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Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-19 Uncertainty, Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the immense pressure organisations are under to deliver quality service and support over digital channels during this period of coronavirus-related quarantines, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. We took a look at some of the benefits of using AI-enhanced chatbots and virtual agents to offer customer self-service. In Part 2, let’s explore how this technology can be deployed as an Agent Assist tool to support your contact centre agents.

No matter where you are in the world or the nature of your business, your contact centre is now dealing with a new reality. For some, this may mean supporting agents working from home. For others, it may be working out the logistics of social distancing and new policies to keep employees safe while in the office. Many organisations are also dealing with an increased number of calls, emails and live chats coming into their contact centres. Despite these disruptions and a bigger workload, agents still must deliver a positive experience to your customers.

Providing contact centre agents with desktop conversational AI as a knowledge source gives them an extra edge in providing customers with quick, competent service. Agents have access to a virtual agent that understands questions asked in natural language. This means agents can type in queries using the same language as the customer they are assisting, instead of having to remember the relevant keywords or phrases to find the information they need. The virtual agent can also be set up to understand internal abbreviations and acronyms commonly used by agents to make it even easier to access the right content quickly. The tool acts a virtual supervisor, giving agents instant access to information and step-by-step guidance through procedures and processes that is current and up to date.

Here are a few benefits of having an Agent Assist tool to support contact centre agents in the current uncertain situation:

  • Reduce average handing times and improve first contact resolution – Average handling time (AHT) and first contact resolution are always important metrics for contact centres. However, they are more important than ever during high volume periods, and it’s essential that they be addressed hand-in-hand. Reducing AHT but not solving those customers’ issues benefits no one. It leaves customers frustrated and dissatisfied and usually results in them reaching out to your contact centre again. An Agent Assist virtual agent gets your agents to the correct, complete information they need quickly, thus cutting back on length of calls and improving the quality of resolution.
  • Provide agents with alerts and instant access to updated, time-sensitive information – As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, things are changing rapidly in many parts of the world with new government directives and updated company policies being issued all the time. The Agent Assist desktop can be configured to provide agents with real-time alerts about important updates and announcements, so they are always in the loop even if they are working remotely. With the ability to update the virtual agent content quickly, organisations can also ensure agents have consistent access to time-sensitive information and the most recent versions of procedures and policies. This helps you improve consistency and compliance across the contact centre as well as the customer experience.
  • Reduce training time for agents – Some businesses are dealing with the increased pressure on their contact centre by reassigning employees from other areas to field customer questions or taking on new agents. This creates an additional challenge of training those people quickly and efficiently. Using a virtual agent in your contact centre reduces training time because it gives all agents the information they need right at their fingertips. The tool is easy to use, doesn’t require agents to remember specific keywords or abbreviations, and can provide step-by-step guidance through procedures, applications, etc. New agents, and seasoned team members, don’t need to worry about retaining the content because they can easily access it as they are interacting with customers. This enables you to focus training more on the best ways to have those interactions and deliver compassionate, emotionally intelligent engagements – which is more important than ever right now.

A great resource for organisations thinking about using conversational AI to support agents is the whitepaper A Chatbot for Your Contact Centre. It provides tips for selecting and implementing a conversational platform that fits with the needs of your organisation as well as best practices for deploying and maintaining an Agent Assist tool. Also included are contact centre specific questions to ask when evaluating different virtual agent offerings.

Coming up in Part 3 of this series on self-service, we’ll take a look at how virtual agent and chatbot technology can alleviate some of the stress of supporting a remote workforce. 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 Agent Assist project? As always, the team at Creative Virtual is available and prepared to help you meet your contact centre goals – request a personalised demo here.

Don’t Worry, the Customer Only Wants You to Be Perfect

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, USA

So…. I have this diploma and now have no idea what to do! Anyone else been there after graduation? Being from Delaware, I thought I would try my hand at one of the many financial service companies that call the First State home. My interview seemed to go well and as it was concluding the hiring manager asked me to sit with one of her agents for 30 minutes so that I would have a better understanding of what I would be doing in this role. I sat down and listened to “Steve” take his first call. The caller was a very polite woman who I assume had lived a long, enjoyable life. She was calling to cancel her credit card. I can’t recall all of the dialogue but when she hung up the phone not only was the card not cancelled but she now was the proud owner of the “World Traveler Card.” How did that happen? At that moment, I realized this was not the job for me! What an incredibly difficult position for an agent. How do you show empathy for your customers while at the same time complying with the push to meet goals the company has outlined?

