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OPINION: A new era of customer service for brands

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By Eric Leboeuf, Director of Strategic Channel Partnerships at Infobip

The pandemic has altered the customer experience landscape indefinitely. Consumers are demanding, unforgiving and know what they want – and contact centres have transformed how they operate in tandem. As the world migrated from offices to home and ‘Zoom’ became 2020’s most prevalent eponym, a new path emerged for the future of customer service.

In a short space of time, agents had to move from answering phone calls or emails, to dealing with a plethora of customer contact channels, such as WhatsApp, SMS, live chat and video calls. Businesses and outsourced contact centres had to think about technology through the eyes of their customers to reduce inefficiencies, eliminate pain points and increase the value of every interaction no matter what channel it’s on.

In this article, I will discuss how brands can optimise customer experience by maximising the benefits of virtual contact centres.

Evolving customer expectations

Today’s consumer expects to be able to contact a business at any time, from anywhere, and on any platform – and it’s given rise to new demands.

After interviewing more than 2,000 British people, Infobip found a third (33%) now have higher expectations for customer service since the first lockdown and 32% have said that they will not spend time with a business that provides poor service again. Their biggest frustrations include waiting time (35%), limited ways to contact a company (31%) and repeating details multiple times to an agent (20%).

We also found that 35% of customers are happier to engage with brands on digital channels since the pandemic . And there is no clear channel preference – 52% of people prefer to use multiple channels, rather than relying on one.

Contact centres need to build a cohesive, consistent approach to customer service that caters for consumers’ changing preferences and modes of consumption. Brands should use customer data to decipher which channel a customer prefers, whether that’s their favourite messaging app or a live chat on your website. What’s more, by ensuring customer data is in one place, responses can be tailored to the customer’s unique needs with no time-consuming switching between channels.

Revamping the contact centre infrastructure

There’s no denying that those companies that have had the easiest time with the digital transition are those that have migrated to contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions. There are several reasons why.

The migration of workers to home offices has complicated operations, for example agents cannot ask the floor walker or the colleague next to them for advice, they solely rely on digital tools like internal chat channels to ask for advice or coaching.  Through a cloud contact centre, agents can continue to provide superior service from the comfort of their homes, advising customers and conversing with their colleagues, no matter where or when they log on. The cloud also provides the flexibility that businesses need to handle continuous growth and seasonal peaks, as well as experiment with new service models.

The use of Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA) is one of many automation solutions helping contact centres, particularly when answering FAQs which represents a large portion of customer enquiries. By handling more repetitive and basic customer enquiries, the speed and accuracy of handling transactions is increased, and customer experience is improved.

The human workforce

Having CCaaS solutions that engage human agents to step in at the right time is also essential, allowing them to solve more high value, complex issues beyond FAQ’s that can require multiple branches of support for one customer query, for example payment or delivery support.

This means agents can manage multiple digital channels at a time, ensuring they have the tools to do what they do best: delivering personalised responses, answering queries faster and increasing customer satisfaction. Thanks to IVA support, human agents will spend less time on low value enquiries, meaning cost savings via increased efficiency. Metrics can also inform brands on the ratio of queries going to agents versus IVA. In these scenarios, brands can evaluate their contact centres to ensure agents are not overloaded. Finally, by shifting an agent’s responsibility to more challenging and rewarding tasks, new and upgraded career doors are likely to open up.

COVID-19 chatbots 

Let’s look at this in practice. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several public and government health organisations across the world, for example Public Health England, were faced with the challenge of providing up-to-date information quickly and at scale, whilst also combatting misinformation. For many, the answer has been using chatbots to alleviate pressure on contact centres, who were already facing a significant influx of calls, while ensuring the public have access to the latest advice and guidance.

These chatbots, built by Infobip and WhatsApp, are easily accessible over a publicly available number. Contact is initiated by the user through entering a number in their contact list and sending “Hi”. This starts a dialogue with the WhatsApp chatbot, where users can choose from a list of topics depending on the information they are looking for. This includes the latest guidelines, case numbers, testing site locations and FAQs. If further assistance is required, chatbots can smoothly transfer the conversation to a human agent for detailed answers to more complex queries.

Chatbots like this have been used across the globe – from the UK to India – to ensure the right information is accessible 24-7, and so contact centres can function as efficiently as possible during an exceptionally busy time.  A report by IBM found that chatbots can answer 80% of standard questions. With many now integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), chatbots are trained to recognise customer intent through what we call natural language processing (NLP). Pair this with ML processes, and chatbots will advance over time as they’re exposed to more conversational data.

Final words

The digitally savvy contact centre is racing ahead of its peers. Relying on a hybrid workforce means bots can handle high frequency, low value requests, leaving agents to focus on delivering more personalised and detailed responses. The return on investment from purchase conversion and repeat brand loyalty is invaluable. Companies must incorporate digital tools to boost their contact centre infrastructure as we enter an era of new customer service.

