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Know Me, Serve Me, Don't Waste My Time

It’s a common refrain these days: “I’m busy, can I just do this online?” “I don’t have time to sit on hold until someone can help me. Where can I find the online customer forum?” Everyone is busy, running in multiple directions and doesn’t typically have time to wait for help. It’s expected that help is there, ready and waiting, when it is needed.

That customer expectation for on-demand help has led to the rise in self-service customer service. Brands are delivering what customers are demanding—the ability to work out most of their issues on their own, on their own time, when it is convenient for them. Self-service benefits customers, for the reasons noted above, and brands, because it is usually more cost-effective for customers to help themselves than for brands to staff contact centers. After all, it’s no secret that the most expensive element of running a contact center is the people answering customer inquiries.

There are various forms of self-service customer service, including website FAQs, social sites, blogs, online customer forums, knowledge bases and the ubiquitous IVR. IVR has been around for a while and was one of the first self-service functions presented to customers. Touch-tone IVR was initially used for call routing. And those first-generation systems, while technologically advanced for the time, did not deliver what customers wanted. In fact, those early systems are often cited as the top reason callers hate contact centers because the routing logic and menu choices were so poorly designed. More recently, self-service IVR has become much more sophisticated with natural language speech recognition technology capable of transacting complex requests and supporting multiple dialects. And the cost of IVR per contact is a fraction of the cost related to human engagement.

But self-service, even with an interactive system, cannot resolve every question or issue. Maybe it will be possible someday with artificial intelligence or more advanced computing systems, but today, sometimes you just need to talk with a person. And, perhaps because people are so busy, contacting a contact center is often the last resort before a customer throws up their hands and/or spreads vitriol about a brand across the Internet.

That makes it more critical than ever to have a top-notch contact center staffed by experts. Super Agents, if you will.

Interactions that do “get through” to the contact center are usually complex and demand Super Agents who are able to competently advise and guide customers to first contact resolution. If self-service didn’t answer the customer’s question or resolve the issue, it’s unlikely that an agent simply following a script will result in anything other than customer frustration. The skills of the Super Agent need to be greater and more diverse than they ever were with “scripted agents.” Super Agents need to be able to:

  • Quickly access information about customer history, orders, preferences and past contacts.
  • Engage with customers across any number of channels, from phone to live chat to social and more.
  • Instill confidence that they can resolve the issue—and follow through to ensure customer satisfaction.
  • Be empowered to make decisions and do what is needed to keep customers happy.
  • Have immediate access to supervisors, perhaps via a chat function in their contact center platform, to secure support and approvals as needed.
  • Display a higher level of “EQ,” or emotional intelligence, to handle complex situations with possibly emotional customers. Empathy, remaining calm under pressure and constant communication are key.
  • Keep a positive attitude, regardless of the situation—people really can tell when someone is positive and smiling, even when not face-to-face.

Those Super Agents help transform the contact center into a sophisticated “customer hub.” That transformation and higher level of service from highly skilled, well-trained and knowledgeable agents will be more expensive than the “old days,” when agents could follow prompts to resolve simple issues, but that’s a cost of doing business these days. And hopefully there will be fewer contacts because of the excellent self-service options brands provide (fingers crossed).

There are obvious benefits to offering customers self-service options, backed up by Super Agents. There is still a nagging question though, at least in my mind. Can self-service damage customer service?

It is possible that self-service can damage customer-brand relationships. For instance, some brands rely solely on self-service and offer no options for contacting a real, live person. It’s not good customer service to assume that your brand can answer all questions or issues through a website FAQ, knowledge base or social channel. There are special circumstances, unusual issues and things that are too private or personal to find a generic answer. Don’t penalize your customers—and risk losing them as customers. The loss of a single customer can snowball into losing many customers, and those costs will far outweigh the investment in a contact center.

Self-service, when handled well and backed up by a contact center able to handle complex issues, can definitely save both brands and customers time and money. So what should brands do to get started? Find the right contact center technology partner, certainly. The right partner can handle the majority of the legwork needed to transform your brand’s contact center into a customer hub. They should be consultative, working to understand your business and apply the most appropriate blend of self-service tools, as well as suggestions on a broader set of tools to help agents become Super Agents. That partner should also be able to provide reporting functionality and easy-to-use management tools so your brand can see at a glance what is and what is not working. Better to make small tweaks along the way than need major overhauls.

Self-service customer service is here to stay. The trick is to make it as useful as possible, and as simple to use as possible, to keep customers happy and helping themselves (and save your brand money). Know your customers, serve your customers and don’t waste their time.