पोस्ट

What’s the Point of Contact Deflection?

By Björn Gülsdorff, Head of Business Development

Contact Deflection – is there a reason why so many companies have this as an objective? Well, our clients tell us what their goals and pain points are, but I can’t help thinking that treating one’s contact centre as a cost centre is past its prime. Also, if you want to make money, contact with your customers is a good thing. At least, that was my theory.

I was therefore quite happy to be able to speak in front of the Call Center Verband (Call Centre Association) in Halle, Germany, as well as meet the European customer service directors of the Deutsche Telekom AG at their gathering in Budapest. An opportunity to talk to people from the field and test my thinking. I expected at least some consensus, though: DTAG gave me 90 minutes of airtime for a speech on “Growth Through Customer Service” (funnily enough the title of one of our blogs from 2015), so I could tell I was on the same page with the organisers at least.

As the Budapest event was with the service directors while the one in Halle was with those who actually run the call centres, the two meetings represented two different points of view on the same topic. Still there was a lot of agreement: Customer service has become a differentiator for companies and a driver of revenue. People expect immediate, seamless service and their user journey starts on a (mobile) device. If you make them call, you can forget about first time resolution, channel containment and similar metrics, because it is too late. When people call or email, they have tried to get help through other channels before – and failed. Another thing came up: In this new scheme, agents need new skills. It was never fair to look at them as FAQ answering machines, but the demand for social and selling skills has grown a lot. It is now all the more important to support them in their work, serve them facts, help with procedures and let them focus on the relationship with the customer.

Not everything received such unanimous consent, however. The pace of such changes, the differences between industries and the rise of voice messages as a new channel left more than enough room for debate. Quite enjoyable, because nothing beats the voice of the customer – ours and theirs!

Check out this contact centre guide to learn more about the changes contact centres are facing and the transitioning role of agents.

Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between using live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. The customer service marketplace took a very polarised view of these technologies with proponents of each making strong arguments for why their preferred solution was the best for cutting costs, boosting revenue and bettering the customer experience. Even today, some companies still view this as an either-or decision: either they give customers the option to get support online from human chat agents through live chat or they provide a virtual agent so that customers can self-serve online through automated chat.

However, this view is changing and the divide created by the live chat vs. virtual agent debate is disappearing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Before going any further, let’s take a quick look at each of these solutions individually:

Live Chat – Live chat, also sometimes referred to as web chat, enables organisations to offer customers and prospective customers a one-on-one conversation with a live chat agent. Initially live chat was just used on websites, but now it is also utilised on other engagement channels such as messaging apps and SMS. In the past, supporters of this technology would often highlight the importance of the human touch provided by live chat as a key argument of its superiority over virtual agents.

Virtual Agents – Over the years these automated conversational systems have been given a variety of names, including virtual agent, chatbot, avatar, virtual customer assistant, bot, virtual assistant and chatterbot. In its infancy this technology was used by organisations as basic FAQ systems on websites, but today’s virtual agents are much more advanced and capable of engaging users in sophisticated natural language conversations across many contact channels. In the live chat vs. virtual agents argument, advocates of virtual agents would draw attention to the significantly lower cost per conversation, consistent responses, the ability to have unlimited concurrent conversations and the 24/7 availability of support.

A view within the marketplace of these two solutions being joined up certainly hasn’t happened overnight. Forward-thinking companies seeing the potential of bringing live chat and virtual agents together have set the stage for this change. For example, back in 2012 Creative Virtual was shortlisted for an Econsultancy Innovation Award in the category of ‘Innovation in Customer & User Experience’. Our entry showcased the integration of the virtual agent we provided for a leading telecommunications company in the UK with the live chat product offered by one of our partners. The integration provided a seamless handover from the virtual agent to a live chat agent within the same template. This handover was also signalled by the virtual agent avatar ‘walking off’ and a different avatar representing the live agent ‘walking on’. At the time, this was an extremely innovative approach to combining self-service with human-assisted service in a way that created an improved user experience. Around the same time another Creative Virtual customer, an online financial services company in the US, deployed a virtual agent in front of their existing live chat offering. Their goal was to reduce repetitive questions being handled by live agents which they easily achieved through an 80% reduction in live chat volumes.

These are just two early success stories that helped to draw attention to the potential benefits of bringing these technologies together. This narrative has also been greatly influenced by the evolution of customer expectations. While customers were once ok with simply having the options to communicate with organisations via multiple channels, now they still want those engagement channel options but with a seamless, omnichannel experience.

Widespread adoption of technology, such as smartphones, along with generational changes are having a big impact on how customers want to engage with brands. The future of the contact centre lies in a combination of virtual and real support. Organisations still viewing live chat and virtual agents as an either-or decision and as stand-alone tools instead of as complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.

