Technology is critical to modern customer service. As more commerce moves online, the ability to deploy technology to improve customer service grows. And in the context of customer service that is only a good thing, because when used correctly, technology will:
- Deliver faster communication: Most customers aren’t willing to wait more than 2 minutes in a phone queue, and 13% say that “no hold time is acceptable”.
- Provide more direct results: Incorporate the convenience of automated self-service with intuitive automation and customers will be able to get the answers they need faster.
- Reduce costs: Time, as they say, is money, and automation reduces costs by speeding up customer transactions and reducing overhead costs. Automation allows customer service reps to work smarter and quicker.
- Improve customer outcomes: Automating responses to customers as well as accessing customer buying habits and preferences lead to better customer outcomes and increased retention.
Fundamentally, technology is reinventing the call centre, letting customer service agents use their time more effectively, and connecting businesses with higher quality representatives at a lower cost.
Particularly during the era of social distancing, finding creative solutions for positively supporting customers is important in driving customer satisfaction. Technology can and will lead the way. That’s exactly what we will explain here, along with the value that quality outsourced partners can deliver to help you create a technology-led solution.
But, before we get stuck into this blog — have you downloaded our eBook: A New Approach to Customer Service? You can download it for free below.
Technology as a front-line automation tool
A major goal for customer service operations is to harness technology and automate communications, connectivity, and customer management—without damaging outcomes.
Critical automation tools include:
Live chat via texting or video
This includes automated ticketing and ways to collect customer data and analytics. Live chat is an informal, yet effective, way to pair up qualified service reps with customers who need information or assistance quickly.
Chatbots (if done right)
If programmed correctly, a chatbot can be a huge timesaver for the customer and call centre. However, do it wrong and you end up with exchanges like this:
Chatbot: Hello, and thanks for visiting our website. My name is Gwen. How can I help you today?
Customer: I need information about your recent sales promotion and free returns policy.
Chatbot: We’re sorry to hear that you have to return your purchase. What was the problem?
Customer: No, I don’t need to return anything. I just need to know about the sale you advertised and if I can return the product if I don’t like it.
Chatbot: It appears that your problem might be resolved if we can track the shipping status of your order. Please enter your order number, date of purchase, and our invoice serial.
Customer: (disconnects and dials help desk)
If you invest in a chatbot, don’t go for a budget choice. Similarly, it can be useful to have a live chat option that sits next to the chatbot function.
Interactive voice response (IVR) menus
IVR can also be helpful for directing customers to the right person. However, again, you need to be careful.
The typical instruction on an IVR is ‘Please say what you are calling about, for example “I want information on your latest sales.” Unfortunately for businesses that rely on IVR menus, 98% of their customers skip that feature through frustration and move past it by saying, ‘Representative.’
The tools customers prefer
Based on research by TalkDesk, the most preferred channels customers like to use are as follows:
- Phone support: 36% of customers prefer talking to an actual agent on the phone to help with requests for information or help in solving problems. Automation runs in the background when the call centre rep is stationed at a computer screen quickly accessing answers and information.
- Live chat: 33% of customers like live chat the best. Live chat has the advantage of immediacy and quick access to call centre helpers.
- Email: 25% of customers want to send emails. For routine business, email is the automated communication of choice for many customers. Email provides space for the customer to go into detail. It also gives the business time to research customer support issues. Email can be a great tool to familiarise the customer with a wider array of products and services.
- Online support portals: 5% of customers think support portals meet their needs. Support portals typically are stocked with pages covering frequently asked questions, product use instructions, return policies, etc. The portals can act as a barrier for live chat to encourage self-help and cope with customer service demand.
- Social media: Only 2% of customers would rely on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms as a preferred method of reaching a product or service provider. Issues of privacy and a lack of traditional customer service features keep most customers from using social media as a vehicle for customer support.
Pro tip: The above numbers aren’t uniform across demographics. For example, 52% of millennials favour live chat, and a higher proportion of them value a quick response time. But the overall prioritisation of flexibility and options remain.
The bottom line: use technology to assist your agents
Technology opens the door to more effective communication, but it should never stand in the way of connecting customers with a live representative. It’s a great time-saver and can solve minor problems (e.g. chatbots) but you should always default to quickly connecting customers to agents.
One of the most powerful tools that technology offers is collecting information which can then be funnelled to customer service agents — allowing them to personalise customer experiences and resolve complex problems quickly. However, you need to take care when executing this.
- 72% of customers view having to explain their problem more than once as bad customer service and admit it tests their patience.
- 35% of customers want to be able to speak with the same agent on every channel.
It is important to deliver a seamless experience between channels and use technology to enrich customer experience and make their communication with representatives more efficient. This way, you will be able to connect customers to the right agents quickly — driving better outcomes at a reduced cost.
How technology has changed the call centre
Technology has changed the call centre in two ways:
- It makes the aforementioned seamless and information-rich approaches possible. This is better for customers, and it also reduces costs by making sure agents focus on talking to the right people with more complex problems.
- Automation has enabled the creation of the distributed call centre: agents working from home. Remote working has been the universal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for workplace social distancing is not possible with the traditional shoulder-to-shoulder call centre arrangement
The future of the call centre
Remote communication and automation tools have opened up the possibility to rethink how the call centre operates — maybe for the first time ever. A streamlined and multichannel support system hooked into a distributed network of qualified agents can deliver better outcomes to both customers and businesses. These include:
- Better agents: Remote working makes it possible to hire people who wouldn’t traditionally work in a call centre — e.g. stay-at-home parents, people with disabilities, retirees. Those within this pool of talent often hold more years of experience than a traditional call centre agent.
- The right agents: Greater flexibility makes it possible to hire highly-skilled representatives and engage with them as needed. Rather than being restricted to fixed in-house resources, you can direct calls to agents based on their areas of expertise and experience.
- Lower costs: Remote working removes office overheads — reducing costs and allowing you to spend more on quality agents and technology.
Remote working is not only a solution to social distancing, it’s a long-term investment that will allow you to deliver better outcomes to your customers and cut costs.
Enhancing flexibility with outsourcing
The distributed call centre can improve in-house operations. However, outsourced partners can help you execute this plan and provide added flexibility. Only with outsourcing can you deliver real on-demand access to agents — scaling up and down to meet demand and never paying for more than you use.
Remember: outsourcing can be a decision made to increase quality. It’s also not an “all or nothing” choice, and often acts as an extension of your in-house team. The distributed call centre has created a new breed of suppliers that provide flexible on-shore access to the best agents — turning the old off-shore outsourcing model on its head. For more details, check out our blog — In-house vs Outsourcing Customer Service.
Connect customers to the right agents at the right time
As an information gathering tool, technology is the key to connecting customers with agents and delivering the context needed to solve problems quickly. Technology provides options and lets customers choose how they engage.
The ability of outsourced partners to supply technologically-enabled customer services can empower you to deliver better outcomes, more flexibly and at a reduced cost. 80% of customers say that they will recommend a brand based on a good customer service experience. Automation helps you deliver the speed and context required to do just that — setting the foundations for sustainable growth and customer success.
If you want to learn more about how to implement a distributed customer service strategy, check out our free eBook — A New Approach to Customer Service.
Bobby spent 11 years as an Investment Banker before going on to co-found his own e-commerce start-up, where Customer Service was one of the core functions that fell under his remit.
He has spent the past 9 years in and around the start-up space, most recently co-founding Odondo with the aim of reimagining the delivery of Customer Service. Bobby has pursued a very traditional career path for someone who ultimately aspires to be a hardcore gangsta rapper.