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Are You Experienced at Providing an Optimal Customer Experience?

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

-- Confucius

My wife and I enjoy eating out. We both work hard Monday through Friday and look forward to a weekend night or two of no meal planning, no cooking, and best of all, no dishes to wash. With the price of food at a five-year low, we know that a restaurant meal will cost us substantially more than what we can prepare at home, but we don't do it for money. We don't do it for convenience, either.

We do it for the experience. We go to places that not only serve foods we enjoy eating, but we go to where we feel welcomed. We go where we know the service will be good and the atmosphere thrilling. If I wanted chipped china, stained napkins, and well-worn chairs, I know exactly where to find that -- at home.

The smart restaurant owners have realized this and have placed customer experience on par with good food. This is especially striking in the middle tier, or casual restaurants. For example, it's now not uncommon to find wood burning fireplaces and other previously higher end amenities in an Applebee's or Chili's. They've learned that their customers are willing to pay higher prices if they feel they are being treated better.

So, what does this have to do with technology? Actually, quite a bit.

We typically think of the customer experience of a restaurant as everything between their front and back doors. However, for many modern day consumers, the customer experience begins long before they pull into the parking lot. The same can be said about other brick and mortar establishments.

For me, the experience often begins on a smartphone and PC. Prior to tucking in my napkin or pulling a package off the shelf, I've formed an opinion of an establishment from that company's webpage or mobile app. I can honestly say that there are some businesses I won't go to because their webpages frustrate or annoy me. If they don't care about me as a virtual consumer, why should I believe that will change if I choose to become a brick and mortar shopper?

I Don't Want to Talk About It

This may sound a little funny coming from a dial tone guy, but I believe that a voice call to a contact center agent is a sign that something has failed. It may be because the company's website is too complicated or lacks the right information. It could also mean that a voice response unit doesn't ask the right questions. Perhaps a "chat with an agent" option is neither obvious nor easy to use. Even worse, maybe there is no chat function. It could also be the sign of a lousy social media presence. "I asked for help on your Facebook page, but no one responded." No matter what the cause, voice is typically the most expensive and most time consumptive way to make a consumer happy.

One of the primary goals of a customer care unit should be to keep their agents from talking. Yes, there are times when only human-to-human contact can solve a problem, but those times should be kept to a minimum. Let webpages and cloud services do the talking.

Also, I would venture to guess that by the time many people actually do get through to an agent, it's because they have been frustrated and/or stymied by the enterprise's non-voice customer care resources. So, not only do your agents have to spend valuable time explaining what should have been explained before the call, they are doing so to disgruntled callers.

Gripe, Gripe, Gripe

I'll be honest and tell you that I was hesitant to write this article. I kept thinking, "Doesn't everybody already know this stuff?" However, I reminded myself of how many companies still don't understand good website design and effective social media presence.

It's 2017, and I shouldn't have to put up with a webpage that hasn't been optimized for mobile. There is no excuse for a "404 Page Not Found" alert when you click on a hyperlink. A business without a social media strategy is like a kitchen without a stove. Marketing departments that feel you can't have enough Flash media in your life should be forced to put up with the messes they make.

I recently tweeted about a less than enthusiastic experience at a restaurant. Do you know what the business did? They liked my tweet. No response. No apology. They liked it. Clearly, their social media strategy is completely off-base.

Now, if an old guy like me finds fault with how my tweets are responded to, imagine how tech-savvy millennials would react. Much more so than I, they are tuned into the blunders of lousy social media interactions. While I simply grumbled, they would be telling their friends, their friends' friends, and anyone who knows how to click on a hashtag.

What's a Fellow to Do?

Did you read my article "Once a Call Flow, Now a Workflow?" If not, you really need to. In it, I discuss how the notion of tracking communications has evolved from a simple telephone call, to a more holistic way of looking at a consumer's actions. Was the customer on your website? Did he or she put something into the shopping cart? Is this the first time or the third time he or she called about a particular issue?

That's exactly what must occur here. Businesses need to take a much deeper look at how they deliver customer care. While automating or programmatically enhancing workflows is the ultimate goal, it begins with understanding and charting customer behavior. If you don't know how your customers will find and interact with you, there is no way that you can deliver a superior experience.

Does this mean that the activity that occurred inside the webpage should be visible to an IVR (Interactive Voice Response)? Absolutely. Does a contact center agent need to know that the caller is active on the company's Facebook page? Again, yes. Do tweets matter when it comes to prioritizing an interaction? Of course they do.

In short, no point of contact should be treated as an island. Data from one must be available to all.

Mischief Managed

You can throw bits and bytes at a problem all day long, but until you see things from the point of view of the consumer, you will always fall far short of your goals.

There are a lot of great customer experiences out there, and they are all backed by the right technology, the right design, and the right intentions. Sadly, there are still too many folks who just don't get it. Borrowing from the TSA, "If you see something, say something." I am not afraid to tell a business that their webpage sucks, their IVR unit is awful, or their Facebook page is worthless. If we were to all do that (in a kind and gentle way, of course), 404s and improperly liked tweets will become relics of the past.

Learn more about contact center/customer experience trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Contact Center track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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