Fast forward a dozen or so years and now I am a seasoned member of the working class that at times requires support from brands I purchase from. My expectations when speaking with an agent are that they will handle every situation the way I would handle it if I was on the other end. Imagine asking an agent to meet each caller’s personal expectations. I really dislike the word “fair”, and don’t allow my children to use it, but my goodness, that is an unfair expectation.

So, what is the answer? For me, it’s automation. When I take inventory of all the reasons I pick up the phone or live chat with a brand, most of those things could be answered in some type of automated fashion or by a chatbot. Whether I need information about my account or steps to troubleshoot a process, I shouldn’t need another person to take the time to help me. Chatbots have evolved in 2017 to be intelligent, easy to access and conversational. They should be used in everyday transactions and leave the “high-touch” scenarios for the agents. Companies should strive to create an environment where customers are able to get immediate support for everyday issues, while at the same time having agents available for consultative help. Companies will not only create a superior customer experience but also help bring sanity back to their agents. Allow the agent to spend their day consulting with customers on new products and offering advice where necessary. Let the chatbot handle the password reset, account balance, and “I need to reset my router” questions.

Contact us to learn more about our chatbot experts and solutions.

Nobody Puts the Customer in the Corner

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Happy Customer Service Week! Each year the first full week of October brings the week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service and the people who operate by the motto ‘Nobody puts the customer in the corner’ by providing great customer service every day of the year. From those who provide face-to-face service to those working in contact centres to those responsible for supporting self-service channels, delivering quality customer service is a team effort, and we salute you all.

As we shine the spotlight on customer service professionals this week, let’s take a look back at some of the trends, tips and statistics we’ve shared on customer support and the contact centre over the past year with our annual blog post roundup:

  • The Future of the Contact Centre – Technology is altering the way customers engage with brands and increasing their demands for instant 24/7 customer service. The traditional model for call centres and contact centres is no longer providing the experience customers have begun to demand. As organisations look to meet the expectations of digitally-savvy customers, changes in the contact centre and the job descriptions of customer service agents are going to be key to digital transitions.
  • Live Chat vs. Virtual Agents: A Story of Overcoming the Divide to Work Together in Perfect Harmony – In the not too distant past it wasn’t uncommon to come across organisations struggling to decide between live chat or a virtual agent on their website for customer support. However, now the either-or debate is changing into a discussion of how to bring these two technologies together to work in perfect harmony. Organisations that continue to view them as stand-alone tools instead of complementary solutions are going to struggle to provide quality digital support experiences for their customers.
  • CX in 2017: A Tale of Empowered Customers, AI and Self-Service – According to Forrester, companies are under attack from their customers with technology-empowered customers deciding the winners and losers. The analysts at Gartner have also been following these technology-driven changes in customer preferences and predict that by 2020 the use of virtual customer assistants (also called virtual agents or chatbots) for providing better customer service will increase by 1,000%. Knowing you need to offer digital self-service and successfully implementing these tools as part of your overall customer service plan are two very different things, though. The best way to start is by educating yourself about digital engagement solutions and customer expectations.
  • Conversational Commerce for Demanding APAC Customers – The Asia Pacific region had been seeing the change to self-service happening separately from the contact centre which then created new challenges for companies. Now contact centre professionals are coming to understand that virtual agents and chatbots can work together with contact centre agents and are seeing the benefits of including these conversational systems as part of their overall customer service plans.
  • Is the Contact Centre Part of Your Digital Transformation Programme? – Every organisation is in the midst of digital transformation programmes and the contact centre needs to be a key part of that, although that’s not always the case today. In the future, the contact centre will be the centre of excellence for the knowledge used across customer support channels and organisations need to put the necessary tools in place to facilitate that change.
  • Infographic: Are Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence Threats to Your Contact Centre? – Some academics and experts are warning about the dangers of AI, predicting everything from a huge loss of jobs to the end of the human race. At the same time, industry analysts are predicting significant increases in chatbots and virtual agents in the customer service space. This infographic gives a realistic overview of the impact of AI, chatbots and virtual agents are having on the contact centre.

