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The Non Voice Contact Center: The Same, But Different

Customers want choice and convenience.  They want the companies that they deal with to be where they are, when they need them.  Yet, we are not there.  According to Dimension Data while 98.6% of companies offer voice contact only 33% have webchat capability, only 37% have SMS/instant messenger capability and only 43% have social media capability.  I would hazard a guess that the majority of the social media capability is marketing and promotion rather than customer care.  We are not there for our customers.

This is serious.  Companies that don’t offer their customers convenience and choice will fade and die.  Depending on their current market strength that may be a sudden death or a long protracted one but they will surely die – the customer will make that choice for them.

To survive companies need to get fit and agile now to provide convenience for their customers.  Although it is new fangled technology for those companies that have not yet made the jump it is not, and need not, be complicated.  In fact it is a just a slightly different theme to the same old story – we need to offer the customer the choice that suits them, when it suits them and have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time to handle the demand.

Successful voice and non-voice contact both have excellent workforce planning and customer insight at their heart.  Of course there are staffing and operational choices that need to be made as we add non-voice contact to the mix, but again, it is the same but different:

The Channels

When a company decides to go into non-voice they need to make some conscious decisions on what platforms to offer and they need to match that offer with a resource capability.  Market research and focus groups will indicate what customers want and any gaps will frustrate customers.  Even more importantly, when a company decides to offer any particular non-voice channel it has to get behind it – promote it, monitor it, resource it and keep it fresh.  A new channel done badly will damage a brand far worse than not offering the channel in the first place.

So, the questions are these – what channels do your customers demand and how do these channels meet your capabilities and competency?

The People

There is a strong possibility that the recruitment model for hiring great voice agents won’t work for non-voice.  If we plan to blend voice and non-voice contacts then recruitment must evolve to ensure that blended agents have the right skills – where a voice agent must talk clearly, be empathetic and be able to notice and adapt their tone of voice, a non-voice agent needs to be able to write well, be empathetic and bring personality to the written word.

It is also important to remember the permanency of non-voice contact – a phone call is unlikely to go viral but one badly written tweet could literally bring down a company.  Just google “corporate social media” fails and wince - getting the right people, with the right behaviors and the right skills is absolutely key to happy customers and keeping you off the front pages!

The Operation

Voice communications are pretty simple – the customer dials, a call takes a certain length of time and, if there is no one available to answer the call a queue develops.  Non voice gives several options in how the operation is structured but each option will have an impact on the customer experience.

Concurrency, for example, is the number of current webchats that an agent will handle.  Handling one chat means that the agent will be very responsive to the customer but will be unproductive.  On the other hand, three or more concurrent chats means that the customer will notice delays in the conversation which they may judge as a poor customer experience.  The planning assumptions and how smoothly the operations run will directly impact the customer relationship.

Non-voice work used to be “a filler” to keep agents productive when the phones were quiet but now we must plan for them as channels in their own right and part of the overall customer experience: the average customer expects an email response within four hours and 42% want a response to a social media post within an hour – we can’t get these response times unless we plan non-voice as primary channels with dedicated resource.  As non-voice contact is added into the mix the workforce planning team need to quickly understand it’s operational dynamics and their impact on the customer experience.

All the logic for inbound voice contact applies for non voice but is nuanced by channel – you wouldn’t make a customer wait 24 hours to get a call answered so don’t plan for a 24 hour turnaround to a tweet; you wouldn’t splice a pre-recorded electronic conversation together for a call so don’t cut and paste stock answers to a Facebook query.  Think of each interaction as an opportunity to build customer loyalty rather than a cost to be minimized and the customers will come back time and time again.

Don't Give Spin an Inch

Non-voice contacts shouldn't’t be planned as an afterthought, it should be considered part of an integrated customer ecosystem.  Generally, customers contact companies because they need to – don’t leave them hanging on one channel or they will pop up on another less happy, more difficult to satisfy and with a lasting negative perception of your responsiveness.  Study market data and survey customers to find their acceptable wait times and staff all your channels to hit those wait times.

Non-voice certainly shifts the dynamics of contact center workforce planning but with a sensible approach, focused on the customer, it isn’t rocket science. 

Now, get out there and get ready for great customer contacts before a competitor takes those customers off your hands!