Published: September 12, 2017 | Comments
Throughout history, humans have distinguished ourselves by having powerful, passionate, and sensitive conversations with one another. We’re “programmed” to understand sentiment and ask nuanced questions to discover the root of a problem.
However, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies has introduced a new communication variable: robots. AI implementations in contact centers are on the rise - in fact, 32 percent of organizations are shifting customer service from live assistance to automated service. While companies may jump to the conclusion that automation will increase customer satisfaction by providing faster, more accurate answers, we’ve recently seen steep declines in customer satisfaction. Notably, the biggest drop in the American Customer Satisfaction Index since the mid-nineties occurred between 2013 and 2015. This may be because customers can easily help themselves through search engines and online FAQs. Once they’ve decided to pick up the phone to call a customer service representative, their patience is frayed, and they expect to connect with an empathetic expert rather than a robot.
To ensure that we don’t continue to see sharp declines, we have to reconsider the future of contact center technology. Instead of envisioning a room full of robots, decision-makers should consider tools that empower human service reps. When deciding how to deliver top-notch customer experiences, make sure three key elements – culture, quality, and technology – are top of mind.
With the right ownership and attitude, calls can be a critical brand differentiator instead of a cost factor. If promoting culture through customer service interactions is important to your company, cutting corners with AI isn’t an option – robots just can’t provide the same personalization a human can.
For example, contact center agents can pepper interactions with memorable details and anecdotes that engage customers with the brand. They can stand for something by offering thoughts, perspectives, and personality. Agents can also add a personal touch to interactions by sending an e-mail with a name and number to ensure the customer has a human contact they can reach out to for follow-up questions. These small gestures make for sincere, meaningful, and memorable brand interactions, keeping the public from perceiving the organization as lifeless or interchangeable with competitors.
Investing in AI-powered robots is a smart business move if a company primarily wants to lower costs. However, if the goal is customer satisfaction, things look completely different. Robots can't yet give verbal cues, such as the occasional “mhm,” that assure us someone is listening. They also can’t apply empathy and morals to thorny situations. These deficits prevent robots from solving complex, individual problems that a customer might not even be able to identify themselves. This doesn’t make for the best customer service agents – at least not at the stage of the customer journey when online FAQs and user forums don’t hold the solution.
But, are our organizations and employees up to the challenge of delighting well-informed customers and leaving them with an outstanding impression? The question is one worth contemplating – and acting upon. It is our responsibility to prepare contact center employees for delivering outstanding service to increasingly-knowledgeable customers. To do that, organizations must transform customer service professionals into expert problem solvers, educators, and company evangelists.
This may sound like a difficult task, but it isn’t. Try some of these tips:
- Know the New Rules - The old customer service format – a cheerful greeting, friendly service, on-hold times, call times and volumes, and a wrap-up upsell pitch – doesn’t apply to the digital world. Informed answers and expert advice are what matters most to today’s increasingly-knowledgeable customers.
- Provide the Training - Organizations must institute training programs that equip customer service agents with an encyclopedic understanding of products and services – so tap experts including marketers, salespeople, engineers, and product developers to help educate. General knowledge augmented by product manuals or online knowledgebases isn’t enough to satisfy a customer who has already spent hours scouring the internet for an answer.
- Do the Research - Equally important, organizations need to know what the online world is saying about their products and services and how they stack up to the competition. They then need to share this information, so their employees are prepared to speak positively about products while countering any false or negative information.
- Establish the Right Environment - Finally, organizations need to provide an environment that fosters the concentration, communication, and, if necessary, collaboration that contact center workers need to satisfy customers. This means providing great leadership and the right equipment – computers, databases, noise canceling headsets, and more – so employees can concentrate intently and converse clearly and concisely.
Organizations can’t afford to overlook any customer, least of all the ones who’ve invested considerable time researching products and services. By understanding today’s “hyper-informed customers” and adjusting customer service processes accordingly, organizations can ensure that customers who take the time to call remain loyal and satisfied.
Everywhere you look, cords are dropping off our tools and devices. Despite the rampant cord-cutting, one place has remained stubbornly immune to the trend: contact centers. While other industries enjoy cordless freedom, many who listen and talk for a living remain tethered to their workspaces. This ultimately has a devastating impact on both worker productivity and customer satisfaction.
Studies show that wireless headsets improve worker productivity and enable them to unleash the power of conversation. In a 2015 study, 56% of corded headset users reported that their productivity was negatively affected by being restricted to their desk.
The typical customer service agent spends 32% of their time working in a radius of up to 12 meters from their desk. By adopting cordless technologies, contact centers provide their agents with the tools to find needed information while remaining on calls. This allows them to get approval from a supervisor more quickly, request additional details from a coworker, or check on a date or fact – all without putting the caller on hold or having to call back later. This freedom ultimately culminates in faster issue resolution, greater productivity, and, most importantly, happier customers.
While AI is a hot topic, the human element of customer service is still critical to customer satisfaction. Robots certainly serve a function, but businesses should invest greater resources in training agents to engage customers in meaningful conversation. Turning to technology that empowers agents rather than replaces them will help businesses increase customer satisfaction instead of continuing to let it decline.