 

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.

Conversational Commerce for Demanding APAC Customers

By Philip Chuck, Territory General Manager, Greater China

Effortless, Accurate, Seamless, Effective. When it comes to customer service, this is what customers expect. Yet putting the right technology, process and people in place to delight customers presents challenges for companies. This sparked insightful discussions during the 2017 Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) International Symposium on 28 April.

One hot topic was the growth of conversational systems – chatbots and virtual assistants – in Asia Pacific. Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, addressed this in his presentation titled Taking Your Contact Centre into the Future with EASE. He talked about the changes contact centres need to make to meet customer expectations, including best practices for bringing together chatbots and virtual agents with live chat. He shared live examples of virtual assistants in action and demonstrated how a combination of virtual and real support can benefit both customers and contact centres.

His presentation received a positive response from Symposium attendees. In the region we were seeing the change to self-service happening separately from the contact centre which was creating new challenges for companies. Now contact centre professionals are coming to understand that virtual assistants can work together with contact centre agents. They are seeing the benefits of including these conversational systems as part of their overall customer service plans. APAC customers are increasingly reliant on technology and inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences. Joining together the contact centre with self-service channels is necessary for companies to create delighted, loyal customers.

Another key takeaway from the event was that chatbots are one of the technologies that can be realised early along the road of digitalisation. This is important for companies struggling to move forward with their digital transformation. No matter what industry they are in, organisations are seeing the demand for conversational channels from their customers. Chatbot technology enables them to create digital conversations with customers that are effortless, accurate, seamless and effective.

My thanks to HKCCA for hosting another great event! It was a pleasure to take part alongside our partner company Continuous Technologies International Ltd for a third year.

You can learn more about how virtual assistants can work together with contact centre agents by downloading the guide, The Future of the Contact Centre. If you want to learn how chatbots can help your organisation create conversational commerce, request a live demo.

2017 HKCCA Symposium

The Future of CX in Asia Pacific: Effortless, Accurate, Seamless, Effective

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

Customers in Asia Pacific are more empowered than ever before and are demanding effortless, accurate, seamless and effective service experiences from companies. Organisations need to move away from the traditional model for call centres that is no longer serving customer needs, and embrace a new approach that enables tight collaboration between the contact centre and digital channels.

This will be the focus of my presentation at the upcoming Hong Kong Call Centre Association (HKCCA) International Symposium being held on 28 April. Creative Virtual will be sponsoring the annual conference alongside our partner company Continuous Technologies International Ltd. I am honoured to once again be invited to speak on the event theme, which this year is “Customers @ EASE – Effortless; Accurate; Seamless; Effective”.

My presentation, titled ‘Taking Your Contact Centre Into the Future with EASE’, will address the changes contact centres must make to meet the expectations of empowered customers. I’ll explore best practices for combining virtual and real support by bringing together chatbots and virtual agents with live chat, as well as the transitioning role of live agents as contact centres evolve.

This will be my third year presenting at a HKCCA event, and I always look forward to engaging with industry professionals from the region. While in some parts of the world the self-service market is being driven by the desire of organisations for cost savings, in Hong Kong and much of APAC the push is coming from customer demands. Research has found that consumers in Asia Pacific are increasingly reliant on technology and inclined to integrate digital and physical experiences. They want anytime, anywhere self-service on any device and are determined to create the best experiences for themselves. In order to provide effortless, accurate, seamless and effective service experiences, companies need to unify their contact centres and self-service channels.

If you are attending the HKCCA International Symposium 2017, be sure to join me at 10:05 am for my presentation and stop by our booth to pick up some additional information and meet the team. I look forward to seeing you there!

If you won’t be at the event, you can contact us at any time for more information and to arrange a live demo of our Smart Help solutions.

