Taking tech out of the customer service equation

Good telephony systems, contact centre and other applications, can channel calls to the right agents and equip them with a wealth of customer information. But going the extra mile needs a lot more than that.

In recent years there has been a big focus on technology within the contact centre.  The right technology, so the argument goes, is essential for delivering a superior customer experience.
There is truth in this. Technology, or more specifically, good telephony systems, contact centre and other applications, can channel calls to the right agents and equip them with a wealth of information about customers, prospects, their behaviours, purchases, problems and expectations. But the mere availability of systems that capture that data isn't enough to ensure an exceptional customer experience.  

Knowing a customer's name, their demographics or purchasing history provides a portion of the story; context another portion.  To go that extra mile requires people, resources and the right practices that make use of the information in a way that supports better, more personalised service. 
For example, a wine distributor's records may show that for the past year Jim Smith has placed an online order for a case of red wine during the middle week of every month. In August, Jim fails to place an order. There are a variety of possible reasons for this.  Maybe, he's gone on holiday.  He may have moved.  He could be purchasing from an alternate supplier. Or he is simply busy and forgot.  Who knows?  

The contact centre system can't provide the answer – it can only highlight the failure to purchase. It's up to management to decide whether and how to use this information.  Just in case he has gone elsewhere, it could be a good time to email Jim and tempt him with a special offer for a variety of red that's known to suit his taste.  This is personalised, one-to-one service.
Don't make it complex

Most contact centres have a mass of customer data in their systems. Agents use the information reactively, in response to customer calls, emails or visits every day.  Too often the missing step has been an analysis that identifies patterns and preferences, then using this information to become more proactive in customer relationships. 
It must be said that analysing the customer experience is always easier when dealing with limited channels. An online-only retailer may need to analyse customer behaviour across Web, email, phone and chat channels.  A bricks and mortar competitor may have all these channels plus they have to capture and analyse data associated with in-store, face-to-face interactions. 
Offering the widest possible range of channels may increase convenience for customers, but it also increases the cost to the business and can work against you if you can't provide a consistent experience across all channels.  Worse, it frequently results in a wealth of data that can't be integrated, analysed and therefore used. 
It is far better in these circumstances to consider which channels your customers really prefer to use and then cut back on those that may not be necessary.  If your customers expect social or mobile channels, you are going to have to invest in these areas.  If you find that 98 percent of your customers use other channels and the two percent who do use social are not an important future demographic for your business, you should rethink your channel strategy.
Whatever channels you adopt, the aim for any contact centre should be to make it easy for customers to do business with your organisation. Whether dealing with first-time prospects or long-term customers, channels need to be intuitive to navigate, agents must be knowledgeable, and it shouldn't take too many steps to reach a successful outcome for the customer. 
Start with what you've got

Before considering new channels or new technologies to improve the customer experience, contact centres should take a long hard look at their existing processes, and make sure they are taking full advantage of the data they already have.  This means considering the range of data being captured, and how it is being stored and acted upon.

 It requires analysing the data to obtain a better understanding of each and every customer.  What are their likes, dislikes, purchasing patterns?  And, as in the instance of our wine distributor, this not only calls for good customer experience technologies, it requires customer-oriented practices and a customer-focused culture at every level of the organisation.
Brendan Maree is Managing Director, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, for Interactive Intelligence

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