Monday, July 28, 2014

Automated Care that Doesn't Drive Customers Crazy

An interview with:
Tobias Goebel
Director of Mobile Strategy

Interviewed by Sam Narisi

Customers have more demands than ever for the companies they interact with. They want to be able to find answers on their own and solve problems using the channels of their choice. And if and when they do need to pick up the phone, they want the conversation to be as quick and smooth as possible.

Frost & Sullivan recently spoke with Tobias Goebel, Director of Mobile Strategy with Aspect, about some of the ways companies can take advantage of customers’ increasing self-reliance and the new tools available to create an easy and seamless customer experience.

What are some of the biggest trends you seen happening now in contact center automation and self-service?

What we’re generally seeing is customers trying to find an answer to their questions themselves first. Customers are using Google to look for answers. Next, they turn maybe to social networks and ask their peers. If they can’t get an answer, they might try forums and communities, which may be moderated by the company. And if they still can’t get an answer, then they invoke the expert. The agent in the contact center is becoming the expert and is more often the “last resort”.

Increasingly, what we’re also seeing is that if a company doesn’t communicate on the channel of the customer’s choice, the customer may decide to take their business elsewhere. Companies need to innovate, use technology in a smart way, and exploit the fact that consumers are always connected and addressable.

One recent trend is the renaissance of SMS. For the longest time, SMS has been used for marketing purposes, and that has ruined that channel and carriers had to regulate it. But this year Aspect is releasing a solution to take advantage of the SMS-enabled toll-free numbers carriers have recently come out with. These toll free numbers are the same numbers customers already know, but now you can text them, and we have the means to do natural language understanding for self-service.

However, what’s crucial is that you connect it to live service if you need it. Typically, those systems operate in a closed domain and only understand what you programmed them to understand, so you need a human as a back-up. We program the script so that so if it cannot understand an inquiry it will transfer that session to an agent. But it stays on the SMS channel, so we’re still using the channel the customer chose, and now a human can chime in and answer the questions.

When you think about automation and self-service, IVR is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s not something anyone typically likes dealing with. What are some ways IVR can be improved?

The thing with IVR is that the technology is mature, but the devil is in the design. The key is to design your IVR with the caller and the customer in mind. Make every effort to remember and know the caller.

Omni-channel, a new trend in the customer care industry, means you’re preserving context when switching channels, but you also need to preserve context when you stay on the same channel but are having a conversation over a prolonged period of time. The other day, I called an IVR about five minutes before 6 pm. I went through all the options, and it took me several minutes to finally get to the point where I needed to go, and the system said, “Sorry you’re calling outside of normal business hours, please call again tomorrow,” and it hung up on me! The next morning when I called in, the system knew nothing about me. Now, if you think about it, it really doesn’t take much to remember that information. If you do it right, the IVR can ask if I’d like to pick up where I left off and I can skip minutes of IVR navigation.

The IVR is one piece in the bigger puzzle of omni-channel customer care. Know what the customer did in the mobile app. Know about what they did in the website when they logged in. Know what they did with an agent when they last talked. If you show that you remember, that goes a long way to showing customers you care and are trying to improve customer service.

What are some other ways to improve the overall automated experience for customers?

Before, the phone was one of the few if not only ways to engage with the company. Now it’s kind of the last resort. You need to take that into consideration and acknowledge that people probably came from the website or from the mobile app. So don’t ask, “Did you know you could do this and that on our mobile app?” I already know that, because I just came from there. Remembering transactions across channels is one of the most critical things companies can do these days.

It also comes down to knowing about the customer and making the IVR dynamic and personalized in the prompts and menu options it presents. For example, if a customer doesn’t have a mortgage with a bank, why offer a mortgage option in the main menu? If somebody calls the same day every month to check their account balance, why not announce that upfront? Those are all things you can do with existing technology. At the end of the day, it’s about Big Data. It’s about knowing as much as you can about the customer and using that intelligently in your logic, and, of course, making sure your rep knows and sees everything the customer did in self-service before.

