The majority of customer service departments are struggling to keep up with evolving consumer demands, a new report explains.
The report — which polled over 750 customer service leaders — breaks down contact centers into four potential categories based on their level of sophistication:
- Traditional, meaning the company has little formal feedback processes for customer service;
- Developing, where the company has taken some steps toward implementing a formal customer experience program;
- Mature, where the workforce is held accountable for overall customer service; and
- Optimized, where the customer experience is a dynamic and evolving part of the organization’s strategy.
The study found that 23 percent of contact center operations fall into the traditional stage, while an overwhelming 46 percent are in the developing stage — meaning they are unable to provide many of the critical services that are necessary for attracting and retaining customers.
As you can see, there is a large gap developing between companies that are proficient in customer service and those that are falling behind in their efforts. And any time there is a performance gap, that spells an opportunity for organizations to get ahead of the competition.
With this in mind, we wanted to highlight some of the features that you will find in a mature or optimized contact center.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI refers to a computer’s ability to imitate human behavior. AI can be broken down into several categories, such as natural language processing, sentience analysis, and machine learning.
Natural language processing involves reading and responding to voice or text-based queries in real time. Sentience analysis involves scanning large numbers of inbound communications to understand human emotion. And machine learning involves feeding computers data to “learn” information without requiring any programming.
According to Forrester, AI investment increased by about 300 percent last year. And by 2020, AI bots will power about 85 percent of customer service interactions. So it’s clear that AI is already dominating the customer service space, and it will remain this way looking forward — meaning all businesses should be looking for ways to leverage it.
At the same time, AI is also a widely misunderstood technology. While many people think that AI will eventually replace human agents, the truth is that we are still many years away from reaching the point where that would even be possible. This is also a somewhat far-fetched scenario, as human agents will always be needed to talk customers through specific problems — and to oversee automated processes.
What we are seeing right now is a mix of AI-powered automation, where live agents use AI to glean insight they can use to have advanced, data-powered conversations.
Unified Communications (UC)
Most contact centers that fall into the “traditional” or “developing” categories are using siloed communications systems. Team members, for instance, may use disparate services for messaging one another, engaging with customers, and inputting data.
Conversely, optimized contact centers typically have unified communications (UC) systems in place, which allow agents to access everything they need to do their jobs through a centralized, web-based portal — like voice, text, video, fax, and more.
A UC platform can be accessed from any location over the internet. Most UC systems are either cloud-based or leverage a hybrid architecture, where a PBX is placed on-site.
UC has been proven to improve productivity and customer service while reducing telecommunications costs. For instance, UC makes it possible to pool telephone lines or dynamically add numbers as needed to prevent busy signals.
Monitoring & Alerts
There is little room for guesswork in a contact center, where the smallest oversight or mistake can have costly consequences — like lengthy hold times, higher telecommunications bills, and unhappy customers. At the same time, administrators can’t afford to sit in front of the wallboard all day. There needs to be a certain amount of automation in place so that administrators can be free to focus on higher-level tasks without having to constantly observe backend processes.
Take a look at any leading contact center and you will find an advanced reporting and monitoring system at work. With a quality contact center reporting system, notifications can be sent via email or SMS when alerts are triggered and immediate attention is required — like sudden spikes in call volumes, cybersecurity issues, or login anomalies.
It’s often said that the key to providing amazing customer service is to hire the right people. Even the best agents, however, can underperform when there is a communication breakdown with management.
The best contact center teams are excellent at keeping agents engaged and motivated throughout the day. In these environments, managers almost always have the ability to “drop in” to a platform and observe how agents are performing in real-time.
Managers, for instance, should be able to see advanced metrics like average call durations, received calls, and more. They should also be able to silently listen in and observe customer conversations, without agents knowing if they are being monitored for quality purposes.
Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN)
Last, but certainly not least, the best contact centers today have little to no network issues.
Downtime, the scourge of productivity, can be easily alleviated using software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), a strategy that gives network administrators the ability to prioritize, distribute, and monitor network resources across the enterprise. Using SD-WAN, enterprises can ensure that all of their various cloud, voice, and data services remain up and running at a sufficient level.
As you can see, it takes a lot to enable a great customer experience — but it’s not impossible.