Bad customer experiences (CXs) still happen every day in contact centers because most brands are not actively investing in creating better ones.
So, when something unforeseen happens, like a global pandemic, brands struggle to keep up with the turmoil, causing even further erosion of the CX. Ultimately, this lack of focus also threatens the bottom line: a risk brands really don’t want to take right now given the uncertain economy.
But some organizations are taking a different path: one that I believe many more brands will begin to follow.
This new path involves elevating and empowering the contact center as the organization’s Brand Guardian. It requires a new mindset and a commitment to change. But it may be the key to winning the hearts and minds of consumers (and employees) over the long haul.
What’s a Brand Guardian?
The traditional first line of defense for any brand is a great sales experience and/or a great product. Without these, any brand will begin to falter.
But the last line of defense must be the contact center: its agents and other customer service and support employees who interact with customers every day to ensure an exceptional experience.
The most successful CX centers pivot operations and position themselves as revenue engines: not just something that happens after the sales transaction.
These teams step in when the sales experience falls short of expectations, or the product fails. They are tasked with taking a poor experience and turning it into one that results in a positive resolution and a satisfied customer. Even more, the end goal of the contact center is to maintain customer loyalty to the brand, build customer affinity, and protect future revenue.
When you think about it, this is an incredibly challenging responsibility. Just consider any time in your life that you have had to fix a less-than-ideal situation or calm an angry or frustrated individual. Were you ready for the conversation? Did you have all the tools you needed to offer the best resolution? Did the other person walk away satisfied? This is the reality of the contact center every single day.
Recently, I came across an example of how contact center support not only led to a better CX, but also turned into a sales opportunity.
A customer called an appliance manufacturer support since their refrigerator was not working properly. In response, the service representative offered to send a repair person to their house to fix the issue. Knowing the cost of this, the representative also offers to completely replace the broken refrigerator with a newer, modern version, at a discount: which the customer enthusiastically accepted.
Consumers Demand Better
Consumers have always been vocal about what they need from customer service and support. They want fast, efficient resolutions delivered by empathetic agents. They want to interact on their own terms using the engagement channel(s) they prefer. And when they don’t experience this, they leave. It is as simple as that.
Every year, we measure consumer attitudes, and the data is clear, according to the 2022 Calabrio State of the Contact Center Report: three in five consumers have switched brands due to negative contact center experiences. And those two consumers who didn’t switch? They were willing to give these brands one more chance before spending their money with alternative brands.
Ultimately, the brands that focus on enriching human interactions by listening to the data, both for the customer and the agent, will succeed.
These experiences and behaviors are true of industries where there’s constantly a few competitors outperforming the rest, with every newcomer motivated to beat out legacy players and take the top spot. Think food service delivery organizations, consumer tech companies, and clothing brands. This is healthy competition that drives quality experiences.
However, there are other industries with high cost of entry, where it’s a hassle to switch suppliers, so the players drive for the lowest common denominator in features, quality, service, and CX in order to maximize profits.
They’ve been able to get away with these lackluster CX strategies because every other player is doing the same thing, leaving customers with nowhere to turn.
That’s all starting to change, however. Customers are speaking out, and they’re getting loud. Take the Taylor Swift tour chaos on Ticketmaster, for example. Some fans spent eight-plus hours on the site waiting for tickets, while others were charged hundreds of dollars (thousands, in some cases) multiple times only to not actually secure tickets.
Many fans anticipated having some challenges due to high demand, yet the day-of experience was much, much worse. Platform glitches led to extremely negative fan experiences, and now some fans are suing Ticketmaster: and lawmakers are investigating the organization’s “unfair” practices.
Frontier Airlines also made a bold CX move recently, removing its customer service phone number. So, rather than connecting with an agent for help over the phone, customers are forced to use chatbots, social media, or other digital ways of reaching the airline.
Calabrio research shows, however, that 80% of consumers still rank phone interactions as having the biggest impact on their brand perception, and that they expect a real live human agent to be available when they want one. Time will tell how underinvesting in the CX like this will impact the airline company: but they’ve likely taken their cost-cutting endeavors a step too far.
These are only a couple examples of many poor CXs, unfortunately: but we’re starting to see customers and lawmakers work together to enforce change in industries that have otherwise been able to deprioritize the CX.
What’s clear today is that the age-old strategies of these high cost of entry industries are starting to crumble and they’re going to be forced to enhance the CX: and therefore better prioritize the contact center.
Three Ways Contact Centers Will Evolve to Insights-Driven Excellence
Brands that are serious about positioning their contact centers as strong brand guardians will evolve by capturing better, richer voice-of-the-customer (VoC) data, transforming that data into usable insights, and applying that data to their daily interactions.
So, what will this look like as we approach the second half of 2023? Here are my three predictions.
1. Fewer silos and better data integration
Good Brand Guardians have the resources they need to immediately solve complex customer challenges and nurture strong relationships. And effective managers use real-time information to evaluate and improve agent performance.
But both of these scenarios require better data. In the next few years, brands will accelerate deployment of the right tools to gather data from both inside and outside of their organizations. They will further break down data silos in order to leverage the data in ways that will move the brands forward.
Immense amounts of data exist: social media, customer interaction preferences, sales, behavioral, historical, and more. But unless we can harness it and aggregate it, it won’t provide value. We’ll see brands move faster to remove data silos, streamline entry points, and implement efficient, repeatable ways of sharing information across departments.
We will see more automation of data capture in order to create a single source of truth and make it easy for all departments to work with real-time data.
2. Adopting integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to extract knowledge
Most companies I have talked to say that they have plenty of data. But what they are missing is a way to extract usable information that they can apply to daily business.
We are already seeing organizations start to deploy AI and machine learning tools that continuously mine aggregated data systems to pull out relevant insights.
I believe we are at the beginning of this journey. Only 13% of CX leaders in a McKinsey survey expressed full confidence that their CX measurement system provides a representative view of the customer base today, so we have a long way to go. But I see this expanding as contact center leaders start to realize the benefits of insights on both the customer and the employee experience.
3. Transformational change based on insights
Finally, I anticipate a wave of change coming for contact centers as they move to adopt better strategies and tools. These changes will be focused on leveraging data insights faster and across greater swaths of the organization.
We’ll also see more accountability for teams – all the way from how they capture and analyze data to how they put the data into action. This will extend across agents, to HR, to marketing, and to leadership.
Measurements of accountability will become equally important in terms of strengthening the customer relationship, but also empowering the contact center and agents as better brand defenders.
Committing to Enriching the Human Experience
Importantly, enacting real change that drives relationships, retains great talent, and builds future revenue requires a commitment from organizational leaders.
We achieved great advances over the past three years, many of these forced upon the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic and a need to quickly pivot operations to stay relevant. These changes have been mostly ironed out now, with some strategies that will stick, and some that will fall by the wayside. But we can’t lose momentum.
Ultimately, the brands that focus on enriching human interactions by listening to the data, both for the customer and the agent, will succeed. When we prioritize what is most important – people – we will always be on the right path forward.