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Repositioning contact centres at the heart of CX

21st Apr 2021
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The last year has taken its toll on the customer experience. Prior to the events of 2020, most organisations would seek to enhance the customer journey through a series of ‘in person’ moments that make a connection and build a long-term relationship with a customer. However, with most sectors forced to close their doors, and employees confined to remote working, this extra ‘human’ dimension of the customer experience, previously considered so vital to a successful customer journey, has been reluctantly relegated to the backbenches. 

While the pandemic has thrust customers into a digital and contactless world, some of them for the first time, it seems that the change may be here to stay. In fact, according to research from McKinsey, 75% of those consumers using digital channels for the first time plan to continue to use them when ‘business as normal’ resumes. As organisations look to reflect these changes in consumer behaviour throughout operations, the difficulty will be ensuring that brands maintain a conversation with customers. The challenge is how to create an emotional connection through digital channels which offers customers the human touch, whilst providing brands with valuable first hand insight into the customer journey, as well as a potential sell opportunity. 

For this reason, the contact centre plays a more important role in customer experience than it ever has before. For many consumers today, it is one of the last remaining touchpoints with brands. As potentially the only ‘in person’ moment experienced by customers, it is more essential than ever only to consider the ways in which to optimise the contact centre.

Reprioritising the channels in the customer experience chain
The contact centre is a vital part of the customer experience model but a customer’s path there is often not smooth. For some customers it is seen as a place of last resort when they have encountered a problem in their journey but they have exhausted all other avenues. For others, who perhaps don’t want to have to search through a plethora of content on a website, it is their first port of call.

Whatever the reason, the contact centre is under pressure. We’ve all been on the end of a phone waiting to be connected to an agent – a seemingly endless process the pandemic has only exacerbated. In fact, at the start of March’s lockdown, UK contact centres were inundated with calls from affected customers, with one benchmarking study finding that three sectors in particular suffered from an uplift in traffic; remote conferencing and learning (calls up 216%), airlines (up 199%) and food/grocery brands (up 39%).

With call traffic higher than usual, wait times for customers extended and staff not trained to deal with a new breed of problems presented by customers, there are seemingly ample opportunities to optimise operations.

How to optimise the contact centre
The reality is that there are a number of steps that organisations can take to optimise contact centre operations to improve today’s customer journey;

1.  Look at the trends
The contact centre harbours a treasure trove of information. Every conversation an agent has with a customer offers up a wealth of insight into your products and services – as well as the experience delivered by agents.  With each call, you can start to see if trends emerge across the board that identify general problems. However, in practice, most organisations rely on archaic methods to analyse just a small sample of calls, rather than their full expanse of data. In fact, Cisco’s 2020 survey of global contact centre executives found that 74% of respondents cited data analysis difficulties as one of their top challenges.

Manually transcribing each and every call isn’t practical or sustainable in the long run; this is where technology should be  deployed to undertake the leg work. Through AI solutions - like speech analytics - organisations can automatically tap into customer sentiment, themes and topics,  by analysing both structured and unstructured data (such as emails and agent notes), all in real time. By analysing the data, you can uncover the trends cropping up time and time again. This visibility will give you the power to rectify common roadblocks within the customer journey and make rapid improvements to show customers that you are listening.

2. Move away from departmental silos 
Using AI to understand what your customers are and aren’t telling you will only be useful if the data itself is actionable. To be truly effective it must enable the right people and the right departments to get to the root cause of where the customer experience is failing to hit the mark.  If each department is operating in isolation and not sharing data and insights with each other, the whole value of insight will be significantly lessened. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that too many organisations are still working in departmental silos. In fact, 2019 ‘State of CX Programs’ research from Forrester found that of those organisation’s surveyed, 45% highlighted a lack of collaboration and coordination between business units as a problem area. 

To be truly successful, all departments within an organisation - including the contact centre - must share data and insights across the board. This is the only one to make change effective across the entire customer journey.

3.  Reconsider your agent metrics
As customer behaviour has changed, the typical customer journey has too. This means that the agent’s role has had to evolve. With most simple enquiries now routed through chatbots and website self-help tools, agents now spend most time dealing with complex customer problems. Despite this, many contact centre agents are still assessed on AHT (average call handling time), an outdated metric that rewards agents for completing customer calls quickly.

As the contact centre moves into a pivotal position in a brand’s CX strategy, the role of agents in cultivating long term customer loyalty shouldn’t be underestimated. Customers want to be heard, they want empathy and they want a resolution - and that doesn’t happen in a quick call. By allowing agents, and indeed motivating them, to spend more time with customers, truly understanding their problems and achieving a suitable outcome, there is more chance of first call resolution and of retaining a valuable relationship with a customer.

The power of insight
As the effective face of an organisation, the contact centre is of central importance to a brand’s CX strategy. However, the reality is that the contact centre is often an undervalued, un-connected resource. Through optimising operations, and investing in the contact centre, brands can open themselves up to a wealth of insight  that can inspire change across the business to better serve customers in the long-term. Effectively evolving contact centre operations to meet the needs of today’s customers will enhance a customer’s journey, increasing  loyalty and bolstering customer lifetime value.

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