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On the Hunt for Better Customer Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

The world always seems to be on the hunt for the next thing that will be bigger and better – the newest tech gadget, the latest fashion trend, the hottest social media challenge, the next break-out Netflix show. As customers, we want the best deal, the most innovative products and the greatest experience possible. This means that companies are always on the hunt for ways to meet those expectations, build brand loyalty and deliver a better customer experience.

Last week we celebrated Customer Service Week and CX Day, two annual events that place a spotlight on the importance of customer service and your overall customer experience as well as the people involved in supporting your customers. At Creative Virtual, we recognised these global celebrations with a special series of blog posts written by members of our expert team and published throughout the week. Each contributor selected their own topic independently, and the result was a well-rounded look at how humans and machines can help companies on that hunt for better customer service.

On Tuesday, we published a post by Rachel Freeman in which she explores the struggles contact centres have been facing during the pandemic. Long wait times have been fuelled by a sharp rise in calls combined with the unpredictability of available agents due to office closures and quarantines. She advocates for letting self-help tools, such as virtual agents and chatbots, share the burden being felt by contact centres.

“Let’s give the machines space to help, freedom to work” Rachel writes. This combination of humans and machines can create a seamless experience and more efficient customer service interactions. At the same time, using this approach helps companies prioritise the health and well-being of both their customers and employees.

This provided the perfect set-up for Laura Ludmany’s Customer Service Week Musings on how a machine knows if it’s wrong which we published on Wednesday. In her post, she takes a closer look at the different approaches that can be used to ‘teach’ chatbots and virtual agents. Her conclusion? When it comes to using these AI tools to provide customer service, they can only be trained appropriately with real-life user inputs.

Laura uses her experience working with self-service virtual agents to describe this hybrid approach and the different ways data can be collected from users and applied by the tool to learn about what is right and wrong. “As long as AI tools serve customer queries,” she explains, “they will always face unknown questions, hence they will never stop learning and rewriting their existing set of rules.”

She ends her post by recognising the important role humans, both customers and the virtual agent experts, have in helping these self-service tools deliver a continuously improving experience. This theme of the importance of the human touch was then picked up in Thursday’s post by Björn Gülsdorff.

Björn starts by recalling the presentation he gave in March at the CCW 2020 conference in Berlin which was all about the human touch in AI. The human touch was a hot topic at the event, being seen as the latest trend in Bot Building, and one that Creative Virtual has been doing for years. In his session, Björn talked about putting your customer in the centre of the project, keeping the human experts involved and giving the virtual agent’s responses a personal touch to improve the customer experience.

Now, seven months on from that conference, Björn acknowledges, “The human touch has a different meaning in a world where hugs are considered a danger.” He advocates for the use of technology to bridge the gaps created by the physical distancing needed to control the spread of COVID-19 but stresses the importance of remembering that these are just tools being used to connect people. Keeping the human touch in customer service by keeping humans in the loop is more important than ever.

So, what does this all mean for companies on the hunt for a better customer service experience? Having the right technology in place to enable customers to self-serve is imperative. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digital customer service. Customers who may have turned to digital channels and self-service options out of necessity this year, are now familiar with their convenience and are more likely to make them a part of their new customer service expectations. Contact centres also benefit from this technology with a better agent experience and improved customer interactions.

However, having the technology does not automatically ensure success. It needs to be combined with the right human expertise and support in order to be developed, implemented and maintained correctly for your organisation, customers and agents. That type of knowledge doesn’t happen overnight or come from reading a few blog posts (even great ones like these!). It takes a deep understanding of the technology, how the tools work and the ways users interact with implementations. That expertise only comes from years of actual experience in developing, implementing and maintaining self-service solutions.

Customer Service Week may be over for this year, but the never-ending hunt for better customer service – by companies and customers – goes on. 2020 has forced changes on all of us and accelerated the push for digital transformation. Smart companies know the present and future of better customer service lies in the combination of humans and machines, people and technology, live agents and virtual agents.

Changing Digital Expectations and CX Trends in 2020

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

As with many other aspects of life and business, customer experience trends and expectations have been greatly impacted by the global health crisis this year. The closing of physical store and office locations, restrictions on in-person activities, new guidelines to keep contact centre agents safe, rapidly changing information – these challenges and disruptions to business-as-usual have forced organisations to adapt quickly and re-evaluate the needs of their customers.

CX Network’s The Global State of Customer Experience 2020 report breaks down insights from customer experience (CX) experts, looking at the opportunities and hurdles over the first half of 2020 as well as forecasts for the remainder of the year. Survey respondents’ observations about customer behaviour present a very telling story about the challenges of CX today:

  • 68% strongly believe that expectations from customers are rising
  • 52% believe customers are more willing than ever to switch brands if unsatisfied
  • 49% believe there are clear trends in customer segments that prefer certain contact channels
  • 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers
  • 43% believe that customers are more impatient than ever before

For years there have been predictions about when CX will overtake other factors, such as price and product, to become the number one way companies differentiate themselves from competitors or when CX will become the most important consideration for customers when making purchasing decisions. Regardless of whether we’ve reached that point, businesses can’t ignore the facts that customer expectations are rising and that failing to make changes to meet those expectations negatively impacts customer retention and spending.

