Will web self-service render contact centres obsolete?

24th Sep 2014

Brands are under increasing pressure to develop strategies that deliver improved customer care levels at vastly lower costs. So it’s not surprising that many companies have embraced the internet as a cost efficient self-care channel for customers. But will this trend see the contact centre become obsolete in future customer care? 

Pressures on customer care budgets

As with after every economic downturn, service industries are often left trying to deliver more for less. Customer care operations are certainly no exception. Companies are under increasing pressure to contain their care costs, while retaining and attracting customers through service excellence. Management teams are burdened with stricter SLAs, aging infrastructure and fewer staff.

With organisational demands, evolving customer expectations and a generational shift, it is unsurprising that many companies have jumped to embrace digital, self-care channels as a way of cost effectively serving their customers.

The self-care takeover?

As customer service continues to shift online, the traditional models of delivery are being replaced by a wider variety of channels and touch points. These digital care channels, ranging from web forums and virtual agents to smartphone apps and social media, are now a common part of the care mix. Correctly deployed these channels are typically able to service a care enquiry up to 98% more cost effectively than a call to a contact centre.

However, the transition to digital is not straightforward. Currently, the goal to reduce care costs by deflecting traffic away from expensive contact centre resources on to self-care environments is not happening at the pace originally anticipated. In fact, our research shows that up to 20 per cent of call volume in today’s contact centres is “fall back” traffic - calls actually resulting from failed self-care interactions. This traffic alone can account for 9 per cent of a total care budget and make it difficult to accurately forecast call volumes and, therefore, staffing needs.

55% of customers say convenience is the principal driver for using online care tools. Yet one of digital care’s most common failings is the inability of customers to find a resolution to a problem. Almost 30% of customers using web self-care are unable to get the support they need. This is typically because the company’s common call types are not represented.

There is a clear reward for companies that invest smartly in a digital care strategy. But what does that mean for the contact centre?

Teaching the machines

In order to move a greater share of care traffic to online platforms, brands must reshape how the traditional contact centre operates. Most companies have a wealth of untapped care data and the contact centre, if operating correctly, can use this resource to enhance its digital self-care channels.

Self-care deployments that rely on static support knowledge score consistently lower for customer satisfaction and problem resolution. Critical to achieving a successful digital care strategy is the ability to collate meaningful customer and support data from the wider care operation and use it to improve digital accuracy. This means contact centre agents must evolve and extend beyond resolving customer issues and into training and ultimately improving the performance of digital self-care tools.

Today, the process a typical care agent follows is:

  1. Decipher symptoms – interpret the customers described symptoms.
  2. Diagnose the problem - recognise what the problem is.
  3. Identify a cause – troubleshoot to pinpoint the root cause.
  4. Resolution – provide the necessary solution and close the call.

With the right technology in place this self-care interaction becomes a “listen and learn” process; making connections between customer-described symptoms, causes and resolutions. When it (a virtual agent for example) encounters the same question through a digital channel it can draw on this experience, confident that it now understands the presented symptoms, the likely cause and the most effective resolution. The more transactions that pass through it, and the more agents train it, the more accurate it becomes.

Reinventing the contact centre

Winning digital care investment must be cross-functional and deliver transformational shifts in the way companies view and manage care operations. In many cases today the ownership of different care channels is split amongst business units, and the result is that it’s difficult to get a holistic view of the customer, and the addressable pain points. Many self-care deployments consequently operate on guesswork and anecdotal evidence to determine likely customer problem types.

The wealth of data that travels through a contact centre should be used to enhance digital self-care channels. This change of approach will be fundamental to the evolution of the broader care mix, helping to reduce care costs, improve customer satisfaction and enhance the value of the contact centre for years to come.

Tim Deluca-Smith is global head of marketing at WDS, A Xerox Company.

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