Beloved brands do more than sell a great product or service. As B2C industries evolve, a customer’s experience is just as important as what they buy.
Chik-fil-A topped the 2017 Temkin Experience Ratings not for having chicken sandwiches that stand above the fast food competition, but for qualities like their pristine restaurants and exceedingly friendly, knowledgeable staff. A sprawling shoe selection didn’t catapult Zappos.com into the upper echelon of e-commerce juggernauts, but the company’s customer-first culture and employee development program did.
As these brands prove, nailing the customer experience (CX) is not a one-and-done feat. Customer habits and preferences are fickle things. Consumers’ growing technology dependence, paired with the rise of digital-first brands like Lyft, Netflix and Spotify, puts pressure on all organizations to regularly upgrade their customer service and support strategies.
Today, many brands are overdue for improvement. West UC’s recent survey of 200 contact center and customer experience decision-makers found that organizations have a long way to go – in terms of technology and internal processes – to fulfill their true CX potential.
Legacy tools and metrics are holding contact centers back
Let’s start with the good news: CX leaders feel there is tremendous opportunity hiding in their contact centers. Eighty-eight percent agree that the contact center can play a major role in defining and proactively managing the customer journey across channels.
Fulfilling this prophecy, however, will take a considerable amount of reverse engineering. Currently, less than half (47%) of CX decision-makers strongly agree their contact centers meet customers’ needs. Even fewer (29%) emphatically feel their contact centers can design and deliver a seamless CX between different platforms.
The roots of this problem are twofold, the result of both antiquated technology and an incomplete approach to measuring CX.
According to West UC’s research, just over half (53%) of contact centers measure customer satisfaction, roughly one-third (35%) measure CX and fewer (25%) track customer effort. Without an accurate picture of where a brand’s customer initiatives stand today, there is no clear path toward meaningful change.
Similarly, just 57 percent of respondents say “ensuring technology keeps pace with changing customer behavior” is a high priority for their team. As a result, many contact centers are weighed down by clunky on-premises communication systems and disparate tools that fail to integrate easily. Less than half (45%) of contact center agents can view a customer’s prior contact history (regardless of channel) in a single desktop system – leading to longer service calls, more unresolved issues and perpetual customer frustration.
Trailing behind the digital adoption curve
Another dose of optimism: Contact center leaders aren’t blind to the trends unfolding around them. Eighty-eight percent of respondents expect digital interactions to surpass voice calls by 2020 (or sooner), and the same amount feel digital channels are a chance for contact centers to “own” their brands’ CX.
Despite the value of diversifying customer service channels to include options like messaging apps, video and artificial intelligence-powered chatbots, most organizations lack the means to modernize. To date, only around half of contact centers have embraced social media (51%) and email (49%) as customer-facing channels, with even fewer capitalizing on chat or online self-service platforms (39% and 21%, respectively).
Once again, technology infrastructure may be to blame: Only 39% of contact centers have migrated to cloud environments. As long as on-premises systems continue to power most customer service operations, organizations will face significant barriers to quickly and cost-efficiently embracing digital solutions.
Meeting customers where they are (and want you to be)
Contact centers are in the early innings of an extended game of CX catch-up. Keeping step with consumers’ evolving habits and innovations in digital technology will require organizations to adjust not only IT strategies, but their entire approach to customer service.
Here are four foundational steps any organization must take to adapt its contact center for customers’ current and future expectations:
- Reset how you measure contact center outcomes: It’s not enough for organizations to measure traditional CX indicators such as efficiency or time to resolution. CX leaders must forge an internal shift in how their brands define customer service success, tracking new metrics that put the customer first. Contact center decision-makers should identify ways to gauge how fast agents address customer issues, how helpful they are and how satisfied customers feel post-interaction.
- Empower your contact center frontline: To no fault of their own, the majority of contact center agents don’t have the tools they need to advocate for and support customers. In addition to more frequent training and professional development, organizations need to implement tools that help agents resolve customer questions and complaints on the first point of contact. Rather than clicking through a maze of windows to see a customer’s support history, agents should have access to portals that centralize this data in one view. A better equipped frontline minimizes the risk of customers being routed to multiple agents, and the frustration that comes with it.
- Be thoughtful about diversifying customer contact channels: Contact centers have ample opportunity to expand the communication channels available to customers. For simple questions, many customers might prefer online self-service, but other scenarios may demand higher-touch interactions over the phone, chat or email. More channels, however, means brands will face more pressure to integrate them well. Managing a mix of siloed platforms is a recipe for instant customer confusion, increased service costs and greater customer fatigue. Successful integration requires compatible technology, but also closer communication between internal teams (e.g., marketing, sales and store operations). When each department is tightly aligned, your organization can proactively mitigate gaps and pain points in the customer experience.
- Devise a strategic plan for technology investments: Consumer habits are far from immutable. The only way contact centers can stay relevant is to implement agile – often cloud-based, digital – systems that let them respond faster to shifts in customer expectations. Organizations don’t need to dive head first into tech adoption. Instead, contact centers can start with a hybrid approach, augmenting existing on-premises systems with cloud-based CRM, call routing or IVR solutions. Either way, technology planning should be a companywide effort, one that involves IT departments, along with operations, marketing and other and lines of business, in order to identify what tools will deliver the greatest returns.
The secret to delivering a superior CX has always been the same: Put the customer first. The difference today is that more roadblocks (like outdated technology and management practices) stand in the way. To overcome this challenge, CX leaders must commit to rerouting their organizations – letting customers’ changing needs be their guide.