You mentioned personalization. Customers want automation and self-service, but they also want a personalized experience. Do you think it’s a challenge to find the right balance between automation and personalization?

No, I think an automated script can be highly personalized. It’s all a matter of how deep you can integrate the data you have about your customer. The data typically lives in CRM systems today, so make sure you get access to that data, which can be a challenge. Within a larger organization, there are different teams with different budgets that handle these different systems. The entire company urgently needs to start collaborating. All of the IT, all of the systems, the contact center, customer care, marketing – they need to collaborate. That might mean consolidating the teams, or creating a cross-functional team with key members of each department. Then have executive approval and support to make the necessary changes and open up toward each other.

What customers want is always evolving and changing. What can companies do to make sure they keep up and meet new demands in the future?

Go cloud. It’s a very simple answer. Companies cannot afford to keep up with all the emerging communication channels. Who knows, maybe in a year or two we’re all going to be talking to businesses on WhatsApp, or SnapChat, or whatever comes next. I think the only way to keep pace is to move to a cloud model where you have the flexibility to change vendors really quickly, the chance to “try before you buy”, and the ability to be much quicker to market with a new solution or infrastructure or channel. Today, people still sign up with 12- or 24-month contracts, but I think even that will go away, and then the flexibility will be endless. I think companies that still try to do everything themselves will ultimately fail.

You touched on SMS earlier, but as the Director of Mobile Strategy, what are some of the other ways you see mobile devices become a bigger platform for customer service?

Mobile devices are essentially a full computer in everyone’s pocket. That means you can use every communication channel on those devices. We’re seeing the entire breadth of communication channels consolidating and converging on that mobile device. But if you look at customer care apps, they’re pretty much built as siloes, like the early IVR. I can guarantee if you pull out your phone and look at your bank app or your insurance app, the only way they give you access to a person is by listing their phone numbers. That’s insanely antiquated. Why can’t they offer an in-app talk function, maybe even with video? We’re seeing that more and more. American Express released a video option in their iPad app, and I tried that the other day and loved it. I know that agents love it too because now they can see the customers they are helping. So it helps the agent experience, which helps the customer experience.

Mobile needs to be part of the bigger customer care ecosystem. The walls around the apps need to be broken up. You need to combine that with voice and text functions. Maybe you don’t want to call, because you’re in a meeting and can’t talk, but you still have a question you want a quick answer to. I see all the channels converging, and I see the smartphone as the new hub for customer care. Reports I’ve read from analysts such as Frost & Sullivan are saying that more and more customer support will be originating from smartphones in the near future.

Where else is customer care headed in the future?

One topic we haven’t touched on is proactive engagement. Companies have knowledge that customers are interested in. It doesn’t take much to share that knowledge in a proactive manner. Why wait for that inbound call that costs you money? You can already predict that a customer will ask the status of an order, and things like that. Whenever there’s something the customer should know, reach out proactively, on the channel of the customer’s choice. You also need to give customers a way to tell you what those channels are and give them a chance to decide which times different channels may be used.

Those are the big topics I see at the moment: proactive engagement, mobile enablement, cross-channel support by preserving context, and offering a seamless bridge between self- and live service.

1 comment:

  1. There is one key trend that wasn't discussed completely and that is the impact that BYOD will have on mobile customer services. Number one, is that consumers will have greater access to a variety of self-service mobile apps, which, in turn will always require more flexible and selective access to live assistance when needed. Such mobile apps will displace inefficient and frustrating legacy IVR applications with visual informational outputs rather than just voice. Both Apple and Microsoft provide such new capabilities as "personal assistants."
    The technology to gracefully migrate existing IVR applications also already exists under the label of "Visual IVR," allowing both IVR telephone callers and online smartphone users to share consistent mobile apps