Three ways to reduce contact centre volumes without harming CX

Safety net contact centre
istock

Organisations continue to invest in technology to replace live calls. But the customer experience is taking a back seat. What are the challenges and how can they be addressed?

Using new technology to reduce inbound call centre volumes is a key strategic goal for many businesses, arising from a need to cut costs through operational efficiencies and appeal to an increasingly digital customer base. However, investing in digital solutions to reduce calls and costs may not pay off if customer experience isn’t central to the effort.

Organisations have been investing in all manner of customer-facing technology solutions to replace live calls. These technologies begin with websites, chat functions, apps and extend to artificial intelligence chat bots that simulate human conversations as well as more tried-and-tested functionalities such as improved web, app or self-service capabilities in interactive voice-response (IVR) systems. 

And yet, despite this plethora of technology, managers are struggling to tie tech investments to improved operational outcomes or the growth of their business through efficiencies and improved customer experience. Why are so many businesses struggling with reaping the full benefits from these investments?

In our experience, as companies turn to technology to address call centre volumes, they allow customer experience to take a back seat to digital technology in their operations, believing the technology alone is the solution. Also, by counting on technology to solve their call centre issues, companies lose focus of core operations and upset the balance between human interaction and automation in an era of evolved customer service. 

The good news is that it is possible to deconstruct the ways in which such problems emerge and to create responses to put call centres and their volumes in better balance so the business can achieve maximum growth. Our experience suggests three common and interrelated challenges and how to approach them.

1. Adopt a holistic view transcending traditional siloes

Organisations need to takee a holistic, cross-functional view of the customer that transcends organisational siloes.

We recommend businesses begin with a customer perspective driven by the customer’s wants, not the traditional organisational structure of the company. The solution begins with a comprehensive view of the customer that transcends these siloes.

First, examine the top reasons customers call. It is often the case that just a handful of reasons generate the majority of calls. Identifying these reasons through analytics and customer surveys can help on quick wins. Once the main reasons are identified, the customer journey can be mapped out for each call type.

For instance, what information is being conveyed to customers well before they call? This could be through a visit to a local branch, an email, a letter they receive in the mail, or interaction with an app or website.

We recommend businesses begin with a customer perspective driven by the customer’s wants, not the traditional organisational structure of the company.

Subsequently, after their call-centre interaction, how are customer issues being handled downstream in other departments? Exploring these questions can uncover and address inconsistencies, bottlenecks, or failures that consistently yield call-backs. The payoff comes from connecting the call-centre touchpoint with upstream communication and interactions and a targeted downstream response.

2. Segment, integrate and educate

Organisations need to segment customers as they move them to digital channels and ensure that any new technology is seamlessly integrated.

Call centres often fall into the “build it and they will come” trap. Executives invest in digital solutions with little regard to whom they’ll serve.

  • The first step in developing a digital strategy closely linked to the customer journey is to understand how customers interact with various channels and to choose which customers and which call-centre situations to focus on. It’s important to identify customer segments, such as those that are more or less likely to adopt digital channels or call types, such as those more suited to digitising. 
  • Secondly businesses need to design specific solutions and user interfaces to maximise appeal and usability so customers can easily complete transactions and find relevant content. 
  • Finally, once new digital functionalities are built, call centres need to educate customers about the new options and the ways in which they can better meet customer demands, as well as in reinforcing desired behaviours. Customer education efforts can also include mass marketing, such as advertising campaigns to drive app and web usage, and tailored IVR messaging that guides customers through self-serve options.

3. Maintain a focus on core call centre operations

The importance of human interactions requires continued investment in frontline talent.

Our research indicates the human factor in the call centre remains vital and live human interactions are not going away, at least in the medium term. More than 60% of customer care leaders we surveyed are sceptical about eliminating inbound voice calls in the next ten years.

Call abatement is likely to be more successful through a dual track that uses the best technology while improving performance on human-based interactions that remain in the call centre. Some of these calls are just too critical - wielding great influence over customer satisfaction and over the purchase of goods and services.

Call abatement is likely to be more successful through a dual track that uses the best technology while improving performance on human-based interactions.

As the nature of customer interaction evolves, a focus on core call centre operations will prove crucial. Investments in human resources will be required to improve capabilities of customer care workers to meet more complex consumer needs and call types. More of the front line is working from home and on flexible shifts or part-time models. Security requirements to protect personal information are increasing. Service-level requirements such as language offerings continue to add a layer of complexity.

These changes require managers to continue focusing on their call centre operations as they define the operating model of the modern call centre, of which technology is a critical but by no means the only solution. What matters more than perfecting the process of running daily interactions with the front line, is ensuring that these interactions are run the right way, cover the right elements, and enable the right behaviours.

A call for growth

The strategic imperative of abating undesired calls in customer-care centres through digital tools cannot rely on technology alone. It will require a concerted effort centred on a more connected customer. The keys are understanding the customers’ end-to-end journey and why they call, taking a segmented approach to migrating customers to digital channels with the right functionalities and user experience, and maintaining a focus on core call centre operations in a way that recognises the importance of balancing human interactions and automation. 

Taking these approaches improves the customer experience as well as the efficiency of your operations – both of which can be key drivers in improving the reputation and growth of your organisation.

By Maurice Hage Obeid, partner at McKinsey & Company, Kevin Neher, partner at McKinsey & Company, and Greg Phalin, senior partner at McKinsey & Company.

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20th Apr 2018 16:58

You do need to take a holistic view, particularly when it comes to the balance between automation and human agents. Brands need to recognize that in many situations consumers want to interact with agents, rather than technology, so you need to give them options, as this blog based on Harvard Business School research points out https://www.eptica.com/blog/why-future-customer-service-isn-t-just-autom...

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