Whether it’s intentional or not, every business has a customer experience. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the contact centre.
Jerry Angrave provides five pointers to improving customer experiences.
1. Understand the difference between customer service and customer experience
In task-focused, metric-oriented environments where what gets done gets measured, ‘Customer Experience’ is often seen as simply what happens on a day-to-day basis.
It’s therefore paramount to dispel the myths around Customer Experience. For example, I’m often asked “Isn’t Customer Experience just a fancy name for Customer Service?”
In essence, Customer Experience is what Customer Service really looks like when you are on the receiving end of it.
It’s an understanding of how that Service makes customers feel and therefore behave next time. It’s knowing that satisfied customers are not guaranteed to come back. It’s knowing that really, people are loyal only to themselves.
Customer Experience is therefore about designing intentional, consistent and measured interactions.
It means that when today’s customers tap away at their smartphones later or sit down for dinner tonight, the story they share with family and friends about what it was like to do business with you is the one you want them to tell.
2. Prove the importance of the contact centre
Almost by definition, customers make contact because they need help, advice or guidance and so the emotional impact of the interaction cannot be underestimated. That’s a big responsibility and has consequences for the entire organisation.
Agents are the embodiment of the company and there is therefore a direct link between what they do and the organisation’s revenue stream.
Being so close to customers, agents can help others across the business with unique insights that not only inform their decision-making and planning but help raise awareness of where money is being wasted and where there is duplication of effort.
3. Have the right tools for the right job
There’s no shortage of tools and rules given to the contact centre, but are they always the right ones? They might save a few seconds on average call times but do they create unintentional, unreported consequences that are eating away at everything the brand stands for?
It’s a case of what knowing what the business plan needs customers to do, what customers expect and need and then what they get in reality. Do the tools available to the agent ensure there are no gaps?
Take centralised printing as an example. Putting in place a process to centralise the documentation of instructions may well tick the box to save on administration costs, but if that comes with a loss of being able to personalise the communication and it takes longer for the customer to receive it, it is the business overall that will suffer.
4. Get agents involved in designing customer experiences
Other than customers themselves, there are few people in the company who know more about what it’s really like to do business with you than the agents. So getting agents involved in the early stages of process design and proposition development has to make sense.
Ideally, agents would be immersed from the beginning to help evaluate the real impact of a change on customers. They would then be closely involved in the design and execution to avoid, or at least make a robust challenge to, any scope creep.
In big change programmes where the business case is predicated on short-term cost savings, the things that are perceived wrongly as customer niceties are often the first to get the chop, or to give it the technical term, “it’s been moved to phase 2 of delivery”.
And because agents are often the ones having to defend any shortcomings in the service that customers get from elsewhere in the organisation, they obviously have a vested interest in getting things right.
They might need equipping with skills not normally top of the list for a call centre agent, but for individuals with the right potential, being able to influence where there is no direct authority, creating customer journey maps (not linear process maps) and persuading metric-driven stakeholders to be more customer-centric not only helps point the business in the right direction, it is a valuable part of their own personal development.
5. Align the contact centre with the rest of the business
Maintaining a greater understanding of what makes the business tick means agents and the call centre are in a great position to help and support others. Rather than shrug shoulders about a process that customers don’t like, they could be encouraged to take ownership and build a case for change.
Going to see or inviting people from around the business, including execs, non-customer-facing teams and external stakeholders, nurtures an empathy with other divisions that is not only healthy for their own personal development but it gives context to everything they do.
For example, help agents to understand the causes and implications of a rise or fall in share price. What are the CEO’s top priorities or concerns? Are they able to converse with a customer about today’s media coverage? If a customer talks about the latest TV or social media campaign, are they able to offer some interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes?
Of course, they need to be ‘allowed’ to spend time on productive internal networking. If a key performance measurement is time actively on calls, web-chat and helplines, there’s a disincentive to what could genuinely improve customer experiences, save operational efficiencies and help the organisation as a whole flourish.
Executives call Customer Experience the next big battleground in creating a sustainable, differentiated and profitable business. The contact centre has a great opportunity to shape the response and thus increase the contribution to the organisation.