WHERE THE PROBLEMS ARE
Customer expectations have evolved
“Customers now have far more questions. [The pandemic has] heightened the need to understand finances. Inbound call volumes and average handling time have gone up and not eased off.”
The latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) indicates customer satisfaction is at its lowest level since 20151.
Around a third of consumers have been buying more during the pandemic, and like most of us they’ve been relying on digital channels to purchase and interact with brands.
The pendulum of customer service has swung too far towards lower cost and quality and is now on its way back. 86% of customers say they will pay more for a better experience.
That personalised experience can come in many forms, but it’s all about meeting the expectations of the individual customer.
The changing nature of customer queries requires more training for frontline colleagues and increased support from other departments. This puts pressure on capacity as more training means less hours available for shifts.
90% of consumers say their purchase decisions are influenced by whether brands offer their preferred communication methods.
86% of consumers are willing to pay more for better experience.
“One thing that we did was more cross training. In some of our contact centres we trained back-office staff to answer queries that they would not have handled before the pandemic.”
Contact centre performance manager
CX Expert Carlos Hidalgo describes what's essential when delivering effective customer experience in the modern era.
“Why do I talk about customer experience so often? It’s because I believe it's the new competitive differentiator for companies – and research would back me up.”Carlos Hidalgo, VisumCX
Business as unusual
“Something that is very much on our radar is how do we allow more flexibility within the customer services team whilst meeting customer demand.”
89% of UK contact centre leaders say COVID-19 has changed the UK contact centre industry forever2.
Thanks to cloud-based platforms, some contact centres were able to maintain service by switching to remote working. That then raised different issues of managing a remote workforce and enabling agents to handle sensitive customer information in potentially insecure environments.
“To keep our workplace a COVID-secure environment, we have a much lower on-site capacity, with the majority of our employees working from home. However, for some individuals homeworking isn’t possible.”
Head of customer service
Many other contact centres couldn’t enable working from home, and had to make the in-office environment safe for employees. This didn’t always go to plan.
A survey of call centre workers by Professor Phil Taylor found that large numbers are anxious about a viral spread in their workplaces. Many reported a total lack of social distancing measures3.
Agents feared they would spread the virus to friends and family from the office
Some contact centres faced criticism over how they handled the situation. In some cases, unions even organised strikes because of efforts to close sites, impose redundancies and change office conditions.
And then there were the direct effects of the virus. Sickness and absence levels rose alongside the number of infections, requiring people to shield and putting further pressure on capacity.
As organisations worked to clarify policies and plans during the pandemic, it was challenging to keep customers accurately updated.
“There’s a couple of things at the moment where you don’t necessarily know the correct answer and there’s a bit of a lag on some things, for example, updates stating what you can and can’t do, and we may have already had 400 customers asking that one question.”
The complexity of customer queries means frontline teams need to rely more on help from other departments. But such help has not always been immediately available, as other departments have experienced their own capacity and resourcing challenges due to high demand and sometimes depleted resources due to furlough.
Richard Sage, CTO of Original Cottages, describes the effect the pandemic had on the call centre and how they handled a surge in demand along with the strains of managing remote agents.
“Our managers are taking advantage of RingCentral Meetings to have regular video calls with their teams. That’s especially valuable now, I think, to maintain team cohesion and morale.”Richard Sage, Original Cottages
Internal alignment is essential
“Organisations try to pretend they know what customers want, when actually what they’re saying is, this is what we want a customer to want.”
More than ever, resolving customer queries requires effective collaboration between frontline teams and other parts of the organisation.
Companies experiencing growth in customer satisfaction and revenue after UC and contact centre merge
“I have had to have a few conversations with other departments around respect and understanding.”
The correlation between collaborative culture and an organisation’s overall customer focus is clear.
“Some colleagues have their own opinion of what the customer should be feeling and thinking. They don’t understand why the customer is so angry. And you’re caught in the middle. It’s natural for me to listen to the customer but it frustrates me why colleagues can’t just listen.”
Individual relationships can help on a small scale, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issues.
Contact centre leaders need to build formal connections and be responsive to agents. In the long run these efforts will lead to a better understanding of what the customer needs.
WHAT SOLUTIONS ARE AVAILABLE
Software supports collaboration
“It has improved the productivity of the managers, because now they have a tool that connects them to everybody.”
Contact centre performance manager
The use of cloud-based communications and collaboration platforms helped break down barriers and improve connections to other teams.
See how easy it is to get started
“We'll put something on there – customer X has got an issue, this is the order number and case ID, can you offer some advice? And then they will come back and then it's a flowing conversation that helps us get back to that customer in an efficient way.”
While chat tools connect agents to other colleagues, the proliferation of internal channels and communication volume has added to the workload of supervisors.
“We had the tools already in place for remote working, but it was very challenging when the pool of people working remotely grew. The tools which allow people to ask questions were filled to the brim and for the supervisors who were trying to keep up and help support the agents, it became a very, very big task.”
Director of telephone operations
70% of workers find their communications volume challenging to getting work done
66% of workers want one platform for all communications
Companies that engage in omnichannel communications post some dramatic results5:
greater annual growth in company revenue
greater annual growth in customer lifetime value
greater annual growth in CSAT rates
As internal and external interactions happen over multiple channels, businesses need to invest in omnichannel software to make communication manageable. Enabling agents to do their best work is a crucial part of creating the employee experience that leads directly to improved customer experience.
The problem with legacy
“We’ve had years and years of under-investment.”
According to Forrester, digital customer service interactions are expected to continue increasing by 40%6.
89% of contact centres plan to support messaging and mobile self-service apps within two years. Adoption of social media (92%) and web chat (93%) is expected to be even higher.
Those businesses that don’t respond to customer demands are in danger of being dropped for more customer-centric brands.
Outdated systems have been an added stress of operating in lockdown. Cloud-based contact centres offer omnichannel capabilities, helping agents keep up with customer expectations. However, some contact centres are still solely telephony based and are functioning with inefficient manual workflows and little to no CRM visibility for advisors.
Percentage of contact centres that are planning to support different communication methods
“A customer had some work booked. The customer’s ringing in saying ‘I haven't heard anything, what's going on’. And my advisors might struggle. They have to call the customer back once they have found out from colleagues what’s going on.”
Frontline manager, housing association
Employees with inadequate and obsolete technology affecting negatively their productivity and morale 7.
Workers today are wasting up to 60 minutes each day navigating between apps, with the majority of them toggling between 10 apps in a single hour8.
Less than 50% of agents have chat, text, video, and/or social interactions available in their contact centres, and among those who do, 74% have to toggle between applications to help customers reach resolutions.
“In three years we've used three different systems. Things have gone wrong and were launched before they should have. Customers haven't been transferred and things haven't been ticketed, and the team leader has to pick it up.”
Contact centre leaders have to anticipate technology needs, then make the business case for investments to happen. With many organisations being especially cost-conscious at present, that can be a complicated process.
“Each proposal has to go to management for approval, then we have to use corporate IT resources even though we have our own in our team because they don't want anything on their system that they can’t fix.”
A positive outcome of the pandemic for most organisations has been a renewed focus on customers and the contact centre. Visibility among senior leaders around customer pain points has improved.
Investments in self-serve capabilities have hugely accelerated in the past 12 months. Senior leaders must prioritise initiatives that improve the frontline experience, overcome silos, and nurture an internal culture that supports frontline workers.
For example, for businesses seeking to control costs and attract the best talent, moving from an on-premises to a cloud PBX is a superior way of supporting mobile and distributed agents.