CCMA research reveals five ways service strategies must change


New research from the Call Centre Management Association reveals how channel use and preferences have changed in recent months - and what this means for customer service strategies. 

9th Nov 2020

Prior to COVID-19, digital interactions were already establishing a foothold as an alternative to voice. However, since the pandemic there has been a surge in the use of digital. This was in part down to increases in customer demand but also constraints on offline availability as physical premises closed and contact centres migrated advisors to work remotely.

At the same time, average handling time increased as both customers and colleagues dealt with the challenges that the coronavirus brought. "Where there’s emotions involved, customers want to talk to you,” notes Anita Renyard, senior manager, mortgage services at TSB Bank.

Voice is undoubtedly here to stay. Customers will always prefer the telephone channel for time-sensitive and complex interactions, for instance. What is clear however is that customers want alternatives.

As Bill Wilson, digital strategy lead at Severn Trent explains: “The more commoditised the product, the more likely someone will do it online. Up the value and complexity chain and customers will want to speak to a trusted advisor.”

With the support of Odigo, the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association) recently conducted a landmark study with 500 consumers and evaluated the outcomes with 16 contact centre leaders. The outcome is revealed in their report Customer Interactions in a Post-COVID World.

The report explores who customers are interacting with and why; serving vulnerable customers; the need for businesses to provide true omnichannel and self-serve options, noting that the best approach for customers and contact centres varies by sector and by customer journey.

“We discovered that the phone is still the dominant contact channel with 46 per cent of people in the UK having had a customer service interaction by phone in the past four months," says Stephen Yap, CCMA’s research director who led the programme.

“However, when we drill down we discovered that for certain transactions such as opening a new account or placing an order 52% were conducted by phone since June 2020 whereas only 29% would prefer to use the phone for this type of transaction. This represents a huge opportunity for contact centres.”

Rula Samara, contact centre manager at Hitachi Capital, notes: “When COVID hit, our phone lines got to 300% over forecast. It brought forward a planned omnichannel project. We launched web enquiry forms and started pushing customers through them. What we found is that we managed to balance [demand] so that 50% was coming through the phone and 50% through digital. Instead of delivering our omnichannel project in 18 months we’re now going to deliver it over nine months due to customer demand.” 

Fundamentally, the research uncovered five key take aways for contact centre leaders:

  1. Organisations must deliver on their omnichannel strategy. Contact centres overall still have a way to go to meet customers’ omnichannel expectations.
  2. Customer take-up of digital and self-serve will continue to accelerate, so businesses must ensure they can accommodate this. Ramp up digital self-serve for simpler transactions and reserve the telephone only for more complex, urgent and emotional interactions and product categories.
  3. Organisations must support vulnerable customers - but ideally anonymously. For vulnerable customers, channels that offer a degree of anonymity (while still being assisted) can be preferable.
  4. WhatsApp is becoming even more of a priority for consumers, so organisations should consider whether their customers are expecting this to be a part of their channel mix. WhatsApp and other private-messaging platforms are growing quickly in popularity with customers and providers. They offer the feeling of a personal service and deliver responsiveness.
  5. Channel offerings are increasingly linked to journey and customer segmentation - so organisations that aren't utilising this approach should explore its potential. Customer segmentation, well-established in the marketing function, is starting to appear in contact centres as a means of matching channel to customer preference and interaction type.

“The research supports our view that no business can adopt a one size fits all approach to meeting customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations,” says Neil Titcomb, managing director UKI at Odigo.

“Additionally, the importance of providing customised, intuitive, and seamless CX has never been clearer. This research explains how to stay ahead of the curve, be remembered and increase customer loyalty, which is especially key during a pandemic.”

For the full story, statistics and verbatim comments from contact centre leaders that have discussed the research at length, please download the report from the CCMA website.

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