Improving Customer Care Through Technology
Investments in customer engagement center technologies can help organizations meet consumers' needs through an increasing number of channels.
- by Calvin Hennick
- Business and technology journalist | January 09, 2019
“Once upon a time,” says Mary Wardley, vice president for customer care at IDC, “there was only one customer service channel: the telephone.”
In the 1980s, Wardley notes, fax popped up as an alternative channel. In recent decades, customers have come to expect online self-service portals, rapid response from corporate social media accounts and lightning-quick service via a number of other channels.
“Once companies put up websites, customers wanted emailed responses,” Wardley says. “We’ve added chat, and then mobile opened up the door to text messaging. None of these customer contact centers were designed with those channels in mind. And then, as the result of mergers, you often have a mishmash of backend systems. You’ve got all these channels you need to support, and customers want to be able to cross from one channel to another without explaining their whole story to a new person. It’s a complex environment.”
This complexity has given rise to a need for new technologies — including solutions that rely on automation, analytics, workforce optimization tools and cloud resources — to help companies integrate multiple channels and create a seamless experience for customers.
“More today than any time in the past two decades, there are companies that actually care about customer service and realize that customer service is more of a competitive differentiator than ever before,” says Ross Daniels, vice president of strategic partnerships at Calabrio. “Companies are starting to understand, much better than they used to, the lifetime value of a customer. There’s been so much disruption in different industries. One way to fight that disruption is a good service experience.”
Automation and Analytics Transform Care
A number of companies are turning toward automation tools, such as chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI), to improve customer service, cut costs and improve the efficiency and productivity of workers in the customer engagement center.
“Within three to five years, you’re going to see almost every brand using a virtual assistant as part of customer care,” says Fredrik Tunvall, global lead for product Management for IBM Watson Assistant. “I strongly believe that. I think AI can really transform customer care.”
Tools such as Watson Assistant attempt to understand customers’ intent when they come to a company with an issue, and then either direct customers to the correct answer or automatically solve their problems. Right now, Tunvall says, Watson Assistant is able to answer between 60 and 70 percent of customer inquiries.
“The more people use it, the smarter it gets,” Tunvall says. “It’s meant as a supplement to human representatives, not a replacement. When we talk about AI, we often talk about ‘augmented intelligence,’ rather than artificial intelligence.”
“If I’m a customer and I go to my bank’s website with a question, I don’t really care about how that gets answered,” Tunvall says. “I just want an answer. Virtual assistants are really good at getting answers to those frequently asked questions. And then, when you get a question that the AI can’t answer, you want a seamless handoff to a human agent.”
Daniels says that companies can also achieve new efficiencies by applying analytics tools to the data already living inside their customer engagement centers. For example, tech tools can monitor customer care interactions for certain keywords, mentions of competitors or even frustrated tones — helping to improve employee coaching and reduce customer churn. Using analytics to forecast demand and improve staffing can also cut costs and improve service.
Omnichannel Customer Engagement: By the Numbers
Survey data shows that customers increasingly expect companies to provide multiple ways to help them solve their problems. However, many consumers are dissatisfied with the effectiveness of alternative channels, and therefore continue to engage with companies primarily via voice calls.
• 59 percent of global customers say they have higher expectations for customer service than they did a year ago.
• 70 percent say they have a more favorable view of brands that offer proactive customer service notifications.
• 88 percent expect brands to have online self-service portals.
• 59 percent say they have used at least three different customer service channels.
• 66 percent feel that the quality of customer service is getting better.
• 30 percent say that getting their issue resolved in a single interaction is the most important aspect of customer service.
• 31 percent cite having to provide their information multiple times as the most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience.
Increasing Personalization and Improving Omnichannel
Although most companies recognize the shift to omnichannel customer service, it’s still relatively rare for customers to experience a seamless transition between, say, an initial web chat and a later interaction such as a phone call.
“We’re trying to move away from thinking about what channel someone came in on, and instead focusing on what their need is,” says Wardley. “That’s what omnichannel is, and most organizations can’t handle that now.”
“If I start an interaction with an email, and then do an online chat, and then do a phone call, the chances of the person I talk to having any idea about the previous conversations is still pretty low,” says Daniels.
Part of this is a process problem. “If you have five different customer relationship management systems, Watson isn’t going to be able to step in and help that,” notes Tunvall. “You still need to have a strategy on the back end, and deal with questions like, ‘How do we store this data, what is our single source of truth?’ Those things don’t go away with AI.”
Still, Wardley says, tech investments can also improve omnichannel customer service. “First, you need to have a cloud-based platform for integration, with modern application programming interfaces,” she says. “That’s absolutely fundamental. We’re starting to hear ‘cloud-first’ in the contact center more than ever before.”