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Contact Centres are Crying Out for Help

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Contact centres and contact centre agents are under immense pressure, dealing with increased contact volumes, rising customer frustration, and agent attrition. A recent survey of 1000 contact centre leaders in the UK, US, and Australia has revealed a very telling and consistent view that contact centres are hanging on by a thread.

This survey, conducted by Censuswide, found:

  • 68% of contact centres report rising chat and call volumes
  • 66% of contact centres agree that contact volumes are spiralling beyond their capacity to handle them
  • 70% of contact centres report escalating customer churn
  • 68% of contact centres are experiencing increased agent attrition
  • 66% of contact centres report that dealing with frustrated customers is impacting the mental health of frontline customer service employees

The findings of this survey are not good. Not good for contact centre agents, not good for customers, and not good for businesses. However, the survey also uncovered that 96% of contact centres are planning technology upgrades in the next 12-24 months to keep from a complete breakdown of customer service under these pressures.

While technology won’t solve all the issues facing the contact centre industry, the right solutions will go a long way in alleviating some of the stress being placed on agents. These solutions include both tools designed specifically to support agents as well as customer-facing tools that create easier digital self-service.

Offering 24/7 intelligent self-service options to customers alleviates pressure on busy contact centres by reducing the number of incoming contacts. Chatbots and virtual agents can answer your most common questions that don’t require engagement with a human, so your agents no longer have to answer the same basic queries over and over. Chatbots backed by a more sophisticated conversational AI platform can also guide customers step-by-step through troubleshooting instructions and hand-hold users through the completion of forms, applications, and even the sales process. This further reduces contact volumes and frees up agents to deal with most sensitive, complex customer issues.

Regardless of what channels your agents are delivering support on – phone, email, social media, SMS, messaging apps, live chat – it’s important for them to have the information and tools they need to help customers efficiently and accurately. Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions are proven to reduce training time for agents and also give all contact centre staff members easy access to the same level of information to help customers.

Agents can find the information they need by typing in questions using natural language or internal abbreviations. As with customer-facing chatbots, a high-quality conversational AI platform allows for conversation flows to help agents guide customers through procedures, processes, and forms. The tool can provide ‘next-best-action’ prompts to assist with up-selling and cross-selling. And when integrated with voice technology, the tool can ‘listen in’ on calls and present agents with relevant information as the caller explains their issue.

Staff training on how to deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements can be augmented with an agent self-service tool for supporting potentially vulnerable customers. Agents use search terms such as ‘job loss’, ‘anxiety’, and ‘autism’ to access tips on how to support customers’ needs effectively and sensitively within company guidelines. Links to practical and helpful resources can also be included to help create more empathetic experiences for vulnerable customers as well as act as a way for agents to find reliable information and services for themselves.

With these customisable contact centre tools, agents no longer need to worry about memorising and retaining content or shuffling through multiple pages of notes and handbooks. Instead, they know they have all the information they need at their fingertips and can concentrate on the human engagement with customers.

Deploying conversational AI technology for both customers and agents as part of a cohesive strategy delivers a variety of benefits for the contact centre:

  • Customers are happier and less frustrated because they have a better option to self-serve.
  • Increased self-service containment and resolution means reduced contact centre traffic.
  • Agents are more readily available to support customers with the most complex issues instead of spending time dealing with basic, repetitive questions.
  • Agents have instant access to information, guides, and tips for helping customers effectively and sensitively.
  • An improved experience for agents means lower agent attrition.
  • An improved experience for customers means lower customer churn.

There is no quick fix or magic solution for all the pressures contact centres are currently experiencing. However, conversational AI is one technology that can help overcome some of these challenges by addressing them from both the customer and agent viewpoints. The key to finding success with this approach is to work with a conversational AI provider experienced in both areas.

If you find yourself agreeing with the findings of this survey within your own organisation, then it’s time to talk to the conversational AI experts about crafting your own contact centre strategy.

Would You Rather Call Customer Support or Clean a Toilet?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

42% of Americans would rather clean a toilet and 46% would rather go to the dentist than call customer support.

These stats, just two of many in the 2022 Achieving Customer Amazement Study, likely have you nodding in agreement thinking about your own painful customer service experiences. Long wait times, disengaged agents, multiple call transfers, repeating yourself over and over – calling customer support has a bad reputation for a reason.

