Tamsin Dollin at NICE CXone explains how and why to include human interaction in a seamless digital customer experience.
Contact centres have been implementing new digital channels like wildfire. Fueled by the pandemic lockdowns, digital communication methods, such as online chat and messaging, are an effective way for homebound customers to receive help and for businesses to stay in touch with customers to continue nurturing relationships.
Digital also supports effective self-service solutions such as virtual agents and conversational IVR systems. Self-service tools are available 24/7 and many customers find them faster and more convenient than agent-assisted options.
But the convenience of all these digital solutions can be lost if all the channels aren’t integrated and if businesses are unable to provide a seamless digital customer experience.
Salesforce found that “74% of customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.” Additionally, NICE research revealed that 96% of customers expect businesses to make it easy (without the need to repeat information) when they do this.
Moving from channel to channel like this can mean customers are taking advantage of the convenience of all those digital options, but it can also mean they’re confused and need human help to sort things out.
This is one of many reasons brands should include human interaction when they’re designing their seamless digital customer experience approach.
What Is a Seamless Digital Customer Experience?
A seamless digital customer experience, also known as an omnichannel experience, enables a customer to move smoothly across support channels within the same interaction.
What makes the experience “smooth”? Mainly, the customer’s data moves with them as they switch channels, eliminating the need for the customer to repeat the information they’ve already provided.
Let’s take a look at an example of a seamless digital customer experience. Suppose a customer begins her resolution journey by interacting with a virtual agent on a company’s website. She provides the virtual agent with the nature of her problem and steps she’s taken to resolve it.
At some point, she stumps the virtual agent, and it offers to transfer her to a live chat agent. Because this is a seamless interaction, the agent can see everything the customer told the virtual agent, so he can smoothly pick up where the bot left off.
You can see that this provides a much better experience. Being required to repeat information is a top annoyance to customers. Unfortunately, according to one study, 60% of customers report being asked to repeat information over and over again.
Businesses that crack the code on omnichannel experiences can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by delivering superior CX.
Why Is Human Interaction Important for Seamless Digital Customer Experience?
As the example illustrates, “digital” doesn’t mean “agent-less.” Human agents continue to play a key role in supporting customers and strengthening relationships.
In fact, our research revealed that email and chat – both agent-assisted digital channels – are among the most used and preferred customer service methods.
Referring to the example, the customer who began in a self-service interaction and ended up chatting with an agent had a hybrid experience that’s more common than you may think. We found that half of customers that try to self-serve eventually transfer to an agent.
Live agents can play the role of safety net during seamless digital customer experiences, especially ones that involve self-service. Many customers prefer to handle matters for themselves, but that isn’t always possible when their issues are too complex for the self-service tool.
Agents can quickly identify issues and solutions, and efficiently send customers on their merry way. One survey revealed that “57% of consumers said they find human customer service agents to be more effective in solving problems or handling their needs” than self-service.
But customers don’t just value live agents for their problem-solving skills. Sometimes people want to connect with another human who will show empathy and take charge.
Pandemic-related isolation certainly drove a desire for more human interaction, but the need for the human touch dates from before the lockdowns. For example, a 2018 PwC study found that 82% of US consumers want more human interaction in the future.
Aside from providing the friendly, competent, empathetic interactions people value, there’s another very practical business reason companies should weave human interaction into their seamless digital customer experience.
Hubspot determined that “58% of consumer respondents who have interacted with a person during the buying process are more likely to shop with the same brand again.”
A hybrid approach to digital CX, in which self-service and agent assistance both play prominent roles, can help ensure support experiences are smooth and satisfying.
4 Things to Have in Place to Include Human Interaction in Seamless Digital Customer Experience
Including human interaction in digital experiences requires preparing agents and ensuring well-designed technology is in place. The following ideas will help ensure omnichannel experiences are friction free:
Easy to Find, Seamless Path to an Agent
Some businesses make it difficult for IVR users or other self-servers to escalate their interaction to an agent. That’s strike one against a seamless digital customer experience.
Being able to smoothly move across channels requires visible exits and on-ramps. Hubspot found that “those [businesses] prioritizing a more human touch revealed they were investing in providing easier access to a customer representative,” among other things.
Making agent access visible in other channels is the first step toward including human interaction in digital CX, but there’s much more to be done. Whether a customer moves from self-service or another agent-assisted channel, the transition needs to be smooth and effortless.
