Improving the Customer Experience
A key benchmark study showed customer satifaction took a dive last year. What's behind it--and how can technology help?
We talk a lot about how communications in general is evolving in the enterprise, and how the business drivers are changing, at the same time that the expectations of end users are going through equally wrenching transformations. We see these changes in the BYOD reality (which can no longer be dismissed as a phenomenon), and we see it in the ways that communications decision-makers increasingly need to be aware of the specific needs, goals, and practices of the individual business units within the enterprise.
Another place we see it is customer service. This used to be called the contact center, and before that, it was known as the call center. This post is not going to be yet another exhortation to treat the entire enterprise as if it were a contact center, nor is it going to warn you about specific technology trends, be it WebRTC or video or whatever, that are likely to change the contact center's practices.
Those trends are real, and they really will affect the contact center. But like the Bring-Your-Own movement, there's an issue for the contact center that touches on developments that stretch beyond the borders of the enterprise itself--it relates to this idea of customer experience.
Earlier this week we did an Enterprise Connect webinar focused on multichannel customer contact and how best to deliver service in the new world in which customers reach you over a variety of media. As part of the program, Sheila McGee-Smith offered some data on customer satisfaction that really provided a fresh look at what's going on in customer contact, and what might be behind the changes in the environment. Here's the chart, from a research firm called CFI Group, that Sheila presented:
The obvious question is: What happened last year? Why did customer satisfaction plummet after several years of gradual increase?
As explained by Sheila, CFI Group offered two hypotheses. The first was that people's overall frustration with all manner of public dealings reached a tipping point last year. The research called out such possible culprits as:
* Consumer confidence is low
* Dysfunctional government shut-down
* Confusion over the looming Affordable Care Act
* Stagnant employment growth
* People reached the breaking point
If that seems a little nebulous to you, it apparently also seemed that way to CFI Group, which proposed an alternate hypothosis: That "after years of steady growth in performance, consumers have built up an expectation of 'great things' to come/continue in the increasingly connected company service functions," but that "2013 [was] the year that expectations finally overtook the ability to deliver."
Hypotheses are about the best we're going to do; nobody really knows for sure what's going on here, but assuming the data is accurate, what we can say is that customers want something better than what they're getting. And there is at least some hope that enterprise technology can help here.
The promise of Big Data and analytics for better customer contact has been recognized for some time. In addition, new models for customer contact experiences, like Amazon Mayday, are helping people envision a streamlined, truly user-friendly customer contact process.
These are all areas where the enterprise communications technology organizations can contribute much value. They can work with application developers, Web teams, database teams, and business units to provide the glue that holds the whole experience together.
Ultimately, I don't think technologists can raise that CFI Group customer satisfaction number without corresponding changes on the business side of things. Everyone knows that agents are the most expensive cost in the contact center, and everyone wants to control that cost. But obsessively trying to use Web self-service or other technologies to achieve this goal may well have a role in eroding customer satisfaction--at least that's my sense. Once a customer has decided to engage with a contact center agent, I think you've got to commit to giving them a good experience, not try to limit the "damage" that their costly decision to resort to personal contact will cause your bottom line.
An example of what I mean: In our webinar, Brian Spraetz of Interactive Intelligence noted that contact centers are increasingly trying to migrate away from the silo-ed view of contact channels. It used to be that almost no agents were cross-trained among channels--voice agents only did voice, text chat agents only did text chat, etc. Such a division of labor makes sense on one level, by using agents according to their best communications skills. But it may cause you to de-emphasize the agent's knowledge of the product or other factors in assigning their workload.
Brian concluded that, at least in some circumstances, some enterprises are finding they need to assign agents to multiple channels--and if this means hiring people with overall higher skill sets and paying them accordingly, that may be necessary.
The intersection of customer experience and the technology that enables it will be a major focus at Enterprise Connect this year. Sheila has once again led the development of our session track in this area, and we've added a main-stage "Disrupter Session" on the topic, entitled, "Transforming the Customer Experience with Next-Gen Communications". We're going to have some very exciting announcements about that session in the coming weeks, so stay tuned, and please check out the whole Enterprise Connect program.