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The Customer Is In Control

Recently I was preparing for a webinar on successful social support and I found myself thinking about all the ways that social has changed the contact center. As I was listing them all out, I kept coming back to one word. Control. We in the call center have essentially lost control. For the first time in recent memory, the customer is truly in control.

It’s not just the effect from social. It’s also the impact from mobile, advanced self-service functionality, and all the other emerging channels that continue to open more pathways into the contact center. It is here, that the loss of control sets in. Customers not only have more ways of reaching support, they can do so from many devices, any place, and at any time. No longer do our set hours of operation and rigid IVRs and queuing systems halt the influx of customer inquiries. The customer is choosing when, where, and how to contact us. And if they don’t like the answer they get from one channel, they can quickly and easily go out to another and ask, rant, or comment there.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Customer Response Summit from Execs In the Know , and had the opportunity to hear from Anne McGraw , the Manager of CRM and Social Customer Care from Nissan Americas. According to Anne, there are four major market shifts occurring right now, in great part due to social media. 1) Customers are now in control, 2) There are no secrets, 3) A great product is not enough (no longer the biggest differentiator), and 4) Customer experience is the differentiator.

So what can we do about it? Should we in the contact center proactively do anything about our loss of control? YES, we should embrace it! While we can’t control the customer, we can control the customer engagement process. We can make it consistent, and multi-channel, and integrated. We can also make customer engagement easier on the agent, which in turn makes it better for the customer. The solution to our loss of control lies within an integrated customer engagement platform. 

Let’s bring this back around to social. In a February 2013 article from Business Insider, they noted that over 97% of tweets go unnoticed, unread and are not acted upon. In an interview I had last month with Kieron Lawson , the CTO of Cloud Applications for LiveOps , he had this to say, “The growth of social is reason enough to have an integrated product. Seven out of 10 companies physically delete postings from FaceBook. That is really scary!” 

Most companies are not ignoring social media service opportunities intentionally. Rather they simply don’t have the correct tools to monitor, manage, respond and integrate social with their other channels. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for contact centers to purchase individual systems to manage each specific channel, but that is now both unruly and unrealistic as the channel options keep expanding. 

Steve Walton, the CEO for USAN believes that, “Organizations should view IVR, Web, SMS, Chat, and Social—all these channels— as windows in to the enterprise, but they shouldn’t build their business logic within the individual channels themselves. Organizations need to adopt a channel-agnostic view of their enterprise by focusing on a single solution that can be expressed in a relevant fashion across whatever communication channel their customer chooses.” Surely Walton is referring to USAN’s multichannel platform, Customer Engagement (CE), but the premise is one that is resonating across the industry. “Customers are driving the communication agenda,” he continues. “In fact Customer Engagement is ultimately about the customer engaging with the company – not the other way around.”

Now let’s look at customer engagement from the agent’s perspective. Throughout the course of a typical customer interaction, the average contact center agent uses five to 25 screens – web screens, CRM screens, green screens and a plethora of other “necessary” applications and systems. According to LiveOps, 25-50% of an agent’s time is spent navigating throughout all these screens, instead of helping the customer. With the launch of the new LiveOps Engage integrated desktop, they recently conducted a survey of traditional multichannel agents and found that an integrated agent desktop greatly improves agent productivity (25-50%) and happiness (25-50%), which ultimately equates to cost savings (25%) and increased customer satisfaction (40%). As CTO Lawson says, “At LiveOps we have a saying: ‘the agent experience creates the customer experience.’ It really is that simple”.

Whether the customer initiates a phone call, email, chat, SMS, Facebook post or Tweet, it’s imperative to look at customer engagement from both the agent and the customer perspective. Since the customer is now often controlling the channel and the context, the agent needs to be able to see all interactions by that customer and be able to guide them accordingly.  “Social channels are very much ‘soapbox channels’”, says LiveOps CMO, Ann Ruckstuhl . “As a contact center manager or agent, you need the tools to control conversations across all channels, including social media. In addition, it's critical for today's agents to have the ability to pivot conversations from public to private channels when needed, to deliver the best possible customer experience. The ability to pivot to private channels can also help protect the brand from social firestorms. Contact centers need to evolve to serve today's social, mobile and multichannel-savvy customers.”

A 2013 Nucleus Research Guidebook: Best Practices for Customer Service with Oracle RightNow echoes these sentiments, saying that, “moving forward, the ability of companies to provide exemplary customer service will be based on the ability of the consumer to get the right answer at the right time however they engage. The ability of customer service to deliver the right answer at the right time will be judged, very vocally, by customers who share their experience on social media”.  The Nucleus CRM Benchmark report found that the most important factor in customer satisfaction is the ability of companies to have an integrated view of a customer’s activity and history.

I think USAN’s CEO sums it up best, “Fundamentally, you can’t solve a communication fragmentation problem by adding more disjointed parts. The focus needs to be on leveraging the ongoing customer/business relationship — not on any individual communication channel. And to do that effectively you need to be able to drive a single initiative across any new or existing channel, to white label and create derived products for the business and to absolutely maintain consistent experiences no matter how or where a customer contacts you.”

The bottom-line is this: social media and other emerging channels may have caused the contact center to lose control of the initial customer conversation, but not of the overall experience. Just because the customer drives the conversation, doesn’t mean that we can’t regain control of the interaction once it’s in our hands.

Click here to learn more about LiveOps Engage .

Click here to learn more about USAN Customer Engagement .

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