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Expertise needed in customer service

How do you ensure expertise in every customer service interaction?


Empowering customer service staff to become experts in their field has always been a necessity for businesses, but the stakes are now higher. We outline the people and technology requirements to ensure customers get their service queries resolved effectively and with the requisite expertise each and every time.  

31st Mar 2022
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According to a ContactBabel study, the average call length handled by UK contact centres is now 6 minutes 33 seconds, a rise of 79% since 2004. As a result, the average speed of answer has risen to 106 seconds – up by 563% on 2004 figures.

Why the sharp increases? While it’s true digital channels have helped most contact centres deal with a higher volume of interaction, the result has been that customers are now reserving their most complex of service queries for telephone calls.

This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with the World Health Organization a prime example. Already buckling under the weight of pressure brought about by the sudden surge of Covid-19, the healthcare organisation deployed a chatbot to aid the huge increase in volume of queries its website was receiving.

The bot was deemed a huge success, however the upshot was that the number of telephone calls recorded as “difficult” spiked by more than 100% from the day the pandemic was officially declared in March 2020. Across all organisations, call hold times increased by 34% during the pandemic as the complexity levels took their toll.

Experts wanted 

Another side effect of the ‘dash to digital’ is that customers are becoming increasingly expectant when they do get to interact with a human agent via a call into the contact centre.

Approximately 75% of customers will stop doing business with a company after they’ve had a negative experience with them. Nine out of 10 consumers expect a contact query to be resolved during their first interaction.

Despite this, according to the Forrester research report Boost Your CX With A Better Integrated Contact Center, CRM, And Collaboration Systems almost half of all contact centre leaders are not fully confident in their ability to meet their customers’ needs.

Several issues are surfaced in Forrester’s research, including that 53% of leaders don’t feel they have proper visibility of the info needed to help agents better understand customer context. 55% don’t feel they have the collaboration tools needed to connect agents with peers, supervisors or subject matter experts to help resolve customer questions.

Nine out of 10 consumers expect a contact query to be resolved during their first interaction

Empowering agents to become experts in their field has always been a necessity, but the stakes are now higher. The mode in which businesses are able to ensure the right person is responding to the right query at the right time in an efficient manner has become a central component of delivering great customer experiences.

“Being able to effectively provide the right kind of expertise has numerous obvious benefits,” explains Chris Adams, UK business leader for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement.

“It improves customer experience by reducing repetition (i.e. having to repeat the same issue multiple times), reduces time to resolution (getting to the right person the first time around, without being passed from one department to another) and crucially, increases satisfaction (someone who can speak competently and reassure you that they can resolve your case quickly and efficiently).”

Recent examples such as that of Hermes – which announced it would be rebranding and recruiting 200 service experts to be based specifically in its local depots as opposed to a central contact centre – highlight how brands are having to rethink their approach to delivering expertise to customers over the phone.

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service says the growing complexity makes access to expertise in the contact centre a necessity:

"In our latest UKCSI, one of the biggest challenges was the number of problems that customers were facing. However, we know that where organisations get it right first time, this correlates with an improvement in overall customer satisfaction.

“Making it easy to contact the right person is one of the key things an organisation can do to drive better satisfaction."

Integrate to alleviate pain

Expertise alone is not enough, of course. Forrester’s research found that 56% of contact centre leaders don’t have “adequate technology to enable agents to easily meet customer needs”. And the technology they do have available can often be overwhelming to their staff. 74% of contact centre agents are using four or more applications during a typical interaction.

The answer is for businesses to focus on giving customer service staff the right tools to do their job, starting with integrating and simplifying the tools they use.

46% of contact centre decision-makers say that improving the integration of contact center systems with other systems (such as CRM) was a top business objective. Forrester analyst Chris Taylor says integration remains central to success:

“Poor integration between contact centre systems and CRM systems is a key challenge. Poor integration makes the experience for contact centre agents more cumbersome by limiting their access to important customer data and complicating the number of systems agents must access to support customers’ needs.

“An all-in-one approach to the integration of contact centre systems and CRM systems can alleviate customers’ current challenges. The surveyed decision-makers [in Forrester’s aforementioned research study] highlighted that system integration can be improved by moving contact centres and CRM solutions to the same cloud vendors.”

The benefits of integration and consolidation of agent tools are clear – 42% of contact centre decision-makers believe that bringing contact centre systems and CRM systems together will better enable agents to access customer data in real time. This in turn, aids the core customer goal of most contact centre operations.

“The deeper understanding of customers and improved operational rigor will help bring companies back to their primary contact centre objectives of improving CX,” adds Chris Taylor.

Jo Causon agrees, stating that any well-run contact centre uses technology to “empower agents to focus on building the relationship and understanding the crux of their customers' issues, challenges and enquiries”.

And she adds that AI is driving much of the innovation and consildation being seen in the contact centre.

“AI-enabled prompts can help to be more efficient by enabling them to focus on the conversation, thereby better addressing the customer's needs in an empathic and supportive way”.

The Great Resignation has been a major wake-up call for businesses that employee experience is as paramount to success as customer experience. In the customer service and contact centre sector the increase in staff turnover has been felt even more acutely than usual.

Yet key to retention is empowering staff to perform their roles to the best of their ability, and on this topic many customer service staff are unequivocal – 65% of workers believe slow or difficult systems are hampering their ability to do their jobs. 

Slow or ineffective systems cost the average UK worker around 40 minutes per day – which in a 100-seat contact centre translates to almost 65 lost hours per day.    

And as Chris Adams explains, this can mean anything from what the employee sees on screen when speaking with a customer to the very nature of how a call is routed to them and their specific branch of expertise, in the first place:

“As part of Microsoft’s All-in-one Digital Contact centre solution, we use our unified routing to match customer intent with the best available agent that’s on duty. Unified routing can be configured to take into account any variables our customers believe are important to them, from key skills, to language requirements, even as far as routing to the most "empathetic" agent.

“Additionally, as customers are intelligently routed to live agents through the various channels (voice, digital messaging, SMS, social etc), all context of the current and previous customer's journey are surfaced to the agent are provided to the agent in a single, unified desktop. Agents are then further empowered with AI-guided experiences through proven steps taken by similarly resolved cases, delivering faster and more effective first time resolutions.”


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