Making a more emotional customer connection
Customer loyalty has become a make-or-break factor for many businesses as churn becomes an increasingly damaging problem. After all, customers who leave you will end up joining a competitor. But one place where all the difference can be made - if the process is done well - is in the call centre, according to Mark Turner, managing director for Genesys UK.
Turner asserts that a truly dynamic contact centre can not only increase customer retention but develop stronger customer loyalty to help ensure sustainable profitability.
How service impacts loyalty Customer service is the largest single influence on consumer loyalty, according to Genesys research, which found that 46% of people in the UK feel that service is their number one driver of loyalty, compared to only 33% who felt that product quality was the key.
Contact centres are now striving to achieve a greater feeling of customer satisfaction, so it is important to know how customers feel about call centres, identify what they don't like, and find ways to avoid the kinds of consumer frustration and disappointment that destroy loyalty to an otherwise excellent brand.
The company's research observed that there are three main areas of customer frustration in the contact centre: Hold times, IVRs and call transfers. Businesses need to be aware that these areas can cause a great deal of dissatisfaction among customers, and they need to work harder to avoid them.
The initial hold One great enemy of customer satisfaction is the amount of time they have to spend on hold, waiting for someone to speak to them. In fact, long hold times are a prime cause of customer frustration for 66% of people in the UK. As there are different stages of the interaction where hold times occur, contact centres need to look carefully at these stages, recognise that different actions may be required, and put in place the appropriate solution.
Initial holding, while waiting for an agent, happens in a lot of contact centres. What's the answer? Well, one idea is to create an automated introduction. This ensures that no customer immediately enters a queue, and you can even capture identification and verification information, removing some of the work for agents who answer calls.
The mid-call hold Mid-call holds occur during an interaction, where the call needs to be transferred to another agent. With automated identification services, you can capture information about the customer and what it is they require, resulting in less need for transfers. This information can run through a skills-based routing engine to find the right agent, equipped to handle the enquiry correctly, first time.
These two actions can cut down hold times, or at least give the impression of shortened hold times, and help to reduce customer frustration. Another tool that can be used to eliminate hold times altogether is to provide a "virtual hold" - such as offering customers a call-back service when an agent becomes available, without losing their place in the queue.
Problems with IVR IVR systems themselves do not frustrate people, as research conducted in 2006 showed that almost 80% of customers accept voice self service as an alternative to a 24-hour agent service. But 70% of people do get frustrated by IVRs that have too many - or even incorrect - options within them.
The problem that contact centres face is therefore not a customer-oriented one but one of system design. Creating a simple-to-use voice application not only stops you from frustrating good customers but it also forms an important part of a dynamic contact centre operation that increases customer satisfaction, agent productivity, and overall bottom line growth for the company.
Customers that use voice IVRs and are happy with it tend to be satisfied with their experience, and are usually happy to use it again. This means that they will rarely need to interact with agents, enabling staff to focus on other customers that don't want to use the IVR, or to focus on other revenue generating activities such as cross-selling or outbound telesales campaigns.
But however well designed the IVR system, customers must never feel forced into using it. Research has shown that 86% of UK customers feel that they have no choice but to use the IVR system and, of those, 80% react negatively to the fact. Part of the design process must include consideration of how to make the IVR option seem like an opt-in for callers.
A web of transfers? Again, contrary to expectations, it is not call transfers themselves that frustrate customers. In fact, 91% of UK callers would like to be transferred if the person they speak to next is better able to help them. What frustrates customers (62% of them) is having to repeat information when they're transferred to someone else, even if it's only their name or account number. But if customers go through an automated identification and verification (ID&V) process at the beginning of the call, and give all their relevant information, there should be no need to repeat it when they get through to an agent.
According to Turner, information sharing is the key to call centre success. The contact centre needs to become truly dynamic and use all of its resources effectively, so that relevant data can be shown on each agent's screen even before they answer the call, showing all the information that the customer has already given. Any re-verification steps should be made as short as possible. And with other processes such as skills-based routing in place, transfers will be cut down and those that are necessary can be carried out seamlessly.
Next steps Traditional customer satisfaction issues have been on the radar for several years, and several forward-thinking companies have made great in-roads into addressing these issues successfully through the deployment of a dynamic contact centre approach. This enables them to optimise the blend of people and technology to create a seamless process for managing customer interactions. And managing those interactions well means that whenever a customer chooses to contact your business, they go away feeling satisfied and will return.
Repeat business is not really customer loyalty, though: It actually represents a customer who is using your company or brand because they don't feel there is another company able to do it better. But as soon as a better alternative comes along, there is a genuine threat to their custom. The customers that marketers really want are those who will promote the business to their friends and anyone else they meet. These are active and loyal advocates for the business, and they can become one of the greatest sales and marketing tools available.
Creating loyal advocates People like this do exist - but why are they so enthusiastic? The answer is that they have a formed a strong emotional connection with the company. The quickest and most effective way to create a stronger emotional connection with customers is to give them what they want and need, without them having to ask for it.
Genesys research shows that 83% of customers in the UK approve of pro-active communications by telephone, e-mail and SMS to keep them updated on service delivery, products, and services that may be of interest to them. Customers actually want companies to sell to them, but only when they feel it is "right for them". And understanding what is "right for them" means profiling customer data carefully to establish what customers are interested in now, and perhaps what will be next on their list of priorities.
Dynamic contact centre approach There's always a catch, though. Now you will need to incorporate outbound activity into the contact centre, but that means more staff (or perhaps less time answering incoming calls). Matching staffing patterns with call volumes and budgets is not always easy, or predictable.
One answer to these problems is the dynamic contact centre approach advocated by Genesys, which allows the company to create a single dynamic pool of employees to meet the varying needs of the contact centre. Having back-office staff is essential, as is having a capable agent pool. But there is no reason why those two teams have to be mutually exclusive.
"By blending the two teams together, managers can have greater control and flexibility over their workforce, and create the time that they need to create these revenue generating activities. At times of high call volumes, calls are pushed to back office working, where an SIP-linked system - connected to the main telephony system - enables the staff to become agents. And at times when call volumes drop, to ensure agent productivity levels are retained, the same staff can be pushed back office tasks from a single task folder. Alternatively they could spend this time on calls that have come in while introducing cross- and up-selling, or they can make essential outbound calls," explained Turner.
Conclusion In such a dynamic environment, jobs can be managed according to customer needs, and the productivity and efficiency of the contact centre is greatly improved. This means that customer satisfaction naturally increases because they don't have to wait on hold or be subjected to unnecessary call transfers, and of course cross/up-selling opportunities are also created.