Growing customer demand for high-quality experiences is encouraging companies to rethink their customer experience strategy. Those that do reap the benefits, according to a recent study from PwC: It found that businesses that offer a great experience see a 16% premium on products and services. In my experience, designing the perfect customer experience has become a central competitive factor in many industries.
For some time, figures have been circulating through the customer experience industry indicating that the death of conventional call center-based customer service is at hand. It’s predicted that by 2020, 85% of all service interactions will take place without the involvement of a human agent. Instead, robots will handle communication with customers. We already know that this is technically possible, but how does this affect the customer experience? And what influence does this have on companies’ customer service strategy?
Generation DIY Can Manage Without A Call Center
In times when digitalization is dominating everyday life, customers don’t want to wait to be connected to the next call center employee. Generation Z and millennial customers grew up in a digitally-connected world and prefer to solve problems independently — and online. Does that mean that call centers are on the brink of collapse? I believe the answer is both yes and no. Before we analyze their fate, let’s consider current customer wants and needs.
In a global survey, PwC asked 15,000 people about their customer experience expectations. The results are hardly surprising:
• For 70%, speed and convenience are top priorities. Service must be fast and seamless.
• About 75% prefer personal interaction, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be with humans — artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are viable options.
• From the perspective of the vast majority of study participants, most companies should work on improving the customer experience. In fact, hardly any brand entirely meets expectations.
• The speed factor is so important that 40% of respondents would be willing to pay for a faster service.
Customer Service Managers Are Pursuing The Wrong Goals
Given these customer expectations, call center managers have their hands full: The data shows that the actual call center experience tends to be far from satisfactory.
• More than half of all call center users get so frustrated that they hang up the phone without arriving at a solution.
• A study found that 75% of companies describe themselves as customer-centric but only 30% of customers agree.
In a search for the underlying causes of this desolate call center track record, I came across a survey carried out by McKinsey. It found that 57% of customer service managers concentrate on reducing customer inquiries. This goal may be understandable from a cost perspective; after all, every call center interaction is expensive and customer service organizations have to switch to cheaper self-service channels in light of the growing pressure brought by digitalization.
However, we must pose the question: How can a modern customer service strategy meet growing customer expectations if its goal is to ward off customers? I believe the key is to adopt a holistic customer service approach. When it comes to call centers and self-service, it is not a question of embracing either-or. Rather, I think you should seek to reap the benefits of both.
Intelligent Integration Of Self-Service And Call Center
I believe we will soon be bidding farewell to the conventional call center as we know it. Integrated customer service approaches are combining the benefits of self-service methods with the human touch of personal customer service that we appreciate in call centers. This is made technically possible by artificial intelligence, which makes human intelligence scalable and thus provides a decisive foundation for future customer service strategies. Here’s what I believe an integrated support center should look like.
1. Self-Service As The Starting Point In The Customer Service Journey
A digitally-integrated customer service journey always begins via a digital touch point. This can be a company’s self-support page, a chatbot or an intelligent voice assistant. If this does not solve the problem, the transition to the next touch point takes place seamlessly.
2. Artificial Intelligence Controls Call Center Processes
The next touch point is a call center agent who has already received all the information gathered from the first touch point. The customer’s expectations are high; therefore, the agent’s competence profile matches the customer’s inquiry. With the help of artificial intelligence, service requests have been presorted and assigned to suitably-qualified call center agents.
3. Availability Anytime, Anywhere
Modern call center organizations are designed as a virtual, digitally-connected ecosystem that covers all times zones at any time of day or night. This enables service organizations to respond to customer inquiries at any time because they always have agents with a high skill level on hand. After all, the call center as such is not dead. Rather, it is embedded in a digitally-integrated service process that addresses the self-service needs of millennials and Gen Zers, while preserving the human touch. Digital transformation offers customer service organizations the potential to design more efficient processes thanks to the intelligent connectivity of previously separated touch points.
On the other hand, an integrated process precisely addresses the universal needs of customers: high speed, maximum availability and a seamless service. I believe companies that pursue a “self-service first” strategy with an embedded and modernized call center approach will certainly belong to the winners of the customer experience game.