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You might expect that Richard Branson, the head of Virgin, a customer-facing retail conglomerate, would prioritize customers above all else. But he doesn’t. In fact, Branson achieved all of his success by putting his customers second.

“My philosophy has always been: if you can put staff first, your customer second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and yourself are happy,” he told Inc.

On this unintuitive philosophy, Branson has built an empire of airlines, record labels, sports teams, and even a space tourism company. While it sounds strange, his philosophy is based on an important (if often ignored) link between the employees who deliver a service and the experience a customer receives.

That’s why Branson rewards his employees with flexible working, unlimited annual leave, generous bonuses, comprehensive training, and lots of autonomy in their roles.

But praising, rewarding, and developing your employees doesn’t count for anything if they don’t have the tools they need to do their job. If you give your employees powerful, flexible, and collaborative technology, they’ll enjoy their work and deliver an outstanding service. But if you burden them with a clunky legacy platform, their heads will drop and your performance will plummet.

In this article, we’ll look at how legacy systems hamstring customer engagement while new technological advancements are helping organizations sail forward.

Why are old platforms bad for business?

Consider what happens when a disgruntled customer—let’s call him Jim—tries to contact his old-school cable company to complain about his service. First, he sends his provider a tweet saying he isn’t happy and that he wants a refund. “Hey Jim,” replies a cheery social media manager. “I’m really sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, we can’t process refunds here. You’ll need to contact our customer service department.”

It’s frustrating, but Jim’s experience is far from unique. More than 70% of consumers cited not being able to communicate via their preferred channel as a reason their customer experience was poor.

Jim’s a persistent kind of guy, though, so he calls the customer service number and reiterates his problem. Here he hits another problem. “I can log your complaint,” explains the customer service agent, “but I’ll need to transfer you to billing if you want a refund.”

Exasperated, Jim agrees and sits on hold for a while until yet another cable employee picks up his call. For the third time, he recounts his problems and requests a refund. After a bit of negotiation, the agent relents and credits Jim’s account.

While Jim was prepared to sit on the line, a significant proportion of consumers aren’t. More than 40% said they’d stop using a product or service if they were being passed from rep to rep.

Whenever you encounter an example of poor customer experience such as Jim’s, it’s easy to focus on the agent behavior or culture. Did Jim get mad because the social media manager he interacted with was rude? Was he frustrated because the customer service agent took too long to find his account? While these questions are important, they miss out on a huge part of the customer experience equation: technology.

A lot of Jim’s frustrations come from the limitations of his cable company’s customer engagement platforms. Its social media and communications teams are separate from its customer service org and its customer service org is disconnected from its billing department. Within the cable company, agents sit in siloes, unable to collaborate with their colleagues or help customers outside of their niche.

Even if the company had the most talented, committed, and engaged employees on the planet, it wouldn’t matter because their tools would constantly undermine them. And when you’re delivering poor customer experience, the consequences are huge. According to analysts from PwC, consumers are more willing than ever to walk away from companies after receiving poor experience. “You won’t have many chances to get it right,” one analyst wrote. “One in three consumers say they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.”

But it doesn’t need to be this way. New technologies and new approaches to employee engagement present a way forward.

Embrace new technology

The challenges facing organizations are new and unfamiliar, but they present a huge opportunity if you respond effectively. If you can overhaul your customer engagement and transform your customer experience into something special, you can push your business well ahead of its competitors.

But to do so requires a radical overhaul of customer engagement status quo. First, instead of siloed communication channels, you must integrate everything into a unified communication platform, allowing agents to communicate with customers no matter how they contact your business. Second, you must demolish your legacy contact center and replace it with a contemporary collaborative contact center. Freed of their legacy shackles, your employees will be able to collaborate and communicate seamlessly, working with their colleagues to deliver the help, support, and advice your customers need.

Originally published Apr 22, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022

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