In order for live chat and virtual agents to work together in harmony, they need to be powered by a single knowledgebase and backed by a central knowledge management and workflow platform. This gives organisations the ability to keep information up-to-date and consistent across all self-service and human-assisted support channels which builds confidence with customers. Implementing a feedback loop that’s linked with the centralised knowledgebase and workflow enables live agents to provide real-time feedback on content that can easily be reviewed and used to action updates. Live chat agents become knowledge experts sharing the responsibility of keeping self-service channels up-to-date.

There is no doubt in my mind that the future of customer engagement is a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and human thought. The combination of virtual agents and live chat powered by a single knowledgebase is defining current best practices and, with continuous innovation, will influence the future of customer engagement for organisations around the world.

Curious about how live chat and virtual agents can work together in perfect harmony for your organisation? Download a copy of the V-Person Live Chat™ Overview and then request a demo to see the industry-defining integration for yourself.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Message You

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

There is an advertisement by an insurance company I’ve heard several times recently in which the announcer is reading ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Adulting’. It starts with the all-important ‘you must wear pants’ and ends with the necessity of having an insurance plan. But it’s the tip shared between those two that caught my attention – you can make calls with your smartphone.

This is, of course, a humorous way of trying to sell insurance policies, but it also hits on an important societal trend that has shifted the way we communicate with each other. For many, texting is often quicker, easier and more efficient than making a phone call and has become the preferred way to keep in contact with each other. The introduction and subsequent global adoption of messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger, has further solidified this change in communication preferences. With over 3 billion users around the world, messaging apps are poised to continue to grow in popularity in 2017. In fact, statistics released by GlobalWebIndex in their final quarterly report last year show that WhatsApp is the most frequently used social platform with nearly 60% of its users online more than once a day.

 social platforms


These changes in communication preferences and habits are also impacting expectations when it comes to customer service and support. Consumers, now used to getting fast, efficient responses in their personal communications, are looking for the same speed and ease in their engagements with businesses. And as more and more companies and brands offer support on digital channels such as messaging platforms, customers will increasing come to expect the same from ALL organisations. This reality helped drive the renewed interest in chatbots from customer experience and marketing professionals in the wake of Facebook’s big announcement of bots for Messenger last year. Chatbot and virtual agent technology offers a cost-effective way to provide 24/7 support to customers on these platforms.

This isn’t to say that the phone call is completely gone from our personal or customer service communications. There is a generational gap in preferences with digitally native Millennials gravitating away from the phone, but older generations still consistently opting to make a call as their first point of contact. Yet in some situations, even those who would typically turn to self-service or digital channels prefer to make a phone call or understand that their query needs to be escalated so they can speak with a contact centre agent. This is important for organisations to acknowledge because it highlights the necessity of having a tightly integrated support experience. Offering a standalone chatbot solution on Facebook Messenger may be ok for providing some basic self-service on that platform, but what happens when a customer has a more complex question that needs to be escalated to live chat or a phone call?

Let’s back up a little. The first step is for organisations to accept that customer experience is a key (if not THE key) to remaining competitive and to commit to offering engagement options to customers where they are, particularly in the online channels. Then organisations need to find out where their customers are and identify what digital channels may be missing from their existing customer support strategy. In 2017, that’s likely to be messaging platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat. Before jumping on the messaging app chatbot bandwagon, organisations need to carefully consider how this channel fits with their overall customer experience and select a chatbot solution that will allow for it to be properly integrated with other channels and support options, such as live chat.

The infiltration of messaging platforms into our everyday digital interactions isn’t something that organisations can afford to ignore. In fact, this communication channel offers huge potential for companies to improve engagement and deepen conversations with customers. Organisations need to be smart about their strategy though, and approach it with the appropriate planning and thought to create positive, loyalty-building experiences for customers.

Why Self-Service Has Become an Imperative Despite the Obstacles That Block It

By Karen McFarlane, Marketing, Americas

On April 6th, Creative Virtual USA joined over 150 customer care executives at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum in New York City to discuss how the challenges of the current economic landscape are forcing organizations to examine and reduce costs and why the need for a customer-first approach is more important than ever. A core part of this discussion revolved around the growth of self-service channels, which is supported by analyst research predicting that by 2017, over 2/3 of all customer service interaction will no longer require the support of a human.

With customers practically begging for self-service, we wanted to see what other executives thought about implementing self-service channels and the biggest obstacles they are facing. So we took the opportunity to ask them at the Argyle Customer Care Leadership Forum and polled all 150 attendees. 81% of them said knowledge management and gaining organizational support were the key obstacles to successful self-service deployment. You can download the full results of that report here.

