As we mentioned last month, customers spend more when they have a great support experience with your contact center. Not just that, when you have created a great customer experience (CX), it can become a strategic differentiator and core messaging pillar of the brand. And, in a world of social media, a poor CX can be disastrous to brand equity.
This is the constant struggle that contact center managers grapple with – how do you create and maintain a CX that consistently over-delivers on expectations while remaining productive and profitable. The answer, more and more, is “automation”. Which begs the question in the title of this article, how do you introduce more automation without sacrificing the quality of the experience?
There are two key metrics that are generally recognized by enterprises to show how happy and loyal customers are to a brand. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures the loyalty of customers to a company. And, similarly, the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is a metric for measuring customer service performance and product quality. Independently or combined, they give you an indication of how your customers feel about the customer experience you’ve architected for them as they engage with your contact center.
It’s a Trick Question
The question presupposes that automation itself is a problem. We’d argue the opposite. Most of the challenges with customer interactions are inherently human. Sometimes people are not having a good day or are simply difficult and that can create friction that escalates situations into the type of interaction that damages your reputation for service, whether fair and warranted or not. If you can eliminate that variable from a portion of your interactions, you remove points of failure and open the door for better experiences.
Similarly, sometimes customers want quick answers without personal interaction because they are time constrained or do not want to have a conversation at that moment.
That’s why automation in CCaaS platforms could create an opportunity to significantly improve your customer experience, brand perception, and consequently, your NPS when done well. But if not carefully executed, it could do as much damage as good (or more).
How to Leverage Automation for Better Results
Poorly done automation can frustrate customers and make them feel disconnected and unimportant, or worse, ignored and impeded. But automation implemented strategically and thoughtfully can create a better, more streamlined CX. Here’s how:
1. Automate transactional interactions to improve and streamline processes/workflows.
Start with the low-hanging fruit. The days of phone system automated attendants with a maze of choices, were ill-fitting to the consumer’s/users intention, making it frustrating (if not impossible) to find their way to information or people they need to reach.
Smarter businesses started to put more commonly requested information at the top of the tree, i.e., “for business hours press one, for directions press two…” saving the customer from having to wait for an available agent, and saving their resources from having to answer the same basic questions over where they had little opportunity to add value.
In today’s world of powerful cloud-based functionality, AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), and big data, you have tools at your fingertips to understand what are the most commonly requested or accessed information that doesn’t require human interaction and to make that available quickly and without friction. This simple step in itself will go a long way toward not just maintaining NPS and CSAT, but even increasing them, because sometimes the best thing you can do in CX is to stay out of the way.
Additionally, you can gather information, handle account authentication, and strategically route customers to the right resources in order to streamline the workflows that will ultimately still lead to a human.
2. Make it simple to navigate and set proper expectations.
The CX movement is reminiscent of its cousin, User Experience Design (UX). In the influential UX design book, The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman, he defines UX by stating “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” To that point, good CX should begin with the understanding and application of good UX principles.
The human brain is, in essence, a predictive modeling engine. It takes input from its environment and sensory inputs, applies what it has learned through past interactions in similar situations, and predicts an outcome. For example, if a door has a handle on the side you are facing, your brain predicts that you will pull that door to open it because in most cases that handle is there to help you perform the function of pulling. Sometimes that handle is there but the door actually requires you to push. There’s a name for that, it’s called a Norman Door, named after Donald Norman himself and that’s when you experience frustration when you attempt to pull the door when it’s meant to be pushed.
That happens because your brain predicted an outcome and that outcome was not realized. The design defied your expectations. We humans don’t like this, and that’s why you need to avoid it in your automation. Here’s how:
A. Make it known that it’s automation, don’t pretend to be human.
AI-based chatbots or interactive voice responses can feel like a genuine human response to the customer right up until they don’t. That usually occurs when there’s a slightly off response, or the chat conversation veers off of the AI’s script. This could give the customer cognitive dissonance, an uncomfortable feeling that comes from not being able to reconcile that the customer who considers themself smart, would fall for an AI pretending to be human. This realization that a robot is chatting with them and not a human representative could give the customer a negative feeling about their experience. Make it known that the chat experience is automated upfront to maintain a high CX level with chatbots and voice responses.