Movers & shakers: Talkwalker’s top 10 brands of 2021

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2021 flashed by, and brands across the globe kept the pedal to the metal to stay one step ahead of a relentless year. COVID restrictions eased and then returned, competition in the digital realm was fiercer than ever, and consumer preferences changed in the blink of an eye.

However, there were several brands that excelled against all odds, and these are the brands to draw inspiration from as we journey through 2022.

Click here to see Talkwalker’s top 10 brands of 2021.

Which? customer service poll reveals 2017 best and worst brands

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Consumer watchdog Which? has revealed its best and worst brands for customer service, with First Direct, Lakeland and Lush all topping the polls for 2017.

The survey, carried out with more than 3,000 Which? customers, found that First Direct ticked all the right boxes when it came to customer service, finishing ahead of cosmetics retailer Lush, with kitchenware store Lakeland in third position.

The poll asked members of public to rate up to three brands on their customer service experience.

First Direct took the top position after 63% of those polled said that the customer service staff’s attitude was “excellent”.

Retailers, including Debenhams, HMV, Ikea and Mothercare, were also among those polled, with an average customer service score of 77%. Lush and Lakeland were the highest scoring retailers, with Sports Direct the lowest-scoring, with those polled citing poor staff attitudes at the sports retailer.

Telecoms firms didn’t fare well, with most of the big brands finishing in the lower section of the table. Virgin Media, TalkTalk and energy firm Npower shared 94th position, although Vodafone finished in 9th place. BT missed the poll this year due to a discrepancy in the data collected.

The best brands stood out due to having friendly, helpful staff, with 53% of those polled saying it was one of the things valued most during the customer service experience.

The full list can be viewed here

Guest Blog, Steve Ball: The 8 things millennials really want from customer service

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Struggling to understand what makes your millennial customers tick? Here’s what they really want from your contact centre.

It can sometimes be difficult to understand what constitutes a great customer experience for the millennial generation. We know about their lofty expectations, their habitual use of technology and their willingness to vote with their feet if a brand disappoints them. But what really drives them, and what do they really want from customer service?

A lot of brands still seem to lack the answers to these questions. According to Aspect research from last month, some 42 per cent of millennials would rather clean a toilet than reach out to a contact centre – an increase of ten percentage points on 2015’s figure.

Millennials are clearly unhappy with the current state of customer service, and it won’t be long before this translates into lost business for brands that fail to accommodate their expectations.

So what is it that millennials really want from customer service? At Aspect, we’ve come up with a list of requirements – the “now consumer” expectations – that we think shed light on the matter. These are as follows:

1. Know me

Millennials want their interactions with brands to be not just convenient, but personal. This could be as simple as not having to repeat themselves when switching from one channel to another, such as a web chat conversation to a phone call, or being able to pick up on an incomplete transaction at a later date via whatever method makes sense at the time.

2. Make it mobile

A simple one: millennials expect customer service to be accessible via mobile. According to Ofcom, nine in ten Britons between the ages of 16 and 24 own smartphones, and 61 per cent describe themselves as “hooked” on their handsets. Mobile has become a more common means of getting online than the laptop, making it an important touchpoint for brand interactions.

3. Let me do it

Millennials have an appetite for self-service, too. According to our 2015 research, almost three in four consumers (73 per cent) believe they should have the ability to solve most product and service issues on their own. Reaching out to an agent should be a last resort.

4. Make it social

Millennials are fluent in social media, and expect brands to be the same. They also like to use Facebook, Twitter et al to vent when something doesn’t go their way. It’s vital that brands are able to assist and guide customers via these channels, and to do so at the time it matters most.

5. Fit into my life

One of the consequences of the rise in mobile, self-service and social media-based customer service is that millennials no longer want to suffer lengthy call queues or phone a contact centre at a particular time of day to solve a simple problem. Convenience is key – if a solution can’t be accessed at any time via any channel that counts against the brand’s customer experience.

6. Save me time

Speed is equally important. Millennials don’t want to repeat themselves or sit through a long-winded process on the phone that would be quicker to complete with a self-service or co-browsing solution.

7. Make me smarter

Millennials like their brand interactions to be empowering. Rather than just solve simple problems, a contact centre should be able to furnish customers with information that will improve their experience of the brand’s services in the long run. In turn, these customers will be able to use their newfound knowledge to support and empower their peers.

8. Help me discover

Along the same lines, a contact centre should be able to create value for customers outside of their immediate wants and needs. So, for example, it could deliver personalised advice and recommendations to an individual based on its knowledge of their purchases, queries and pain-points. This step, along with the one above, will turn millennials into committed brand advocates who discuss their positive experiences with peers and in social media.

 

Learn about customer experience solutions from Aspect