Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Top 5 Take-Aways from Customer Contact 2014, West

By Michael DeSalles
Principal Analyst | Customer Contact
Frost & Sullivan


Sam Narisi
Publications Editor/Lead Writer
Frost & Sullivan

Customer service experts and thought leaders recently gathered in the San Diego for the 10th Anniversary Customer Contact 2014, West: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange. These executives, directors and managers  discussed the day-to-day challenges they face in their own contact centers and their strategies to move toward improving the customer experience.

The theme of this year’s event was “Raising the Bar on Customer Engagement and Experience.” Participants, speakers and session facilitators shared their perspectives around what companies can do to keep the focus on delivering an excellent experience no matter why customers interact with the company and no matter what channel (voice, text, video, email, chat) they are using.

Discussions covered all aspects of contact centers and customer service, including hiring and managing agents, mapping the customer journey, customer satisfaction metrics and finding the best ways to use data and technology to improve the customer experience.

Here are a few of the biggest takeaways that came out of these highly interactive think tanks. If you were at the event, please share your own top takeaways in the comments below.

1. Agents require new skills

More and more customers are gravitating toward self-service tools when they have a question for a company or need an issue resolved. Customers can now visit a website to take care of many of the simple problems that used to require a phone call. They only call the contact center as a last resort, when they’re dealing with something more complicated.

That means businesses need agents will the right skills to be able to handle those complex issues. Employees need to know more about the products and services and the internal workings of the company. As a result, many companies are focused on hiring educated agents with strong critical thinking skills.

For instance, during a panel discussion, Ann Szymanoski, Global Director of Customer Service at Dow Chemical, said her company makes a concerted effort to hire agents with college degrees. Dow also makes sure they understand the company’s logistics so that  they are better equipped to answer customer inquiries..

2. Millennials require new management strategies

Companies must also deal with the generational shifts occurring in the workforce. Many participants noted that acquiring, retaining and engaging Millennial agents requires new strategies and approaches. Despite some negative stereotypes about this group of workers, it’s important for businesses to put in the effort to get to know what drives not only this group of employees, but also consumers that fit this demographic. When properly engaged, Millennial agents have a lot to offer.

One strategy that can help with recruiting and retention is to the company’s corporate responsibility outreach. This kind of community involvement can help employees feel more like an integral part of the company. Hyatt Hotels, for example, has created a health and fitness club as well as a diversity group, said Denise Pullen, the company’s Assistant Director of Learning Innovation. Creating a fun culture that millennial employees fit into, fostering friendships, and allowing them to pursue a higher purpose will make them more likely to stay with the company, Pullen said.

3. Empathy and authenticity are necessary for delivering a great customer experience

Satisfying customers today requires providing seamless, effortless and personalized interactions on whatever channel the customer chooses. That means businesses must measure customer satisfaction levels (NPS, FCR, C-Sat surveys), as well as make sure that agents have the right information at their fingertips in order to handle interactions quickly and effectively.

Agents must also go beyond reading scripts and try to understand each individual customer's situation, said best-selling author Mike Robbins during his keynote presentation. The key is being authentic and genuine, Robbins said. He contends that agents cannot always give the customer what he or she wants. However, authenticity will make a difference in how that customer perceives the company.

4. Customer experience begins with the small things

Too often, business leaders think of efforts to improve customer experience only in terms of big, company-wide initiatives, said Michel Falcon of Falcon Consulting. However, you can't start any big initiatives without first providing consistently great experiences on a daily basis.

You need to start slow and begin by making sure each individual customer interaction is excellent. Employees need to be able to treat their 100th customer the same way they did their first.

5. Businesses need a Big Data strategy 

There's a lot of data companies can collect from customer interactions and use to improve the customer experience and deliver products and services that better meet customers’ needs. However, companies need to have a strategy in place so they know what their goals are and what they need to measure.

Companies must begin by determining the metrics that are important success indicators for the organization, and then collect data accordingly, said Curtis Generous, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at AARP. To get the most out of the data, look at all channels and make sure information is organized properly. In addition, companies need to use data collection methods that align with the preferences of customers. For example, AARP will use different methods than an organization with a younger customer base.

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