Having to call customer support is perhaps even more frustrating now than 20 or 30 years ago because we know that there are better and easier ways for businesses to provide customer service. Many of us would rather self-serve on the website, send an email, or chat with an agent online for most of our support needs, particularly when we are dealing with large companies. When we do need or prefer to make a phone call to speak with someone, a bad experience is made worse by the knowledge that there are ways to make support calls less painful which many contact centers aren’t utilizing.

Poor customer support experiences create unhappy customers, bad reviews, and lost revenue. Here are a few questions to ask about your customer service to help make it more pleasant than cleaning a toilet:

Do you make it easy for customers to reach your contact center?

Self-service options like chatbots and virtual agents are increasingly preferred by customers, but they can’t – and shouldn’t! – completely replace human contact center agents. Instead, they should be integrated with human-assisted options such as live chat and call-back so users can reach a human when needed without starting a whole separate engagement. When escalating customers from self-service to a live agent, the experience should be as seamless as possible. The agent should have full visibility of the customer’s conversation with the chatbot so they can pick it up right where the self-service experience ended.

Also, don’t make it difficult for customers to find your contact details. Companies that hide their support phone number and email address aren’t keeping customers from contacting them with issues. They are just making customers who are already annoyed about needing to contact the support team more frustrated. They have started the support experience negatively and made the job of their contact center agents even more difficult.

Do you intelligently route customers to the right agent?

Customers reaching out to your customer support channels want the ability to reach the right person to solve their issue. They don’t want to repeat their problem to multiple agents or waste more time on hold as they are transferred from department to department. Having agents specialized in specific areas is a great way to improve customer service, but only when customers are being connected with the right expert from the start.

Forward-thinking companies are using conversational AI to intelligently route customers to the right agent the first time. This technology can be used with IVR (interactive voice response) solutions for customers calling the contact center. It can also be used when handing users over from an automated chatbot to a live chat agent or call-back option. This improves the experience for both customers and agents, as well as helping to reduce the time it takes customers to have their issue resolved.

Do you provide agents with the best training and tools?

Customers want your contact center agents to be both knowledgeable about your products and services and able to convey that information in a kind and helpful way. That only happens when you provide your agents with the proper training and contact center tools. These two elements go hand-in-hand as the agent tools you have in place greatly impacts agent training.

Easy-to-use desktop conversational AI solutions improve agent performance, reduce training time, and cut average call handling times (AHT) by enabling quicker resolutions. A virtual agent designed specifically to support the agents in your contact center gives all staff members easy access to the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience. Agents can quickly find step-by-step guidance for even the most complicated procedures, processes, and applications. When agents have instant, reliable access to all the information they need in one place, they can focus on creating positive, efficient, and empathetic engagements with your customers.

Would customers rather clean a toilet or go to the dentist than call your customer support?

If the answer to this question is yes, then it’s time to make some changes to your customer support strategy. Start with simple changes, like making sure contact information for your support channels is easy to find. If you aren’t already leveraging conversational AI for self-service and in your contact center, now is the perfect time to explore those options. Recent developments in this technology make it a great choice for improving some of the most common customer frustration points.

Want to learn more? The whitepaper by Insurance Thought Leadership, The Virtual Insurance Agent, provides insights on improving customer experience with conversational AI that are applicable for all industries. Also check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor for tips from industry experts on how to implement and maintain successful solutions.

Conversational AI and the Contact Centre: The perfect customer service pair

By Khushal Hirani, Customer Success Manager

You can’t celebrate Customer Service Week without talking about the contact centre. Onboarding agents in a contact centre can be very time consuming and expensive. From the recruitment process, to training, up until they are on the floor taking calls, it takes a very long time until new agents are self-sufficient.

The job of a fully trained contact centre agent can also be extremely stressful. They must remember how to use several tools and different areas to access certain knowledge. They often must memorise certain scripts and be able to explain detailed processes. This puts a lot of pressure on agents and can result in a poor customer experience, unnecessarily long call times, and low customer satisfaction scores.

For example, contact centre agents tend to keep notepads or workbooks with their own notes at their desks to ensure they remember the processes. This means communication of processes from one agent could be completely different when speaking to clients than from another agent.