Given these findings, the desire to deliver self-service remains strong, but making the business case and finding supportive technology that can galvanize traditionally siloed departments remains a challenge for many organizations. However, some brands have paved the way as early adopters and are having positive experiences iterating as they go.  Frank Schneider, VP of Customer Experience Solutions, joined a panel at the Argyle Forum, “The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations,” where he, along with executives from General Electric, Quest Diagnostics, Panasonic and Confirmit, discussed the strategies, technologies, and tactics they used to support their self-service investments. Below is an excerpt of the 50-minute panel discussion where they shared some of the challenges and achievements. The full recording is available here.

 ——–

Q&A Excerpt: The Future of Customer Service: Customer Empowerment and Expectations

Creating Your Self-Service Strategy

Q: What tactics have you started to use in terms of bringing the tech savvy customer in and starting to learn from what they need and what the experiences are to give them a better, richer experience?

Creative Virtual: Customers want to adopt these technologies and you have to keep it simple… make it conversational and give the customer a chance to tell us what they need…It’s easy to just wrap it in the wrapper of personalization, but if you actually take the time to listen to your customers and say, “OK, well, let’s meet them at this point and help facilitate that, we find that’s key.” Knowing who I am, knowing the type of customer I am, what package I have and leveraging that context to make this tool whatever it is, digital engagement or even an agent to respect me by showing the intelligence that you know me, makes a big difference. We try to enable that with our solution in particular and this is something I think all brands are hungry for.

Formulating a Business Case

Q: This morning we heard a lot about the investment and how do we finance it? Part of any investment, have you started seeing any reduction in cost? You talked about transferring some of the volume of calls to self-serve, have you started seeing that and are you measuring that somehow and how are you going about that?

Quest Diagnostics: One of the key pieces that we do measure is contacts into our call center per 1,000 patient requisition…we’re seeing that contacts per 1,000 requisitions come down and seeing it similarly increase in those digital or those self-service opportunities, which enables us to better manage that team. I think that’s been a really key piece that we’re looking at. Right now, we’re doing a lot of research to understand in the physician offices those who are active adopters and why they love it?… As we move more into a self-service environment, we’re seeing the reduction in that incoming volume, which is allowing us to be more cost effective. It’s improving their satisfaction and their stickiness.

Measuring Effectiveness

Q: How about cognitive analytics? How is that coming into the play in terms of how we’re using the data and how we’re predicting customer behavior?

Panasonic: In my case, because I have different responsibilities, we have metrics for the call center, which are pretty much the standard everybody’s measuring, AHT and things of that nature. We have web-related activity as to how our customers think we’re doing and the kind of activity from a service stand point. We have actually had some cases where we can react to customers and respond to them within a certain time period because we’re getting information and can communicate with the customer. When you can call somebody within a half hour of a problem, that makes a really big difference.

What the Future Holds

Q: How have you seen the customer service changing in particular with all the new technology that we’re trying to drive?

Confirmit: The role is changing in a lot of ways but not necessarily specific to technology. There is an elevation of the role and elevation of customer experience. You’re seeing investments being made with CCO’s and new directors of customer experience. Ten years ago, this did not exist. We’re just seeing a focus on putting dollars and focus and attention on customer experience. I think that the rest of it, the technology the marrying, the journey, all of that follows the focus because we now have a seat at the table to talk about the actual customer experience. I think there’s a huge investment being made in the roles, the people.

Quest Diagnostics: How do you continue to have that interaction, a dialogue? That’s a big piece and I think we found for us, that’s been critical is even changing the nomenclature in the organization to we were talking very clinically… If I’m a Phlebotomist caring for a patient one on one, they want a different feel and they want a different language set. That’s to your point, changing and meeting that customer how they want to be met. I think about investments around and the way we look at it, as an elevation customer care and that element is one piece of it. It’s that whole end to end and how we’re looking at all of those investments linked together.

Creative Virtual: Ultimately, without being too corny, ultimately technology is always supposed to improve our lives. Throughout history any advancement is supposed to improve our lives…. It’s common sense that we need to meet our customers in all these moments of truth and we win their hearts and minds by actually meeting them intelligently and being accessible and instantly available. Getting as much help as we can. When we can actually say, “Hey we can’t right now, here’s how we can.”

Panasonic: It’s more experiential. With all the new tools and stuff, customer reps are going to have to do more, do different things differently. They might have to do phone chat, social, things related that they didn’t have to do before. Selling things, revenue, we’re starting to do revenue as well and it is a different mindset.

To listen to the full recording of the panel discussion, click here.