A Prediction: Integrated Multichannel Self-Service Will Gain Momentum

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If I have to make one prediction about CRM in 2005, it’s that the adoption of sophisticated speech- and web-based applications will continue. Research from industry analyst Frost & Sullivan indicates that web-based self-care applications—led by email—are the fastest growing contact methods.

At the same time, companies also are adopting speech applications, with nearly 35 percent planning to deploy speech within the next two years. Based on my more than 20 years of experience in customer data mining and modeling, I expect to see a significant shift in deployment strategies in 2005, as companies realize they must integrate agent- and self-managed contact channels across the organization to realize the full potential of automation.

Companies can reap huge cost savings by deploying self-service channels. Forrester Research and Giga Information Group estimate that the cost of a single CSR-assisted contact ranges from $5 to $10, compared to:

  • Twenty-five to 45 cents for a call managed by a speech-enabled system
  • Ten to 25 cents for a web interaction

The savings can add up quickly. The implementation costs for self-service systems can vary greatly based on the breadth of functionality provided and the ability to access back-office systems. Yet, companies typically reach a payback within a few months.

Speech on faster path

Of the self-care channels, I predict speech (i.e., interactive voice response and advanced speech recognition) will emerge as a faster and more reliable channel to complete a broad spectrum of transactions. Through speech applications, companies can offer a wider selection of functions, such as capturing changes of address that traditional IVR applications cannot support. Advanced speech recognition also supports more intuitive navigation, which makes it easier and faster for consumers to get the information they seek.

Because consumers already use the phone for most transactions, speech recognition is a good way to off-load front-end calls from agents. Customer satisfaction will not suffer, as the improvements to speech technology have created an interactive, humanistic experience. It’s a big change from 25 years ago, when many businesses went to touchtone IVR. One major airline saw a rocky transition to the touchtone system because of the clunky alphanumeric fields. At the same time, the agent transfer rate was on the rise. Once the airline went to an automated speech solution for provide flight information and luggage status, it saw:

  • Call transfers fall 45 percent
  • Call completions increase by 19 percent
  • Savings of more than $3 million over two years

Different preferences

While you can achieve significant savings in adding a single self-service channel, the research we’ve conducted at Convergys in our Knowledge Creation Center indicates that consumers don’t all like the same type of self-service. Nearly 60 percent of consumers say they are likely to reach for the phone to contact customer service, while 43 percent prefer to use the Internet. To encourage self-service use, companies should provide multiple channel service points for their customers.

Despite the significant cost savings that can result, investing in automated telephone- and web-based self-service systems is not enough. Companies must integrate self-service channels and agent-assisted channels across the enterprise before they see the true return on investment (ROI). When you maintain separate channels as independent entry points into the organization, you typically see even more customer contacts to resolve even routine questions and concerns.

When you integrate channels, you ensure that consumers receive consistent information and uniform care, regardless of how they find you. For their part, customers are free to use the automated channel that best suits their needs for a given transaction. However, not all companies are ready. Forrester Research reports that only 39 percent of companies deliver customer services through integrated contact channels. Most companies have implemented self-service channels in silos rather then designing solutions around the customer experience across all channels.

The agent channel can—and should—be effectively woven into the integrated multi-channel strategy. You should focus your investments in self-service on transactions that can be easily automated without compromising service. Reserve your agents for more complex interactions. Using this approach, you’ll maximize your company’s ROI for self-service systems without risking customer satisfaction.

More customer service enterprises are exploring the use of marketing analytics to better understand customers’ needs. When you understand why customers are contacting your company, you can route inquiries to the most appropriate and cost-effective channel. Consequently, using more sophisticated approaches and tools, such as channel assessment and channel mapping software will increase customer satisfaction only if they also are part of your channel integration strategy.

Although customers are using multiple contact channels, they’re not yet ready to make the leap to self-service as their preferred choice. The Convergys Knowledge Creation Center research found that consumers prefer speaking with an agent, because they value the personalized customer experience. Although consumers like the convenience and speed that self-service alternatives provide, they believe self-service is impersonal, provides limited information and can be difficult to navigate. To change that behavior, companies must integrate their contact channels so that self-service is as consistent, seamless and satisfying as talking to a CSR. That’s why I predict integrated multichannel self-service will gain momentum.

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