Customer Service Experience Must Be Unified, Say Consumers

    Contact Centers Must Adapt And Provide Uniform Experience Across All Channels

    Today's fast-paced society has made customers demand that companies meet their needs quickly and efficiently. In terms of customer service, consumers are no longer content to call up agents on old phone systems only to be transferred to another representative who doesn't have any idea of what that particular client's issue is. In other words, individuals now expect businesses to provide seamless interactions across channels and incorporate past experiences into future queries.

    This demand for continuous service has put an increased burden on the already pressured contact center industry, which has been encouraged to adopt and implement multiple channels to keep up with the changing needs of prospective and existing customers. These omnichannel expectations were highlighted in a recent Customer Contact Association (CCA) survey, which found that roughly 60 percent of consumers believe an organization's ability to provide seamless connections between different channels and past experiences weighs heavily on the overall experience.

    "Offering seamless omnichannel service to customers is now a 'license to operate' rather than a point of differentiation - it keeps you in the game but doesn't give you a winning hand. We shouldn't underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the numerous organizations which haven't even reached this crucial point," said Anne Marie Forsyth, CEO of the Customer Contact Association.

    Unfortunately, the survey also revealed that a whopping 69 percent of enterprises do not think they have the ability to provide seamless interactions across various mobile devices, instant messaging and other applications.

    Silos Get Service Nowhere

    The fact that organizations are utilizing a broad range of phone system features and applications to improve customer service without properly integrating these tools suggests that the business world is bound to struggle with how well it can truly deliver quality service. The truth is that companies need to be able to support multiple communication strategies without neglecting the needs of any of their clients.

    According to the CCA, for example, more than a third of consumers appreciate having the ability to interact with customer service representatives through websites, while 30 percent still prefer to speak to agents over the phone. If one client decided to change his or her perspective and switch interaction methods, however, enterprises must be able to identify that individual's past experiences, regardless if they were conducted through another channel.

    Differing Communication Needs

    Unfortunately, one of the primary reasons consumers seek out service representatives is to make a complaint. However, individuals will often carry out these processes in different ways, forcing companies to support multiple facets of communication. The CCA found that, in terms of complaints, 26 percent of consumers often choose to collaborate through the conventional business phone system, while 23 percent still prefer email.

    "One of the things made clear by this research is that consumers still prefer contact with a real person when handling more complex or personal transactions. Forty-nine percent of people would choose to speak with someone over the phone or via email when it comes to registering a complaint and this is one of the most sensitive areas of customer contact," telecom expert Suzette Bouzane Meadows said.

    A separate Dimension Data report highlighted similar expectations, noting that contact centers will need to adapt an omnichannel experience, which will mean providing a uniform experience across all of the communication channels an organization's customer base requires. This has become even more important in recent years as younger consumers begin to take steps away from conventional phone systems and lean toward social media, text messaging and even video conferencing.

    Dimension Data also revealed that self-service channels are beginning to become more popular. While these tools will make it easier for contact center employees to focus on more critical interactions and let consumers figure out some less challenging problems on their own, it will also mean that companies must take the information from those experiences and incorporate the findings into future interactions with that consumer. This can be difficult considering there was no initial input on behalf of the enterprise.

    "Organizations don't need one strategy for the contact center, one for the web, another for mobile, and one for social media. They need a single, unified strategy for customer contact across all channels, for all purposes. If contact center leaders can raise their game, they can be the ones to drive it. The big danger for now is non-action," said Andrew McNair, Dimension Data's head of Global Benchmarking.

    Consumer expectations will continue to evolve in the coming years, especially as technology changes and people become more familiar with a broader range of tools. Contact centers and other customer service department managers need to plan ahead and consider developing a uniform strategy that allows employees to provide a seamless experience across all applications and portals. If enterprises neglect this necessity, they will likely encounter reputational and performance issues in the long run.