Too often contact centre agents are also dealing with many tools and applications to do their job. This means that before they can even start working with customers, they face extensive training to learn them all. Then after completing their training, this makes it hard for contact centre agents to switch between screens while answering customer questions. This increases the time on the call for customers and creates a very disjointed experience.

Fortunately for contact centre agents and customers, conversational AI tools can help eliminate some of these issues and stresses. Here are some benefits of using conversational AI in your contact centre:

  • Training time is reduced – When contact centre agents are onboarded, the training time is reduced as the agents don’t need to learn complicated tools or multiple applications. This means less time to get agents to the floor and more of a focus on training agents on the human side of providing empathetic customer service.
  • Single source of truth – Knowledge and processes are in a single location where everything is accessible to all contact centre agents, giving everyone the same level of knowledge regardless of their experience level. Conversational AI tools like virtual agents can also be set up to provide support through public-facing solutions from the same knowledgebase with answers customised for both agents and self-serving customers.
  • New knowledge identified with agent feedback – Every contact centre agent can identify any knowledge gaps as well as contribute towards creating new processes or updating content with a built-in feedback loop. This keeps the customer experience accurate and consistent by ensuring the most up-to-date information is going out to all the end-users through multiple channels.
  • Integration with back-end systems – Integrations into different applications make it easier for the agents to use conversational AI because they have one tool that lets them find what they need. A customised agent dashboard can bring everything together in one place, including real-time alerts and step-by-step process flows.
  • Reports and metrics tracking – Reporting that is accurate and easy to understand gives important insights into what conversations the agents are having with customers and what knowledge gaps have been identified. This helps you track important metrics and see opportunities to further improve your support experience.

Contact centres are a big investment for companies and important for customer support. When used in the contact centre, conversational AI gives agents easy access to all the knowledge and processes they need to provide a better customer service experience. It makes their jobs easier and lets them focus on the human side of serving customers. Conversational AI and contact centre agents become the perfect customer service pair.

Empowering Call Centre Agents: “If you don’t know, ask Mo!”

By Rachel Freeman, Head of Operations

“If you don’t know, ask Mo.” This is the slogan I heard repeated by at least one of the very able Motability Operations trainers as they were training a new group of recruits during my recent site visit.

This is not a throw away comment! Ask Mo – the Motability Operations self-help tool used by 200 of their advisor/call agents – is the essential tool for a new recruit as notetaking in training is not encouraged and manuals are no longer distributed. The focus is about “empowerment” to know where to access the knowledge as opposed to making sure that all the knowledge is recalled. Recounting the vast amount of information advisors need to assist callers can take months of training, but that is reduced drastically when the knowledge is held within a tool like Mo.

The objective for advisors is to get them to understand the Motability Operations ethos, how to work with people and provide smooth and caring customer service. That type of training is best done in workshops and amongst people, which is exactly what happens with each new group of recruits. Ask Mo is the virtual agent used to get the trainees up to speed on all other aspects of training, and is pitched as the “go to tool” for queries and processes to enable the advisor to best help the customer on the other end of the phone.

Having collaborated with Creative Virtual since 2007 on Ask Mo, Motability Operations have assessed how the user interfaces will best suit their advisors and have made various amendments to the template based on advisor needs. Recently there has been an added “toolkit” area on the template for advisors to click on and get more information about protocol and handy tips for how to work with various types of calls. The toolkit is an easily accessible area on the template that can be used when an advisor has some downtime and is not taking calls.

Having spent some time in a training room with 10 fresh advisors, I was impressed how the use of Mo was so much engrained as part of the exercises. As they filed out of the room to assess wear and tear on a car, I looked at what they had left behind in the room: 10 monitors with the Ask Mo template showing before the screen savers kicked in. It was clear – if they didn’t know, Ask Mo was indeed ready to assist in the further empowerment of providing an answer.

It is this approach to knowledge management that won Motability Operations a 2015 Customer Contact Innovation Award and consistently has them receiving top-ranking customer and employee satisfaction scores. It was inspiring to experience first-hand the positive impact Ask Mo is having in onboarding new advisors as well as enabling all advisors, new and old, to always have access to the most up-to-date information.

Be sure to check out Motability Operations’ award-winning case study, Ask Mo: how knowledge gives confidence with customers, to learn more about how they have successfully integrated their virtual agent into their company culture.