The customer journey: What it takes to add value in the digital era

Gone are the days when people used to send “strongly-worded” letters to companies or spend hours on hold to speak to a company about a product or service. Now, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and ubiquitous access to the internet, customers are using social media platforms, webchat, SMS text and more to engage with brands – good or bad.

This evolution has created a world where consumers expect a response from organisations in real-time and across every channel. Over the last two years, Twitter found that customer service interactions increased by 250% on its platform alone. And now 40% of people that complain on social media expect a response within an hour. Twenty years ago, phone and voice channels were the most common customer service channel and thanks to the digital shift, it’s become one of the most frustrating.

This in turn has transformed the contact centre. Traditionally filled with hundreds of people fielding countless calls, contact centres are quickly becoming half the size, with the latest Customer Engagement technology providing as much access to customer information as it can.

>See also: Artificial intelligence is key to the customer journey

However, the rapidly changing digital landscape is making customer service significantly more complex. Unfortunately, many organisations are struggling to keep up. Legacy CRM systems coupled with fragmented data sets, across multiple locations are largely to blame as most customer service models aren’t built for growth. Add the constantly increasing customer channels on top and the complexity rises tenfold.

The reality is that most large organisations cannot afford to rip and replace their customer service models. It’s disruptive, costly and more importantly, time-consuming. Think months and years, not days or weeks.

Any downtime or disruption in quality customer support can directly impact the bottom-line. Just look at British Airways, 15 minutes of downtime cost the airline £80 million in losses and impacted over 70,000 customers.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s about finding the right balance between innovation, business continuity and creating compelling customer experiences. In today’s digital-age, the majority of consumers prefer self-service models, rather than speaking to a person over the phone.

The majority of online banking services, for example, are self-service through web and voice portals. Modern technology has an important role to play in transforming traditional customer service models into interactive experiences that meet the needs of today’s connected consumer.

>See also: 5 technologies improving the customer experience journey

Customer engagement is a critical factor for the increasingly demanding customers of today. In order to keep up with this within the contact centre, it is imperative that businesses offer self-service options that are able to deal with customer queries as they become more complex.

Traditional CRM solutions have created divisions within organisations, which has resulted in many customer service teams working in separate siloes. This may be a good thing for operational purposes, but when you want to get across an integrated message, it’s a difficult problem to solve. These systems have been relatively ineffective in providing holistic views of the customer across the business.

It is this holistic view of the customer that is key to delivering the consistent support and service that is expected today. There is contact centre technology available, such as IFS-mplsystems’ intelligent desktop, that can put a consistent veneer across multiple data systems.

Regardless of where the data is coming from, they are able to put an operational contact centre layer (we call this a data mashup) in front of all pre-existing systems that then pulls data from any or all of them without organisations having to restructure their databases and processes

For example, Global Blue, one of the largest tax-free international retailers, operates in 43 countries with 250 customer service points in the world’s major airports and shopping destinations. Its customer support team handles over 250,000 calls annually and in multiple languages, but as it grew, it needed to find new ways to simplify the shopping experience.

>See also: How the customer experience just got personal with data analytics

In as little as a few weeks, Global Blue implemented a customised omnichannel contact centre technology and intelligent desktop solution that was able to handle language translation, optimise call routing and integrate voice and email handling.

The ability to have access to real-time customer data regardless of the channel they used to engage, has improved customer satisfaction by 20% and cut the time agents spend on calls by 30%.

Having a full-view of the customer and the technology in place to support future growth is only half the battle. As innovation evolves and new channels emerge every day, organisations need to start exploring new ways to stand out in the congested digital crowd.

Creating value in the age of indifference

In a world where on-demand products and services have become the norm, companies are increasingly having to use the customer journey to differentiate themselves. Research from analyst firm Forrester found that valuing a person’s time is the most important thing a company can do to provide quality customer service.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation is helping organisations provide that value. Automated web chats are already being used today to field standard questions, pull customer data and provide self-service options to consumers. This frees up much-needed agent time to handle complex cases and cuts costs across the board as resources are better managed.

Organisations are also starting out by building chatbots as a way to test the automation waters. Social media platforms like, Facebook, are a perfect example. With 2 billion users who spend on average 30 minutes a day on the platform, it’s no surprise that over 10,000 British businesses have turned to Facebook Messenger to create their chatbots. It’s an easy way to increase simple self-service capabilities and boost customer engagement in an environment that people are already spending time in.

>See also: Enhancing the customer journey through the IoT

This self-service trend will only continue and by 2020, experts predict that customers will manage 85% of their company relationships without interacting with a human at all.

The advancements in technology will continue to transform the traditional contact centre, but it won’t eliminate the need for humans, it will empower them. With AI technology, agents can gain greater access to customer data in real-time and use more intuitive tools to provide a seamless customer experience.

For example, AI-powered intelligent response systems can advise agents on complicated cases, as the technology will understand what the customer is saying and make suggestions on how to respond based on what the machine knows about the customer.

As everyday items in the home become more connected, imagine how AI-powered technology will help field service workers respond to a boiler repair call, for example. It may mean minimal human contact, but if it’s a high-quality engagement it will set organisations miles ahead of its competition. And potentially turn an indifferent customer into an organisation’s greatest commodity, a brand loyalist.

 

Sourced by Paul White, CEO, IFS-Mplsystems

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.