New Directions in Customer Self-Service
Dave Michels posted a great article about Agentless Contact Center Solutions. He points out that self-service is increasingly preferred by customers and that businesses must design their offerings for multi-modal access. He points out the work that vendors such as Voxeo and integrators such as IVS are doing to facilitate such access.
Future customer interaction success will certainly be built on providing access by whatever means a specific customer prefers—mobile device, web access, good ol’ phone call into a center, access through social software, as well as other emerging capabilities. The key in any of this is to design the interaction to minimize the effort needed by customers to get the information they seek. There are many dimensions to the challenges of getting this right. Some old; some new.
First, one of the old ones is the poorly-designed scripts and call flows of too many IVR solutions out there. The litany of issues ranges from inappropriate applications, to overly complex menus, to the use of internal jargon or other confusing language. Speech recognition can sometimes help, but the nagging high cost of even simple ASR remains a barrier. There is little excuse for this one except inertia. View solutions from the customer perspective, and do usability testing.
The second challenge is to use existing tools more effectively, or fully implementing capabilities that have been around for decades. Passing information between agents on a transferred call, or from an IVR to the agent should be old hat…but unfortunately, too often it’s not. SIP and other newer tools bring some techniques to help bypass earlier challenges with CTI. Let’s get this one solved, universally.
Third is the tendency to make the IVR or a website an all-or-nothing proposition—the design goal is to complete the interaction in self-service. Many times, a far better answer is to gather some information in the web or IVR and then pass this information to an agent for efficient completion of the request. In some cases, gathering information while the caller is in queue works well.
Emerging capabilities are greatly extending the potential for self-service. The effective use of smartphones as part of a self-service strategy is one clear example. Screens on mobile devices allowed developers to augment auditory IVR prompting by displaying the command choices. Rather than listening to a list of options, callers could see at a glance what choices are available. There have been some innovative solutions, such as Jacada’s Visual IVR Plus, that are designed to transform existing IVR scripts into mobile device screen prompts.
That’s a fine step, but there are other capabilities that mobile devices can support, especially when considering customer interactions with agents. When a customer interacts with an IVR, and then selects to speak with an agent, the details of the transaction up to that point can readily be transmitted, enabling the agent to quickly understand where the caller is in the process. Moreover, mobile devices generally identify the customer more reliably, streamlining the interaction. Finally, mobile devices support other methods of interactions – video, chat, screen sharing, even file transfers. All of these capabilities combine to support richer communications with less customer effort.
The real impact of mobility in enhancing self-service is the mobile app. Current capabilities go far beyond the early developments of rendering web pages in formats suitable for mobile devices, providing links to static company information, or sending a “call me” message to a contact center queue. Even such access is easier through QR codes. The growing ability for callers to securely access and interact with personal information is an important step to make self-service functionality even more effective. When interactions with agents are necessary, they are much more efficient because of the ability to transmit information about the contact status and the identity of the caller.
Finally, the cost of creating these applications is dropping. Development companies have now created thousands of mobile applications. This means libraries of code can often be repurposed to create tailored apps. Some of these are cross-industry applications – reservations, location-based services, customer surveys, integration with map services, registration, and hundreds of others. Other applications have been developed to support the specialized needs for particular vertical industries. Innovation in these areas mean easier, more tailored ways to improve how companies can connect with customers, partners, and suppliers.
Customer interaction capabilities are in transition to a much richer environment than has been available over the past few decades. The role of the contact center is changing at the same time that new self-service functionality meets a shifting customer base more interested in do-it-yourself (if it’s effortless). Corporate executives responsible for customer experience management need to create and adhere to a strategy that is consistent across the emerging modalities and shifting preferences now clearly visible.