnout and development. Technology, while important, should support people and not replace them.

This means two things. Firstly, dull, repetitive tasks (such as resetting a password or registering an insurance claim) should be completed by self-service or automated processes. With the right technology, tasks can be handled more quickly by an automated system than by a human; the quicker the customer gets their issue resolved, the more likely you will have a satisfied customer.

But for more complex problems, and circumstances where a customer will feel comforted by talking to another person, nothing can replace a well-trained human with the right data at their fingertips. Humans can offer empathy and provide a psychological safety net (the customer knows there is a person on the other end), as well as being better, at least for the foreseeable future, at solving non-routine problems.

The right data

Giving machines and human agents the right data at the right time is key to delivering customer satisfaction. Once a customer’s identity has been authenticated (and this should only need to happen once in any transaction), agents should have a full set of details about them – who they are, what they have bought, any problems they have had previously or any preferences that will make the experience more personalised.

Everyone likes to be recognised. And a friendly contact centre agent who actually knows who the customer is, and perhaps can even predict what they are calling about, will do wonders for customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

Reimagining the customer experience

The days of interactive voice recognition systems that take you, in a wide circle, back to where you started, or switchboards that leave you hanging for what seems like hours, are thankfully fading. Instead, customer experience is being reimagined by many organisations across the world.

By employing a combination of AI, automation and people, organisations can ensure customers are in control and able to resolve problems quickly and easily. For something simple, they are served by a machine. But if their problem needs human intervention, they can talk to a knowledgeable agent who isn’t incentivised to get off the call as quickly as possible in order to save money. Instead, they are incentivised to create value by solving problems and creating customer satisfaction (this leads to a need for companies to rethink their contact centre KPIs).

They can only do this if the contact centre application is context aware. For instance, if a customer has been frustrated trying to use an Intelligent Virtual Agent (IVA) or chatbot, the system must know this, be prepared to deal with a degree of irritation, and share what has already transpired at hand to the human agent to create a more caring and engaging experience and minimise the risk of the customer’s frustration being amplified.

The power of machine learning

Driving this reimagined customer experience are powerful machine learning (ML) algorithms that can interpret conversational language (rather than demanding the customer “press one to report a fault…”), enabling them to decide whether the caller is best served by a machine or a person in a particular department. And if they get it wrong, as they will sometimes, the system may be more likely to get it right next time – because it learns.

But ML can go further. Like its human counterpart it can detect emotion, which may signal the need for early human intervention in a transaction. Systems can also leverage human logic to contact customers proactively (within the requirements of privacy regulations of course) – for instance, reaching out to reschedule an appointment or to notify a change in delivery date.

Transforming business through customer experience

Call centres are the virtual front door for business, and, like the traditional office reception desk, they must be able to deliver a personalised service for visitors that is context aware, real-time and supported by data. The customer’s time should be respected and they should not be forced to keep on sharing the same information with the system. As far as possible services must be predictive so that customers’ questions are answered before they can be asked. And most importantly they must be practical and efficient at solving customer problems. Technology should augment and enhance the customer experience, not add another hurdle for them to overcome.

With the right technology, people, processes and data powered by practical AI and automation, customer experience can truly be transformed. For most businesses, the battleground isn’t products anymore. It’s the customer experience itself.

Five9 is the leading provider of intelligent cloud contact centre software. With more than 20 years of experience, Five9 matches its expertise in contact centre transformation with skills in AI, automation and analytics. Using its unrivalled library of chatbot tasks, its knowledge of customer experience best practice, its dedicated training services and its ecosystem of partners, Five9 clients around the globe are enabled to create transformed and highly profitable customer experiences.

Originally published on Business Reporter

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