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3 Ways Agents Can Add The Human Touch to Digital Experiences

The shift from traditional call centers to modern omnichannel contact centers can feel as different for both agents and customers as the shift from in-store retail to e-commerce. The virtual ‘cockpit’ of the modern agent now includes automation and artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, intelligent omnichannel solutions, and a bevy of digital channels – all becoming standard-issue for supporting exceptional agent-customer interactions. In fact, according to the latest findings of the NICE inContact CX Transformation Benchmark Study , digital channel usage is up significantly. And among U.S.-based consumers, the use of email doubled and online chat tripled between 2017, and 2018.

A growing reliance on digital channels can increase the risk of losing the human touch that makes the agent’s role so effective in building exceptional customer experiences. Take email, for example: it might be a convenient way to request information from an agent, but if the issue isn’t resolved quickly or there’s a frustrating back-and-forth email chain, that negates its convenience and reduces the personal touch. Sometimes we just want a quick and easy “water cooler” conversation. As agent-assisted digital channel use grows, due to speed, convenience, and personalization potential, it’s all the more important for agents to remember to infuse the human touch into each quick exchange.

Here are three ways that agents can continue to make personal, one-on-one connections with customers while engaging through digital channels:

1. Find your voice in non-voice channels

Digital Customer Experience

Even before the explosion of digital channels, email has been an important part of customer service strategies. As customers put a higher value on convenience, the low effort required to fire off an email via a mobile device and wait for an agent response has made it a significantly more attractive channel. But, it isn’t perfect. While email is the second most preferred channel, only 28 percent of global consumers are highly satisfied with email, and email’s Net Promoter Score® stands at -9.

The reason for this disconnect may not be surprising to anyone who has dealt with the fallout of a misinterpreted email: it can be significantly more difficult to interpret tone or intent via written channels. What might read as a low-priority issue from the agent’s perspective could be quite the opposite for the customer on the other end. Modern contact centers are using text analytics to detect more urgent matters that come in via email, and proactively move that customer inquiry to another channel so that an agent can jump in. As a general rule of thumb, being overly communicative is a strong counter for the misinterpretation possible within non-voice digital channels.

Also, don’t be afraid to inject your own voice as an individual as opposed to strictly following the script. NICE inContact customer Vera Bradley has a group of agents dedicated to chat and text who enhance their personal touch by sharing emojis, as well as product images. Their customers share product photos as well, and agent excitement about these digital channels is strong. When the customer is able to connect with you as an individual through your unique communication style, they’re more comfortable doing the same.

2. Be proactive and productive

Regardless of which channel the customer starts with, the number one priority of any customer is the effortless and speedy resolution of inquiries. As I mentioned above with email, it is not always best for the customer to stay in the original channel they used to contact you. Customers expect you to suggest the best channel to service them – even if not the channel the customer initially chose.

Elevating from an email, social or text message conversation doesn’t always need to move to a voice call to be effective. Chat often hits a sweet spot for both customers and contact centers – consumers can quickly multitask while chatting, and agents can reasonably handle 3-4 chats at any given time, improving efficiency and cost for the contact center (as opposed to the 1:1 engagement via voice). In fact, chat is now the third most used and preferred channel; 44 percent of global consumers are highly satisfied with chat and the channel has a strong Net Promoter Score® of 21. Being a better resource means adjusting per what the customer finds convenient, while also ensuring everyone stays proactive and productive.

3. Leverage AI as a support mechanism

While AI continues to be the hot technology on every contact center wish list, it is not yet a runaway success with customers. In fact, 79 percent of survey respondents said chatbots and virtual assistants need to get smarter before they are willing to use them regularly. Furthermore, 66 percent disagree that chatbots and virtual assistants make it easier to get issues resolved.

That said, AI does have an important role in injecting the human touch into the digital experience. Take chatbots, for example. When chatbots are used to quickly authenticate the customer, gather relevant information and answer basic questions, this can optimize agent productivity and enable them to focus on meeting nuanced and unique customer needs. However, managers need to take a single, narrow and realistic approach, building from the ground up. Start with a focused pilot. Test and learn quickly, then iterate and expand from there.

Critical to this is integrating the feedback from your agents. What is their experience? What efficiencies can be created or processes improved? AI is often a top-down initiative. Executives might be the ones pushing for how the team is leveraging AI, but the people on the front lines are the ones with the insight. The pay-off is bottom up.

Balancing Technology and The Human Touch

The most powerful customer experiences live at the intersection of technology and humanity. Contact centers have more tools and technology than ever that sit between customers and agents. Applying these innovations to give agents more ways to automate and service more customers faster, while also injecting an authentic voice on the other end is what will create engaging and ongoing customer relationships – at scale.

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