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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.

Two Thumbs Up for Customer Service Week

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Happy Customer Service Week! Today we kick off the annual week-long international celebration of the importance of customer service, the people who deliver that service and the impact it has on successful business practices. 2020 has brought new customer service challenges for companies and altered the way customers engage with businesses, perhaps forever. Delivering service that gets two thumbs up from customers has been – and continues to be – no easy feat!

This is the fifth year I’ve put together a blog post roundup to start off Customer Service Week, and it might just be the most important one yet. The global pandemic has put digital transformation projects on the fast-track for many organisations, including digital customer service initiatives. Having expert insights, resources and industry stats is important for getting those strategies right. Here are some of the key blog posts on customer support we’ve shared over the past year that can help you with improving and extending the customer service you provide:

  • Delivering Self-Service During the COVID-10 Uncertainty, Part 1: Supporting Customers – COVID-19 has put organisations under immense pressure to deliver quality service and support over digital channels. This three-part blog series explores the business value of using a chatbot or virtual agent to provide easy-to-use self-service, starting with supporting customers. Also take a look at Part 2: Supporting Contact Centre Agents and Part 3: Supporting Employees.
  • Helping Financial Organisations Deliver 24/7 Customer Support: Part 1 and Part 2 – This two-part blog series dives into the real experiences of financial organisations as they took quick action to keep the information they were providing to customers up-to-date during a period of fast-paced changes. They used their existing virtual agent implementations both to analyse customer needs and deliver 24/7 support for better customer service.
  • Virtual Agents in 2020: Usage Spikes and the Banking Sector – Starting in late February and early March, Creative Virtual saw a spike in virtual agent traffic that surpassed anything the company had seen in over 16 years of being in the industry. By the end of the first week in July, those virtual agents had already recorded about 75% of the total transactions completed the previous year. While some sectors saw a return to more normal usage after the initial spike, the Banking sector continued to see increased usage compared with the first two months of 2020.
  • A New Ebook and a Conversational AI Success Story During Times of Pandemic – In August, AI Time Journal published a new ebook, Conversational AI Trends 2020, exploring the rapid advances in conversational AI technologies and the new applications and use cases emerging across industries. The ebook also covered several conversational AI success stories, including one telling how an international financial services group’s virtual agent rose to the challenges of customer support during the pandemic.
  • The Chatbot & Virtual Agent Experts Have Spoken: Experience Matters – If you are considering virtual agent or chatbot options and providers, then you will benefit from the expertise of this group of industry insiders. Together they offer 83 years of experience in a field that has only been commercially viable for about two decades. Learn about the six areas of experience that are necessary for the success of a conversational self-help tool.
  • APAC Contact Centres Embracing AI and Virtual Agent Technologies – There has been a shift in the APAC region as an increasing number of organisations look to use AI and virtual agents within the human customer service area of their CX strategies to support contact centre agents, relationship managers and other employees. Contact centres need to be prepared for the impact of new technologies on their operations, structure and workload.
  • Hindsight May be 20/20 But CX Needs a 20/20 Vision – Customers are expecting more from the companies they give their business to, and that includes effective service across touchpoints. Just as each company is unique, so should be their chatbot, virtual agent and live chat strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that guarantees success.
  • A Successful Self-Service Strategy Requires Looking at the Bigger Picture – While companies needing to implement a new self-service solution or upgrade an existing one are feeling a sense of urgency, they still need to be thoughtful about the technology they select and how it is implemented. Having a successful self-service strategy requires looking at the bigger picture of your overall customer service and experience to avoid frustrating customers with a disjointed, unhelpful experience.
  • Tips for Deploying AI Chatbots & Virtual Agents – Chatbots, smart help, virtual assistants, virtual agents, conversational AI – there are lots of names for this automated, self-service technology being used today. Whatever you call it, the objective for including it as part of your customer service strategy is to deliver quick, easy access to information. Selecting and deploying the right technology for your company is key to achieving success.
  • Out with the Old and in with AI for a Better Contact Centre – A ContactBabel customer service survey found business leaders agreed that AI will be important to the future of the contact centre. While long-established customer communication channels haven’t disappeared, companies need to look to new technologies to help them support those channels in a better and more cost-effective way.

 

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.

5 Questions to Ask About Digital Customer Service Improvement Plans

By Scott Tompkins, Enterprise Account Executive, Creative Virtual USA

Of the many opportunities provided to the business world with so many digitally connected consumers, some of the most exciting are in the realm of customer service. Digital tools allow us to serve customers better than ever before – as long as you choose the right solution and engage the right experts to help deliver on its promise.

If you’re considering implementing a new digital customer service improvement plan, ask a provider the following questions to gain a clearer sense of how they can help you take better care of your customers:

  1. What’s the expected cost per resolution?

It’s important to understand the fully-loaded cost of helping a customer resolve a problem in each of your customer service channels. To quickly estimate cost per resolution, take the cost per contact for the channel and divide it by the expected success rate of resolving issues. You can expect a fairly large variance in costs across your channels, so be sure to take a broad look across digital and offline channels to determine which method is the most effective for your business and your customers.

  1. How long does it take to see ROI?

A transformative digital customer service improvement plan often requires significant upfront investment. While you are planning for this cost, it’s important to have proper expectations for when you’ll see a return. Providers who are confident enough in the effectiveness and fit of their solutions to offer outcome-based pricing are an encouraging sign – Outcome-based pricing allows you to lock in return on elements of your investment, which begin as soon as your solution goes live, improving your bottom line.

  1. Does the solution have a sales component?

While effective customer service is critical for keeping customers, every organization needs sales to grow. The best customer service programs understand that service and sales are hand-in-hand.  Improvement plans should incorporate service elements, new customer sales, cross-selling and upselling components.

  1. What ways can my customers find help using this solution?

This is a critical question for ensuring that you maximize the efficacy of your customer service solution. If your customers are highly active on social media or mobile platforms but the customer service improvement plan you are considering can’t be deployed there, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere.

Also request job descriptions of the internal resources required to deploy and manage the solution. Will there be significant IT projects required to make it work? Can the customer service solution you are considering be set up to work with your data warehousing or analytics solutions? These are all questions that could affect the time to deploy, cost and value of your solution.

  1. Does the customer service solution self-learn?

In today’s world where artificial intelligence can write poetry and drive your car, it’s important that your customer service solutions are evolving with your business over time. A great customer service solution learns from previous interactions to gain a better understanding of what your customers ask about, what solutions work best, and incorporates that learning to offer better service.

 

As the leader in virtual customer service, Creative Virtual specializes in the science of conversation.