The global pandemic that the world is dealing with right now has further shone a spotlight on CX, particularly on the importance of a quality digital experience. It should come as no surprise that in CX Networks’ survey, digital transformation and digital customer experience ranked high in responses from CX practitioners, solution providers and industry commenters when asked about top trends.

2020 cx trends

Organisations that already had a focus on their digital CX prior to the start of 2020 had an advantage as they adapted to COVID-19 related restrictions and changes. For example, those with existing virtual agents or chatbots were able to relieve pressure from their contact centre by proactively encouraging customers to self-serve. Branded virtual agents around the world saw a massive spike in usage during the first half of the year, further proof of the importance of digital customer care.

The survey also asked participants about challenges companies are facing when trying to close the gap between customer expectations and the reality of the experiences being delivered. ‘Building a customer-first culture’ was in the top three responses for all three groups and ‘Siloed customer data’ also ranked high in the answers selected.

2020 cx challenges

Both of those challenges can directly impact the creation and success of digital transformations and digital customer experience strategies. Having a customer-centric culture is essential for selecting and implementing the right digital changes and tools to address the real needs and preferences of customers. However, achieving success can also be derailed by having siloed customer data, incomplete customer profiles and disconnected customer experiences. Creating a single source of truth for customer data requires time and resources but is a necessary and worthwhile investment to create seamless, omnichannel customer engagement.

While it’s impossible to know exactly what the future holds for customers and businesses, what has become clear is that delivering positive digital and self-service experiences is going to continue to be important to a company’s bottom line. Check out this three-part blog series for more insights and tips:

As customer expectations and preferences continue to evolve, smart organisations will evolve with them. They will find ways to meet customers where they are, whether that be in-person or on digital channels.

Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

We are currently living in unprecedented times as countries and communities around the world deal with quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. Businesses and brands of all sizes and across industries face new challenges as offices and physical locations close. For some, the flexibility and robustness of their digital strategy is going to play a key role in how, and if, they emerge on the other side.

Organisations are now under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This includes the need to answer coronavirus-related questions as well as the usual queries about products, services, policies and procedures. Many are looking to fast-track projects that are already in progress or are re-evaluating strategies to add new projects that can be actioned quickly.

Advancements over the past several years in conversational AI technologies, including chatbots and virtual agents, have made them a go-to solution for providing cost-effective and easy-to-use support on digital channels. They also give organisations the opportunity to get self-service projects both deployed and performing well quickly. By working with an industry vendor that provides a combination of technology and implementation expertise and support, companies don’t need to worry about having that knowledge internally to get started.

When talking about self-service virtual agents, the first use case that usually comes to mind is customer service. That’s the capacity in which these solutions first got their start, but companies shouldn’t overlook the benefits of using this technology within the contact centre to support agents as well as to provide self-service for employees in areas such as HR and IT support. As many companies deal with the sudden switch to supporting a remote workforce, exploring these internal-facing solutions is more important than ever.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll take a closer look at using AI-enhanced virtual agents to support contact centre agents and your employees.

First, let’s explore some benefits of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide self-service for your customers. There are lots of published statistics and success stories that prove the business value of this technology. Here are a few immediate advantages organisations will gain from deploying an AI-enhanced chatbot or virtual agent to support customers in the current uncertain situation:

  • Available 24/7 – For much of the population, the usual daily routine has flown out the window as we transition to working remotely, home schooling our children and supporting more vulnerable members of our family and neighbourhoods. Having to keep track of your company’s contact centre hours is one of the last things your customers want to have to do. A virtual agent gives them instant access to the information and support they need at any time of the day or night, and without the need to find a quiet place to have a phone conversation with a real person.
  • Up-to-date information – Things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world as governments issue new instructions for businesses and leadership teams adjust policies and procedures to keep customers and employees safe. Quality virtual agent solutions enable a quick update of the tool’s content so customers can access the most up-to-date information available. The technology can also enable you to deliver customised information based on factors such as location to provide tailored answers to customers.
  • Relieve pressure from live agents – Contact centres are being overwhelmed with calls, live chats, emails and social posts from customers as COVID-19 related questions are added to the usual mix of regular queries. By adding a conversational self-service solution, companies can relieve some of that pressure from contact centre agents by giving customers another option. A virtual agent can successfully engage with an unlimited number of users at the same time and frees up live agents to assist customers with more complex issues or who want to talk with an agent.

For organisations new to the idea of deploying a virtual agent or those who are unsure how to take the first step, destinationCRM’s Best Practices Series on How to Select a Chatbot or Virtual Agent for Your Self-Service Project is a great place to start. It outlines actionable tips on selecting a solution that will positively impact your customer care.

Coming up in Part 2 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a deeper dive into using a virtual agent as an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents. And in Part 3, we’ll take a look at how the technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce by giving employees reliable self-service options. I will also share my top recommendations for getting new virtual agent projects deployed quickly and upgrading existing tools that aren’t performing well.

Ready to get started on your self-service project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your self-service goals – request a personalised demo here.