Customer service standards are on the rise.
More than 60% of consumers now say they have higher expectations of customer service than before the pandemic. Companies, however, are falling short of meeting demand, with 54% of consumers feeling that “customer service is an afterthought for more businesses they interact with.”
Mix in one part higher ticket volumes across more channels, and two parts agent burnout, and contact centers face an impossible task of meeting customer expectations while maintaining their company’s service level agreement.
To help make that impossible task a bit more possible, we spoke with and rounded up insights from several experienced contact center managers to give you three top tips for your contact centers to adapt to these challenging conditions.
Tip #1: Break down data silos and create an omnichannel experience for your customers.
Customers have more communication channels available to them than ever before. Chat, phone, SMS, email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger…and the list goes on! What’s more, they want to communicate with your brand on the channels that they’re most comfortable with—and have the flexibility of switching between channels without having to start their experience all over again, especially when it comes to customer support.
Mark Ball, Senior Business Analyst for Contact Center Technology at Lowe’s, says, “If you can’t meet customer expectations for contacting them on the digital channel of their choice, you’ll be left by the wayside.”
But contact centers often struggle to provide quality omnichannel support because they’re using disconnected systems that hinder customer data flow between channels. So when a customer hits a digital dead end with a chatbot and has to call in to talk to an agent, their context often gets left behind and they have to start over—increasing customer frustration, bumping up handle times and telephony fees, and turning agents into human punching bags.
Ball recommends contact center managers to “look for systems that are natively interconnected to make data flow together and track the end-to-end experience. The consumer insights gained when having all your systems integrated is priceless.”
Similarly, Ted Hunting, SVP of Marketing at Bright Pattern, says, “Companies need to be able to respond easily on any channel,” and that companies need “all of the customer’s previous journey at their fingertips” to reduce the need for customers to repeat themselves. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many support channels you offer. If customer interaction data is scattered and doesn’t show up for agents when they need it most—as they’re interacting with the customer—the customer experience will feel disconnected and unsatisfying.
So, if you’re in a position where you have a say on which tools or systems to integrate into your contact center, do your homework. Jamie Herl, Manger for Contact Center Technology Support at Lowe’s, says, “Due diligence is key to selecting the right tools. You know your business better than anyone, so make sure you have a seat at the table when discussing the requirements and what is selected.”
“Don’t look to point solutions like adding a separate system for SMS or chat when you need to add new channels,” says Hunting. “Each point solution results in siloed systems, which makes it more difficult to interact with your customers.”
An omnichannel CX solution, on the other hand, makes it easier for your agents to engage with customers across multiple channels without losing valuable context between each interaction. This is great for customers because it creates a seamless, helpful experience regardless of the channel they use. And it’s also a win for contact centers because it reduces handle time and sets agents up for successful interactions with customers.
Tip #2: Make sure your team can adapt to changing levels of demand.
Fluctuating ticket levels have always been a constant challenge for contact centers, but the pandemic exacerbated the issue. Ron Hoelle, Contact Center Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, said COVID has “made forecasting call volumes extremely difficult.” In fact, Zendesk found that support tickets “remain at a 20 percent higher baseline than before the pandemic.”
Increased ticket volumes have huge implications for both contact centers and customers. High call volumes lead to long hold times, which means your customers are frustrated, agents are stressed, and managers struggle to manage staffing levels. Tiffany Glass, CTO at 1-800-PACK-RAT, said, “Call volume can double from one week to the next. There’s no way to predict that, so as hard as you try, it’s almost impossible to plan and manage staffing when that happens.”
As a result, contact center efficiency plummets and agent turnover rates trend upward—leading to even more stress as agents who remain have to pick up the extra workload.
Contact centers need to be able to quickly adapt to high levels of customer demand. If your contact center team finds it difficult to predict ticket volumes—and, consequently, have the right staffing levels to handle the incoming calls—there are three ways you can support them.
Allow customers to request a callback.
A virtual queue and callback solution can smooth out peak call times by letting customers request a callback from the next available agent, or at a later date and time—reducing customer hold frustration, relieving pressure on agents, and improving forecasting for workforce managers.
Use a click-to-call solution on your website or mobile app.
Implement a click-to-call widget on your website or app to let customers bypass the IVR and hold queues altogether and schedule a call with an agent at a time that works for both them and the contact center. Just like a callback, call scheduling solutions cut down on telephony fees while not only improving the customer experience, but pacing out call volume to make it more consistent.
Improve your self-service channels.
The Harvard Business Review found that 81% of consumers try to resolve an issue on their own before contacting customer service. Optimize every customer-facing aspect of your business to facilitate self-service, but remember: while self-service channels can help deflect customers from the contact center, they should never be a wall that prevents them from getting help from an agent.
Tip #3: Make time for training and coaching to elevate your whole team.
You’re likely already implementing some sort of customer service training in your contact center. But to improve contact center performance, it’s just as important to pair traditional service training (how to speak with a customer, etc.) with training on your products or services. It’s tempting to put this kind of training on the back burner, but your agents need to know all the ins and outs of your products or services—especially if your product offerings are particularly technical.
Jared Preston, Operations Manager at Goal Zero, says, “Without training, our customer service level is unacceptable.”
And agents recognize this, too. Zendesk found that 62% of support agents feel “more skills-based training would improve their performance.” The better they understand your products, the better equipped they’ll be to answer your customers’ most technical questions.
To make team training and coaching a priority, work to create a team culture focused on continuous improvement. “Identify what makes your agents tick and what motivates them,” says Cherie Mitchell, Case Management Supervisor at Allsup Employment Services. “Adapt to their learning style to help them achieve better overall results from each team member.”
Here are a few ideas:
- Add coaching sessions into your regular 1:1s with your agents so that training becomes an ongoing process rather than a once- or twice-a-year occasion.
- Invest in a learning management system (LMS) and create product- and skills-based training resources for your team to work through at any time.
- Develop a mentorship program where tenured agents can mentor new talent and serve as a sounding board for their questions or concerns.
The tools, processes, and channels that worked for your contact center two years ago don’t align with customers’ expectations today.
Look for ways to modernize your customer experience strategy and invest in tools to improve conditions for your customers and contact center staff alike. If you have the tools to make magic happen, get to work ASAP and aim for quick wins that you can deploy in as little time as possible.
If you’re not feeling equipped, Mindful provides the handoffs, automation, and scheduling support your contact center needs to provide customers with the omnichannel experience they expect, so you can develop meaningful relationships with them across all channels.