Providing Optimal Customer Experiences Means Choices
A brief history of putting computers between customers and customer service
Does anyone remember when businesses first used auto attendants? I'll give you a clue: It's been more than 35 years since they were first introduced. With auto attendants, instead of getting a live person, a caller is greeted with a recording and must navigate through numeric options based on the department trying to be reached or the issue about which he or she is calling. The larger a given organization is, the more complex the labyrinth, and the more frustrated the caller becomes.
In the 1990s we got the IVR (Interactive Voice Response), a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF tones input via keypad. With IVR, the caller needs to input his or her account number, address, etc., and is then (hopefully) routed correctly to the agent who can best help with the call. The problem is that for a long time it seemed most organizations collected this information from callers only to have an agent ask the exact same questions!
After 2000, we got emotion-sensing IVRs that are capable of recognizing when a caller is upset. If someone raised his or her voice or sounded irritated the system would then fast-track the caller to a live agent to get more personalized attention. Has anyone else yell into their phone just to get a live person ASAP?
Recently, speech recognition software has been used to identify keywords when a caller asks the IVR a question. Guess what? Callers are still frustrated and disappointed. Don't get me wrong, it's better than the technologies that came before, but unfortunately it's not the last chapter in meeting customers' needs.
On the other side of the phone system in the contact center, the technology improved to skills-based call routing. This is a call-assignment strategy used in call centers to assign incoming calls to the most suitable agent, rather than simply routing calls to the next available agent. Brilliant, don't you think? But even the call center agents quickly learned how to beat the system. For example, just as I figured out that yelling at an IVR would result in my call being routed to a live agent, call center agents figured out that they could take their time with callers and use the post-call processing time meant for updating account notes to instead de-stress with a nice game of solitaire, thus avoiding taking more calls.
None of these innovations -- from the auto attendant to the IVR and skills-based call routing -- really fixed the problem of expediting callers' issues. None of these gave callers options for how to communicate with the call center! Today, callers (not even necessarily taking the form of a phone call anymore) want to fix the simple problems themselves and only talk to a live person when the issue is more complex. By bringing in intelligence from a few different internal and interconnected systems, now the caller has a better experience, and the organization is saving money on labor.
Take a recent personal experience of mine as an example. A few weeks ago, I had some wind damage to my house. It took me six minutes to create a claim with my insurance company on my computer. An automated email arrived in my email inbox within seconds. A few days later an accommodating adjustor called and worked with my schedule to set up an appointment to view my roof. One week later, I had a question about my settlement document. I called my insurance provider back for clarification, and since their system recognized my number and I was logged in online, I was asked if I would like to speak with someone about my recent homeowner's claim.
Wow! I'm impressed with the technology, satisfied with the security, and talking to a live person in a reasonable time. By intelligently integrating systems together like my insurance company, organizations can actually have satisfied customers despite them calling in about a problem.
Although utilizing the website was my preference, I know I also have the option to fax, email, text, or even use social media to communicate with them. "Callers" have dozens of ways to communicate today, and each of them wants to keep using their preferred method of communication. Organizations that use customer-preferred communications technology and give options for ways to connect with the company can realize serious cost savings and grow customer satisfaction simultaneously.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.