Published: June 23, 2011 | Comments
As customer self-service tools become more mature – think today’s IVR (interactive voice response) vs. the IVR of 10-15 years ago – businesses dreams of saving a bundle by clearing out the agent ranks seem to have gotten loftier. The question of the continued necessity of the traditional call center has been asked more than once or twice. Is the answer yes?
In short, the answer’s no.
The Call Center's Here to Stay
“New communication capabilities, emerging social communities, the fact that more and more of our customers are always connected, always on, and these developments are leading to a change in mindset and behavior. For example, studies reveal that the vast majority of consumers now use search engines, social communities and feedback sites to quickly get a read on a company’s commitment to service before making brand or product decisions,” says Brad Cleveland, senior advisor to ICMI and one of it’s co-founders, in a recent interview, Thriving in the New Era of Customer Relationships.
“Call centers will be more important than ever. But their role will change,” Cleveland continues. “We have to look at all channels, all of our services holistically, and how they work together. The next generation call center will be the internal engine organizations depend on not only to handle interactions with customers, but also to listen to and engage in external communities. It will take on more of a “level 2” role, handling interactions not resolved through self-service and communities.
That means that the call center will be integrated with other business functions at a much deeper level. Operations can rely on the call center to identify quality problems. Marketing can use the center’s intelligence to focus campaigns. IT can look to the center for input that will help improve systems design. And, of course, the call center is both marketplace weathervane and barometer, guiding the organization to react more quickly to new developments and changing customer needs.
And as we shave off the most redundant calls that can be handled through self-service channels, the call center agent’s job will be even more demanding. “Communities of customers, web-based services, self-service will pull a lot of weight in handling customer workloads,” Cleveland says. “However, we have to have the means to listen to, engage and facilitate these channels. These interactions are more complex; we have to have employees with the smarts to understand and use a variety of channels, work with multiple generations of customers, and understand the totality of our services from the customer’s perspective.”
Building a Successful Self-Service Strategy
The first thing we know, then, is that customer self-service is not the be-all and end-all that some organizations expect it to be. Results from ICMI’s 2010 Self-Service and the Multichannel Contact Center report corroborate that statement: In our study, only 24 percent of centers using inbound IVR for self-service said they've recognized cost reductions of 11 to 25 percent. Another 22 percent said inbound IVR provided less than 10 percent in cost reductions.
Simple Measurements for Self-Service Success
There’s a lot of room for contact centers to focus on self-service metrics, such as average page views, online and IVR resolution rates, zero-results searches and even the nitty-gritty of knowing how many times an individual customer has visited the help or self-serve sections of your site. But we find that even on the most mature self-service channel, IVR, that many contact centers can’t answer two simple questions: How many customers abandoned? And how many customers opted out of the IVR for live-agent support.
Beyond simple mechanical reporting, your customers can tell you a lot about their self-service experiences with your organization. You only have to ask (but it should be through a well-designed and accessible customer satisfaction survey).
If you’re operating self-service channels – or just considering doing so – collecting and reporting this information is critical.
Keep the Customer in Mind
Will self-service work in your center? Is it working now (if you’ve already deployed these offerings)? Before your center can truly begin measuring success, it must design for success.
What transactions are best served through agent-less channels? If you don’t currently offer self-service, a survey of call types and root causes in order. If your center does offer self-service now, what patterns can you identify regarding the types of transactions that are least successful using self-service channels? When you look at measurements above, consider the damage that your organization may be doing to customer relationships and loyalty when agents don’t know that a customer’s already given his or her account information in an abandoned self-service transaction.
Be the customer when you’re designing or tweaking self-service options. Understand the reasons customers contact you and what their goals are. Any transaction, self-service or agent assisted, should have that foundation.
Customer self-service needs to meet customer needs before it can meet those of the organization. To determine if that’s happening, the call center needs to measure (and must be able to measure) what the self-service customer experience is. Customer self-service is not a slam-dunk; it takes dedication and finesse to succeed.