Providing agents with customer data and context is the key to a seamless digital customer experience. We’ve already discussed an example of a contact centre agent being able to see what was said during an interaction with a virtual agent. The same needs to be true of phone, chat, SMS, and any other interactions associated with the customer.
Modern knowledge management systems even enable agents to see what people searched for and viewed on the website, so they have a better understanding of what customers need help with and don’t recommend knowledge articles the customer has already seen.
A visible way to reach an agent and a seamless path there are essential to providing exceptional CX.
Digital, Agent-Assisted Channels
A seamless path to an agent is often only possible when agents are available through digital channels such as email, chat, SMS, social messaging, and video chat. To some customers, being required to make a phone call in order to receive human interaction isn’t seamless at all.
As previously mentioned, agent-assisted digital channels are among the most popular. Email and online chat are widely used and have respectable satisfaction scores. Millennials and Gen Z are particularly inclined to use digital channels.
In fact, our research revealed that Gen Z prefers email over voice interactions. As Gen Z becomes a greater percentage of consumers and workers, businesses need to be prepared to meet their preferences.
Which agent-assisted digital channels a company supports should be determined by their business model and customer demographics. Regardless of the mix, all the channels should be integrated to enable a seamless digital customer experience.
Because seamlessness relies on the sharing of customer data and context, disparate applications won’t do the trick. Data silos are a barrier to digital CX that should be eliminated.
Soft Skills Training and Coaching
One of the reasons customers seek human interaction is because they want to make a personal connection with someone. They may need reassurance, an outlet to vent, or just a friendly, confident advocate, so agents need strong soft skills to meet these customer needs.
Not all agents have natural soft skills like empathy, but they can be taught how to demonstrate empathy even if they don’t feel it in their hearts.
So, instead of focusing most of their training time on technical skills, contact centres should also make time to train agents on empathy, active listening, taking charge, and other soft skills that can improve customer satisfaction.
Soft skills also need to be continuously monitored and coached to reinforce training and keep skills sharp. This can be difficult to do when contact centres only use traditional sampling methods to evaluate interaction quality. A task this big and important requires artificial intelligence.
AI-powered real-time interaction guidance software can fill in the gaps left by QA sampling by analyzing all voice interactions in real time and coaching agents during conversations on soft skills that can improve the outcome.
For example, if the tool determines that customer sentiment is negative and that the agent isn’t showing enough empathy, it will prompt the agent to use more empathy.
Real-time interaction guidance also provides supervisors with performance information about each agent, and alerts them when tension-filled interactions are taking place, enabling them to intervene in the moment.
A seamless digital customer experience requires agents to have strong interpersonal skills, especially if they’re acting as a safety net after a frustrating self-service attempt. Contact centres should make soft skills development a priority.
Proactive Outbound Support
Sometimes digital experiences need some help from agents to be seamless. Proactive support can help smooth out the rough spots in digital journeys and get customers back on the path to accomplishing their goals.
We’ve already discussed several ways to incorporate human interaction into seamless digital customer experiences, now let’s talk about proactive support.
Suppose you are making a big-ticket online purchase and your credit card gets rejected. You’re confused because your payments are up to date and you just used the card the previous day without any issues.
Disappointed, you’re about to abandon your shopping cart when you receive a call from a customer service agent who was alerted about your problem. She talks you through resolving the issue and you’re finally able to complete the purchase.
This type of proactive support can make customers feel like they have just received red carpet treatment. In today’s experience economy, it can differentiate a brand and build customer loyalty. Who doesn’t want to be treated like a super star?
According to one study, “89% of consumers found proactive customer service to be a pleasant surprise or a positive experience.” Moreover, nearly 70 percent of customers favorably view brands that engage in proactive customer service.
So, not only is proactive human interaction a way to make digital experiences more seamless, but it can also delight customers.
Take the Next Step in Designing Your Business’s Seamless Digital Customer Experience
A superior digital experience requires industry-leading contact centre software. The best digital platforms make experiences seamless through capabilities such as:
- Omnichannel routing
- Integrated voice and digital channels
- A unified agent desktop
- Consolidated reporting
- AI analytics
- Smart self-service solutions
- Real-time interaction guidance
For more information about NICE - visit the NICE Website
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