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Why is customer service so much like a patchwork quilt?

3rd Oct 2016
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A recent story in the Evening Standard about Consumer Minister Margot James getting ‘trapped’ in O2’s automated call answering system reminded me that we’re still a long way from a perfect customer experience when it comes to calling up companies with a query.

The senior Conservative MP criticised the telecoms company after going through a lengthy series of options only to be finally told that the department she was trying to get hold of was closed. “O2 call answering system takes you through at least five options and then tells you it’s closed, call back later, ridiculous”, the minister for small business, consumers, and corporate responsibility tweeted after her frustrating experience, one which, unfortunately, is not that unusual.


There are several reasons why things go wrong when trying to make contact: many large companies fail to integrate their IVR systems with their live agents, there is often a delay in agents being able to pull up relevant information and a lack of supervisors on the contact centre floor leads to staff being undertrained or left on their own to make complex decisions.

IVRs are popular because they help reduce the costs of interactions with live agents, but when agents don’t have access to the information they need to do their jobs, it leads to frustration, and often consumers will request to speak to a floor supervisor. Some contact centre employees will put a consumer on hold and then come back on the line as a “supervisor” because there is no one more senior refer to.

What if a consumer starts a journey on a website and transfers to a contact centre? Shouldn’t that context transfer as well? We know from a global study of 3,500 consumers that 64 percent of consumers start their customer service journeys on the web, as opposed to 23% who start on the phone. Those percentages are shifting every day as businesses move increasingly towards digital channels.

The problem is not IVR technology, but rather computer telephony integration (CTI) (or the lack thereof), along with simple business processes. So what can businesses do to improve customer service in a world where frustration runs high and customers are channel hopping frequently to get what they need to get done?

Connect the touchpoints

More than 50 percent of consumers are already on a company’s website when they call an IVR system, however, being on the web and on the phone simultaneously means tracking two fragmented interactions. It’s a high-effort experience, compounded by the fact that voice interactions and web content typically are not designed to work that well together.

Modern IVR systems are becoming “web-aware,” meaning that they can understand when a consumer is online, and what they are doing. To determine where and how you’ll need to make your IVR web-aware, you need to focus on customers’ high-value journeys. That means understanding where in your channels, customers fail to accomplish what they’re trying to do.

There are four key success factors that are common to successful web-aware IVR deployments:

  • Have an audacious goal but a pragmatic approach - Solve the right problems. To determine where and how you’ll need to make your IVR web-aware, you need to focus on customers’ high-value journeys. Certain intents and journeys are great candidates for self-service, but others require assistance and end up getting escalated to agents.
  • Anticipate and understand customer intent - Use predictive models to understand intent and make customer engagement smarter and more conversational. Deep Neural Network (DNN) technology is important because it dramatically improves the ability and accuracy of the recognition in the most challenging acoustic environments.
  • Be “journey-aware” - Focus on logical channel pairs and retain relevant content. Making an IVR web-aware is to determine the most logical channel pairs for your company. What are the high-volume channels that people use and tend to escalate from one to the next? Web and phone will be the logical starting point for most businesses.
  • Orchestrate experiences - Choreograph a consumer’s experience within and across channel pairs such as web to IVR, virtual agent to chat or mobile app to agent. Channel orchestration combines different channels either simultaneously or sequentially. It depends on the nature of the experience and what needs to be done.

Provide Intent-Driven Experiences

Businesses have enough information about consumer journeys (and individual customers), that they can determine what the consumer is trying to do. Consumers want an IVR that considers who they are, what they did on the web or in mobile apps, and what they tried before calling the 0800 number. By gleaning insights from the customer’s activities in other channels, devices and sessions, you can predict in real-time, why the customer is calling and provide a more relevant and personalised IVR experience.

When companies do this, they can more quickly solve problems, make their customers happier and sell more products. Intent-driven experiences can increase self-service rates by up to 25%, raise call completion rates up as high as 90%, reduce IVR call duration up to 30%, saves customers’ time and drive higher CSAT and NPS.

One company that does this is Avis Budget Group. ABG is connecting consumer journeys through the web, IVR, mobile, and social media touch points and maintaining one continuous customer journey to rent a car. Since speech recognition is even more critical in the cacophony of airports and other busy public spaces, ABG uses a platform that incorporates Microsoft’s Deep Neural Networks technology so that customers can effortlessly complete their transactions in the IVR.

Digitise the interaction

Businesses have the opportunity to embrace the digitisation that the smartphone offers, enabling the enterprise to craft a compelling customer experience. You can give customers the option to invoke a visual experience, callback or mobile chat session from within the call and make IVR integral to digital customer engagement on mobile devices.

Taking this a step further, imagine what’s possible with Visual IVR. Let’s say a consumer’s card is temporarily deactivated due to suspicious activity. The consumer calls the IVR, and the IVR (or agent) reads a set of charges, which can be tedious and challenging to recollect. However, with Visual IVR, the consumer can receive a text with a link that opens a mobile web session. There, they can quickly navigate through the charges and double-click to see more detail. It's a rich, interactive experience that takes full advantage of the consumer’s smart device.

But it can be even better. If you're logged in to the website when you call, an IVR that employs "presence technology" can invite you to review the charges on your PC or tablet instead of your smartphone. Presence determines if you're using more than one channel (e.g. a smartphone and a PC) and adapts to the consumer’s screens to make things as easy as possible for them.

Customer service is an area that’s rife with opportunity for improvement. I’m hopeful that in the next few years that smooth handovers between IVRs, agents and channels, will be the norm, rather than the exception and leave the customer experience looking less like a patchwork quilt of processes.




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By Karanbir Singh
13th Dec 2016 06:57

Agree to what u said, "Customer service is an area that’s rife with opportunity for improvement." Telecom companies are trying to follow the same by digitizing customer interactions with self-care tools and device management solutions for remote support. This helps customers get easy solutions to their problems and enjoy a hassle-free service. However, service providers need to find the right solutions and should know how to use them to simplify support services for a better customer experience. Here's one guide that I found on how self service tools help telecoms simplify support. Hope this helps add value to the context.

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