In flying back from our just concluded ITEXPO (News - Alert) show in Las Vegas, I tried to digest all of the input received from sessions I attended or moderated, conversations with attendees ranging from customers to vendors, and all of the really interesting technologies whose tires I got to kick. And, while my curiosity was filled to overload with things relating to cloud, mobility, virtualization, HTML5, WebRTC and the other big disruptive and transformative trends, I kept coming back to things relating to contact centers.
In particular, what captured my interest surrounds what is going on with customer interactions and where we are going with the customer experience. Putting the impact of WebRTC on the side burner for this article since it is a big subject which even the wise people on the 5 technologies keynote panel I moderated agreed it is the most disruptive of them all – what really grabbed attention, specifically as it relates to the customer experience were two things: the accelerating trend of self-service as a substitute for human interactions, and what many see as the growing impact of video (again WebRTC is going to have a huge impact going forward) on how agents interact with customers in a multi-channel world.
Pardon the brief interruption but I have a confession to make. My focus on the importance of the customer experience as differentiated value may be slightly prejudiced by my exasperation over flying on United Airlines in economy class. There was no free food despite this being a five or more hour flight, no TV screens, no audio to access so no need for headsets, and no Wi-Fi (although my plane back did have it with the restriction that VoIP calling was not allowed). What United did offer on this new plane with increased overhead storage space was a power outlet under the seat. Of course with no leg room you could not use your laptop. This is the new United. Maybe their CEO should fly JetBlue or Virgin American to understand why they are popular with people who travel a lot.
Back to the two contact centers items that gave me pause.
Self-service needs a lot more thought and attention
First, I have no doubt that all of the really smart folks, especially those running contact centers and consultants in the area I have talked with are correct. We are going to see a whole lot more self-service in our future when we have a question or are trying to resolve a problem. The reason is cost, if not convenience. The need to optimize agent time in resolving hard problems rather than easy ones makes dollars and sense.
More however in this case does not mean better if the industry does not get this correct. The fact is that most surveys I have seen about self-service say that the frequently asked questions (FAQs), for example, tend to be less than helpful. You can learn a lot about how to register your product, who to contact if you have trouble, supposedly helpful tips on how to get started, etc. But, why is it that if I have a more complicated problem I rarely can find a solution to it? Why am I pointed to forums when those responsible seem unwilling to be accountable unless I have paid them for support of something that is defective? There is a long list of these “whys” but you get the point.
I think this is an area where “big data” could have a huge positive impact. Whether it be keyword spotting on IVRs or doing a better job of listening to the voice of the customer when that little box comes up and says “Was this information helpful?” you would think that building a repository of answers to frequently asked real questions by real customers could accomplish the goal of providing a superior self-service experience. Leading edge companies are getting there, but the vast majority of my interactions on the self-service front have been less than satisfactory. Worse yet, customer satisfaction with customer service seems to be going down in most verticals rather than up.
Part of it of course may be a result of the United (and other) Airlines attitude to triage the customer base and only give high value (either big payers and/or life-time loyalists) preferential treatment since they account for what hopefully are the profits. The issue is that using self-service as customer triage is misguided. Every interaction, particularly in a fickle world where bad experiences can go viral in seconds, is valuable and should be made as compelling as possible. We all go to company websites or call contact centers with intent. We want answers, and we want our voice heard and not just recorded and listened to, when we don’t get them.
There is a lot of information in self-service sessions that at least to me seems like money left on the table given the level of dissatisfaction that currently exists. More does not have to be less but those running customer interaction activities, which include multiple stakeholders inside enterprises, need to be talking to each other about the investments needed to make that self-service a service I want to interact with rather than what most people think is a nuisance.
Video could be a case of be careful what you wish for
I will be brief. I like it when I am talking to tech support and they have remote control of my PC when it has a problem. I do not need to see them. Again, I just want them to solve my problem. Not only do I not care what they look like, in many cases I think their appearance might be more of a deterrent to giving me peace of mind that I am in good hands than an attraction. The issue is that based I what I have seen and heard, the quality of interactive video is now to the point where as a channel of interaction it is more than doable and WebRTC only makes it easier and less expensive. Is this a good thing?
Real-time video has been like waiting watching a production of the play Waiting for Godot where the characters keep asking “when will he ever get here?” It is here. Now what? For skilled contact center agents and the support people they can direct us to, outbound video can be a revelation. If I can’t explain the problem I am having with my dishwasher I can show you. I think on the outbound side of things this could cut meantime-to-resolution drastically and there are already proof cased on this subject that are extremely encouraging.
That said, the inbound side of things as well as outbound marketing campaigns pose a real challenge as to whether visual exposure of agents to customers will ever be a good idea. The list of reasons is very long. For starters, not everyone was meant to be on camera for a variety of reasons which we all know including a long list that has nothing to do with personal appearance. More to the point, making customer interactions more media immersive is going to increase costs associated with training, hiring, etc. What happens when your best tech support person is not camera friendly? What happens in fact when the anonymity most contact center administrators seek for themselves and their employees to shield them from possible retaliation by malcontents suddenly can have their faces tagged and broadcast worldwide?
In short, if you are thinking about how great it would be to have your customers see who they are talking to there are a myriad of considerations that are obvious, but also think through the less obvious ones, especially as they relate to potential unintended consequences that could raise risks and liabilities. In short, video needs to be employed judiciously. Not all multi-channel capabilities are created equal.
One final thought is worth noting. In the past few weeks we have seen Amazon, Microsoft, Google (News - Alert) and Twitter have (and I will be polite) outage problems. What all of these had in common was you could not get self-help on their websites, and the tech industry in many of its sectors has abandoned the idea of talking to customers. I could go back to the old saying, “This is no way to run an airline.” What it really happens to be is no way to run a business period.
At ITEXPO, I moderated a panel that looked at whether traditional service providers were going to be “dumb pipe” companies or ecosystem enablers. Aside from providing identity management capabilities, great infrastructure for “E”veryone else, and great billing capabilities that can be leveraged because at the end of the day that is a true core competency, the panel said what those companies still do is answer the phone when a customer has a problem.
We all have our opinions as to how great those customer experiences are, but at least in my experience calls to service providers, including cable companies, tend to be superior as experiences for those to other industries. There is a lesson in there that people need to pay attention to and learn from. That lesson is that in terms of ranking how I feel about your brand, my relationship is still driven very much with the quality of the interactions I have with you. Self-service when properly employed can make me feel good if it solves my issue and does so easily and quickly. However, when I need a person to solve my problem, I need to speak with them.
Even live chat only goes so far. In fact, to save money most companies have agents have multiple chat sessions open at once, i.e., they can get distracted and confused and cause latency in problem resolution. When I need somebody to talk to I need the right somebody with the right resources at the right time, and with the ability to easily draw on other human and electronic resources if needed. And, I need them to be skilled and empowered to resolve my problem if it becomes a transactional matter. The voice of the customer should not be “SUPERVISOR!”
Self-service and video are not check list items, they are strategic and powerful when employed correctly. As the old axiom goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I would only add accountability to that list.
Hope to see you at ITEXPO in Miami.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi