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Effective Customer Engagement Requires Collaboration

Executives are focusing heavily on improving how they interact with customers, leveraging technology along the way. Numerous vendors, both old and new, are developing tools backed by artificial intelligence and analytics, whose aim is increasing engagement and ultimately bolstering the overall experience.

Collaboration applications play a measurable -- and often understated -- role in successful initiatives. Not only do they help employees communicate with one another to resolve a question or complaint, they also can enhance the engagement and derive value for customers.

First, it's important to understand all the "customer" terms that people throw around when they're trying to explain the benefits of their technologies (vendors) or their initiatives (enterprises). I generally classify them into three categories:

Customer Service -- This is how a company reacts to a specific question, problem, or issue. It addresses not only the speed of service, but also the type of service -- is it friendly and knowledgeable, or rude and useless?

For example, suppose a customer is assembling a newly purchased table. In doing so, she notices two pieces aren't fitting together per the printed instructions, so she grabs her smartphone and enters the URL on the instruction page for troubleshooting. In the background, an AI engine monitors her movements around the site, and after two minutes of her continued clicking around, determines that she hasn't found the information she needs for quick enough resolution. A chat screen pops up and provides a contextual note about the exact table and assembly problems. The customer explains the issue, and the bot routes the customer to an agent specializing in furniture assembly (avoiding an unnecessary transfer).

The agent decides fairly quickly to escalate the chat to a video call so he can see the two pieces the customer has referenced. He thinks the wrong piece was in the box, but wants to make sure, so he checks presence status of specialists in the brand of table. He loops a specialist into the video conference, and he confirms the company did, indeed, package the wrong piece and will overnight the correct part.

Customer Engagement -- This defines companies' proactive approaches toward interacting more deeply with their customers, and their responses. Typically, following good customer service, customers will choose to interact more with the company and in different ways (point of sale, digital channels, post-experience surveys, social media, etc.)

In the above example, the company may push out a survey for the customer to rate the service received. When she responds, further engagement ensues. Perhaps the company asks if she wants to receive a monthly newsletter, a quarterly furniture catalog, or to follow it on social media.

Because of the good service, she decides to get the catalog and follow on social media, and in two months when she needs a new sofa, she buys from that store. This time, rather than buying in the store, she buys from the website because the company proved its digital prowess in the first interaction. While shopping, she conducts a screenshare with a decorating consultant to help select the right style and color. She is now a highly engaged customer and receives an invitation to a premier buyer group, which offers discounts on future purchases.

Customer Experience -- This is an overused term that typically doesn't align with the definition. It's actually the customers' perception of a company's brand and interactions, and as a result, a company can't do much to change it. A customer's perception is just that -- his or her own interpretation of the service or engagement. It's basically an opinion, and even though business leaders may think they're doing a stellar job engaging, the customers may have a completely different perception. And, that perception can improve or decline with each interaction.

Consequently, it's important for companies to have a way to measure customer experience, whether it's customer satisfaction scores, Net Promoter Score, post-call surveys, or some other home-grown method. Being able to correlate those ratings to specific agents, geographies, contact center channels, or even marketing campaigns is crucial to success. And typically, we see organizations using team collaboration apps to evaluate next steps based on that data.

Collaboration technologies, ranging from instant messaging and presence to videoconferencing to team collaboration, provide benefits in many ways, including the following:

  • Faster response time -- Through the use of presence and IM, agents can reach experts quickly. They also can mobile-enable collaboration to access apps from any location.
  • Richer experience -- Video or screen sharing vs. simple text or voice calls improves the overall interaction.
  • Reduced cost -- Because of new lower-cost channels that allow agents to multitask, AI bots, or even self-service capabilities, companies require fewer agents, which reduces costs. Further, team collaboration apps, when organized appropriately by channel and integrated with contact-center platforms/services, makes finding documents, meeting notes, and customer background quicker and easier. Saved time equals saved money.
  • Higher CSAT scores -- Faster, richer interactions result in happier customers. True omnichannel capabilities also reduce frustration with call or channel transfers.
  • Increased sales -- By using collaboration tools to access experts to answer urgent questions on the spot, agents can upsell their products and services. Further, by enriching the customer interaction with a video or screen-share, agents can close a sale -- or sell more. And, by extending enterprise collaboration capabilities with select or high-value customers via WebRTC, account teams are readily available to field questions that result in new orders.

If you're creating a new collaboration strategy or evaluating new tools, it's important to consider the affect they have beyond communications among employees, partly because it will be easier to secure budget. It also may affect the technology decisions, based on the ease of integration between different tools.

Customer engagement initiatives are front and center to all C-level executives. Some companies consider customer engagement important enough to hire chief customer officers. The IT staff plays an important role not only in implementing and operating these enabling collaboration technologies, but also in suggesting the technologies that can address business problems or opportunities.

Consumer expectations are shifting rapidly. All it takes is one company in your industry to adopt an advanced strategy for customer engagement to shift market share. Consumers have tremendous power via social media channels: Excellent and poor customer experience spreads quickly. Which type of news will spread about your organization?