The contact centre industry has reached a crossroads more significant than any other in its history and, this time, operators have no choices left.
So says Zain Patel, operations director: Domestic at Merchants. “Contact centres were developed, four decades ago, primarily to support inbound customer requirements. The 2015 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report shows that, within two years, telephonic contact made by customers will be superseded by digital such as webchat, social media, email, and self service options.
“The Report also shows that, although contact centre owners and operators have an inkling that this is going to happen, they may not necessarily be adequately positioned to manage the change.”
As reported by the companies surveyed, customer satisfaction levels have dropped for the fourth year in a row while 80% of respondents say their technology won’t meet their future needs. Ironically, respondents expect a 74% increase in overall contact from customers. So, customers want to contact you more frequently through digital channels, and are less satisfied with the interaction they’re currently having, and most companies have not introduced measures to bridge the gap.
While these trends are irreversible and will alter the nature of contact centres and the way they are managed at fundamental levels, Patel believes they are not necessarily the most important shift owners and operators must confront urgently.
Who is in charge?
“For too many operators, the trend to digital entails a purely technical change, to be able to offer the customer the full spectrum of channels. In fact, there is a need for a far more disruptive change that acknowledges that no organisation is in command of customer experience. The customer is.
“Through social media, which widens his view on the world to a global one, the customer has access to information about what good and bad customer experiences are. Whether someone on social media or among his friends has commented on a good or bad experience at a restaurant – or with a courier or an airline or a supermarket product – the basis of the experience is the same. The industry in which the experience has occurred is not relevant. Customer experience transcends industries; it is not defined differently in different industries.
“As a result, the customer now knows how to describe his expectations of a good experience. More importantly, he knows he has an absolute right to those expectations.
“The customer is therefore writing every organisation’s customer experience strategy.”
What this means is that customer experience management has already been outsourced, by default, to the customer. The customer knows how he wants his service experience to be managed.
“All that’s left is for the organisation to implement a delivery strategy that matches the experience the customer has already designed. And that’s where another seismic mindset shift is needed,” Patel says.
“It is generally accepted that an omni-channel capability is the only way to prosper in the digital era. According to the Benchmarking Report, it is also generally accepted that customers want a consistent, integrated, seamless experience across all channels. Again, the implications would seem to be technological: you need to re-equip your contact centre to ensure your customer can reach you by the channels of his choice.
“Actually, the real answer is not that obvious – or easy.”
Acknowledging that the acquisition of new technologies and the recruiting and training of new kinds of contact centre agents to optimise the customer experience benefits of those new technologies will stretch the financial and human capital management resources of an organisation, are the least of the challenges confronting modern contact centre owners.
Most organisations would consider outsourcing to an experienced contact centre operator as the best way of circumventing the costs involved in making the changes needed to meet modern customers’ expectations of experience. According to the Benchmarking Report, there is a 23% decline in direct ownership models. Also, 34% of contact centres are planning a hosted option.
“While outsourcing to a provider is a good option for all the usual reasons of economies of scale and talent, it shouldn’t be your first step in implementing the customer experience your customer has already designed,” Patel says. “You need, as an organisation, to accept full responsibility for your customers’ experience. This means outsourcing customer satisfaction from your contact centre to your employees – all of them. Everyone in your organisation should be thinking about how their actions and output affect the customer’s experience and be measured against that. Everyone, from the person who makes the tea to the finance people and the folks on the factory floor, have to put the customer first.
“The contact centre is simply a tool. Yes, it’s an important one. But if the organisation behind it doesn’t focus relentlessly on customer experience at every level, then the contact centre can be, at best, only the lipstick on the pig. It’s worth remembering that your employees are customers of other organisations. Like their peers, they actually do know what good experiences should sound and feel like. Just make it possible for them to provide it.”
This approach is indeed making its way slowly into organisation’s strategies, partly because of recent recognition that the effort a customer has to put into her relationship with your organisation can make or break customer loyalty.
Customer effort has a direct influence on whether or not the customer will recommend your business to family and friends, thereby enabling your organisation to grow.
Logically, therefore, it is important to know whether your organisational effort reduces or increases customer effort.
“Clearly, there are commercial reasons for knowing how efficient your contact centre is,” Patel says. “So, you do still need to measure things like how fast you’re answering contacts and how often you are attaining first contact resolution. That tells you about your own costs and efficiencies.
“What it doesn’t tell you is how hard you’re making the customer work to get good service out of you. So, you need to also measure the customer’s point of view.
“And then you need to put the two sets of measurements side by side and design a customer experience around what the information tells you. You need to use the business intelligence that is an inherent part of extending your channels and refocusing your technology on digital channels. Because it is digital technology, it is data rich. What you need to know about your customers and your operations is embedded. Use it.
“Doing so is part of deliberately outsourcing your customers’ experience first to your customers, because they’re in charge anyway, and then to your employees. Once everything you do, from the inside to the outside, puts your customer first, then you can outsource your contact centre to a provider. At that point, your outsource provider becomes an extension of your organisation rather than a place where you park your customers while you get on with business.
“Changing your contact centre and your approach to customer experience is non-negotiable. With customer satisfaction levels dropping steadily globally, you cannot carry on as you are. So, take charge of your future. Put the customer first – on the principal that keeping your customers means keeping your business.”