Evolving Customer Expectations and the Contact Centre

By Chris Ezekiel, Founder & CEO

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the contact centre in its current form is finished. The traditional model for call centres and contact centres is no longer providing the service experience that customers want. This was one of the key themes of CRMXchange’s recent Tech Tank Roundtable, Customer Delight: Live Demonstrations of Breakthrough Innovations. I had the pleasure of joining other industry experts from Aspect and inContact to share new customer experience solutions that are impacting the contact centre.

So, what do today’s customers want? First, they want organisations to offer support on digital channels. The survey results shared in Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report show that 55% of global respondents say their customer service interactions typically begin online rather than on the phone or in person. That survey also found that 72% of the consumers surveyed expect agents to know their contact information, product information and service history. That highlights the fact that customers also are coming to expect personalised and seamless engagement from brands.

While customer expectations have been evolving, so has the customer service marketplace. During the webinar, I talked about the live chat vs. virtual agents debate that polarised the marketplace for many years. That view is now changing as it becomes clear that a combination of these solutions can help organisations meet customer service expectations. Even though customers are increasingly starting their support journeys online and leveraging self-service options like virtual agents and chatbots, the need for live agents won’t disappear. The key to providing personalised and seamless support for customers lies in the right combination of virtual and real support.

At Creative Virtual, we are delivering a combination of virtual agents and live chat that is defining industry best practice through a single knowledgebase for both virtual and real agents and a unique feedback loop. Our newest video explains how this works:

My thanks to Sheri Greenhaus and CRMXchange for hosting another great Tech Tank webcast – my third one! – and to all of you who joined us for the live event. If you missed it, you can request a copy of the recording here. You can also view my presentation slides here and then request your own live demo to learn more.

The Future of the Contact Centre

By Mandy Reed, Marketing Manager (Global)

Much has been written over the last several years about Millennials and their customer service preferences. One article I read recently discussed the irony of the millennial generation’s hatred of making phone calls, despite them constantly using their phones. Another credited their digitally native approach to customer service for bringing about better customer experiences for all of us. The fact of the matter is, Millennials and the generation following them, sometimes referred to as iGen, are used to having instant access to information and prefer to find answers on their own rather than interacting with a live person. So what does that mean for the future of customer service and the contact centre?

In an interview with CRMXchange, Patrick Gallagher, Managing Director ANZ & North Asia at Creative Virtual, drew from his many years of experience in contact centres, IVR and customer experience applications to describe the change he is seeing:

“Over the past three decades, companies have invested millions in their contact centres, offering support to their customers that call to purchase, enquire, complain, apply or just need assistance. Traditionally this has been the ‘tried-and-tested’ option as companies continued to invest in their contact centre in order to build their customer support capability. But as customers move into digital channels (and the majority have already moved there), what are companies doing to ensure they are continuing to support their customers in the new digital channels and offer true online support to their customers? They now face a pressing need to be prioritising investments in online customer service tools, communicating and supporting their customers where they now live, in the online channels.”

Technology is altering the way customers engage with brands and increasing their demands for instant 24/7 customer service. They want effortless interactions with organisations and are increasingly leveraging self-service and digital channels for this reason. The traditional model for call centres and contact centres is no longer providing the experience customers have begun to demand, and customers won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere when their expectations aren’t met. 2017 is going to be an important year for customer service as organisations look to meet – and exceed – the expectations of digitally-savvy, empowered customers, and changes in the contact centre and the job descriptions of customer service agents are going to be a key part of these transitions.

The new guide titled The Future of the Contact Centre: The Transitioning Role of Agents to Knowledge Experts explores what organisations can do to create and keep happy, loyal customers. It breaks down:

  • What changes contact centres are facing in 2017 and beyond
  • How virtual agents and chatbots fit perfectly with customer expectations
  • Why live agents taking on the role of knowledge experts benefits organisations, customers and the agents

While these contact centre changes won’t happen overnight, it’s important for organisations to shift their attitudes towards customer engagement and begin the transition now. The future of customer service lies in a combination of virtual and real support, and there are enormous opportunities for organisations in this new approach – not only in customer experience improvements but also on the cost savings and sales fronts. Download the new contact centre guide to learn more and help you start the discussion about the future of your contact centre.

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.