Jaime Bailey

Where should your business draw the line for self-service?


CCW recently released its market study on “The Future of the Contact Center in 2019,” and it provides a mixed bag of perspectives for businesses in pursuit of improving their customer experience.

The good news is that no one seems to be buying into the idea that artificial intelligence should replace your human staff. In fact, 64 percent of organizations surveyed believe customers should still have easy access to a live agent.

However, there is plenty of room for improvement in 2019:

  • 52 percent of organizations support the dichotomy that self-service is for transactional matters while agents are for complex ones.
  • Less than one-third (29 percent) of organizations believe in “right-channeling” customers to a more efficient touch point.
  • Only 25 percent accept the notion that reducing effort trumps increasing personalization.

A Continuum of Service

Customers do love self-service when it truly serves their needs; CCW cited a report that 59 percent of consumers and 71 percent of business buyers said self-service availability affects their brand loyalty. However, according to the CCW Digital Market Study on the Customer Experience published this summer, consumers prefer low-effort experiences to highly personal ones by a factor of 2-to-1. These results seem to suggest that your contact center should offer a spectrum or continuum of low-effort interactions to your customers rather than an either/or choice.

On One End: Human Interaction

Considering that live agents are still considered the full-service, buck-stops-here customer service option, it’s not surprising that CCW reported 2019’s top investment target is the voice channel (nearly 60 percent say investing in live agent telephony is a priority).

However, the ways that an organization can approach voice have expanded into the continuum of service. Offering a combination of human contact and digital support, live chat is another priority for CCW’s respondents, with 49 percent looking into it in 2019. The undervalued voice solution that reduces your customer effort is “right-channeling” them to the most appropriate agent through AI-powered updates to your IVR. These updates can include voice recognition, which allows the interaction to proceed in a more human manner, and data collection, which is funneled along with the call to the agent best suited to handle the inquiry.

Another proven solution for reducing customer effort is callback, whereby your callers are informed of estimated wait times and provided the opportunity to schedule a call from your agents at the time most convenient for the customer. In 2018 VHT updated this solution with Callback cloud, whereby customer data and call information are routed through the cloud; this makes the service available and cost-effective for any business, anywhere. VHT Digital moves the needle just a bit further toward automation by providing callback options through every digital and mobile channel.

On the Other End: Automation

With the hindsight provided by 2018, it seems that the rush to “keep up” by implementing automated self-service solutions can easily get in the way of developing good CX strategy. Bots are supposed to offer the best of all worlds for handling simple, programmable interactions: They’re available 24/7, react quickly, and retain customer data for future interactions. However, poorly planned or supported bots have been shown to damage the customer experience by causing delays and increasing frustration levels. Thanks to machine learning, bots will run themselves and offer value to your customers, but only if they are properly prepared, maintained, and targeted to best serve your customer’s needs.

Automation travels up the continuum toward voice when contact centers apply it to the task of optimizing agent performance. As noted above, one practice is to collect data through your IVR and provide it in real time to your agents as they take the call, allowing them to provide exact service without wasting time or effort.

Now let’s look at the solution that can bridge the entire spectrum of the human/automation interaction.

Everywhere: Omni-channel

For years, the idea of omni-channel service — where data from every channel is collected in real time, saved to one location, and available on the fly to inform every interaction – has been simultaneously recognized as best practice but incredibly difficult to implement. For omni-channel to be effective, every channel, no matter its infrastructure, location, setup, or other factors, has to connect seamlessly with one depository. Further, that depository has to be able to display any of its information to your human agents through a real-time interface that is just as smooth, comprehensive, and consistent as the experience you’re building for your customers. And it’s worth the effort to get it right: CCW reports that companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent for companies with weak omni-channel execution.