B. Set expectations about what it can and cannot do for your customer.
By creating an indication in the design of the automated CX that indicates what the customer can and can’t accomplish through this channel, you’ll allow them to make a decision upfront about how to proceed. This means they won’t waste their time and ultimately leave unfulfilled, and it also means that you won’t betray their expectations.
C. Make it easy to get human help at any point.
Despite setting expectations, sometimes a customer may end up down the wrong rabbit hole of automation. You can’t account for every variable for every use case, and sometimes the issue lies in user error. Rather than leaving them stuck in a pit of despair and frustration if you simply give them an easy out you will mitigate the negative feelings from the experience of not being able to achieve what they wanted to achieve and give them a route to accomplish it.
3. Use it to meet your customers where they are – Omnichannel Support.
One of the greatest benefits of leveraging Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) technology is how easily it allows you to communicate through multiple channels and yet maintain a centralized view and repository for the interactions your customers have with support. It also allows an agent to multitask and handle more than one case at a time, creating efficiency.
But the benefit to the customer is even more powerful. We communicate with each other in our personal lives via text, messaging and social media apps, FaceTime, and more. In our work lives, we use SMS, chat, email, and collaboration tools. We’ve become accustomed to choosing the channel that suits our personal preferences, the content or intent of the communication, the immediacy of the communication, and even our personal circumstances at the moment we initiate the communication.
Given this ultimate flexibility in our lives, customers can feel frustrated and constrained to have to get support on your terms, not theirs. Especially if the only options (like phone or email) are mismatched with any of the variables listed above in how we choose a communication channel. For example, if you’re in a hectic airport when your flight home gets canceled, the last thing you want to do is send an email or sit on hold for minutes or hours.
Wouldn’t it be great in that situation to be able to chat with an AI chatbot that was able to quickly and efficiently show you options and get you booked without having to wait? Automating that would allow you to handle any amount of inquiries without wait times. And, at that moment that would otherwise be high stress and anxiety for the customer, and when your support staff is probably overwhelmed with calls from angry customers, you would greatly reduce the risk of two humans getting upset with each other. The result is happier customers and employees, and a better CX.
4. Reinvest the time and money saved by automating into bolstering key interaction points instead of the bottom line.
Automation in general holds the promise of creating efficiency across a spectrum of industries and use cases. Fast food restaurants automate cooking and eventually will automate the ordering process. Manufacturers automate assembly and production. Large-scale retail will automate inventory and stocking. All of this is in the interest of reducing the costs, mistakes, and inconsistencies, of humans, and all with an eye on directly improving the bottom line.
However, automating your CX should not be your ticket to reducing headcount, unless you aren’t concerned about maintaining a great NPS and CSAT. If you want to maintain or even greatly improve your marks, you should be thinking about taking the time and resources saved through automating simple or transactional issues and redeploy them to the type of interactions that do require human intervention.
These will likely be harder, more sensitive, or more nuanced cases that require some level of judgment and finesse. Focusing your resources there reduces the wait times for those customers and gives them the time and focused attention that are key ingredients to happy resolutions.
5. Leverage the automation to capture real-time feedback for NPS and CSAT, then create actionable insights to continually improve the automation.
Another benefit to CCaaS technology is the incredible amount of data it allows you to collect. Every interaction and micro-interaction can be tracked, visualized, contextualized, and interpreted into actionable insights. You will have the tools to ask the NPS and CSAT questions at the end of every automated engagement, giving you more data than ever before.
What people say about the interaction they’ve had with your support and how they really feel are not always the same thing. Understanding the data can give you another version of the truth, but maybe not the whole truth because data can be misleading. That’s why the combination of what they say, and how they act, is the best way to understand how your customers feel about you.
Combining customer-level activity data with survey results and, of course, your internal performance metrics will give you the most complete view of how you’re doing, how you can improve the CX, and where you should invest more time, technology, or resources. This investment in continual improvement will put you in an elite category of brands that are committed to delivering the absolute best customer experience and set you apart from the competition.
Put the Playbook Into Action
We’ve outlined some of the key areas of opportunity to leverage automation to create outstanding customer experiences. To implement any of these areas requires the right technology and skill set to leverage that technology to follow the principles. If you’re an IT team or CX professional wondering how to navigate this technology to create better CX outcomes, you should consider the benefits of working with an UPSTACK Advisor. Our team of experts can help you architect the right CX solutions, implement the technology quickly and with less risk than doing it alone, and put the principles of automation in place.