Today’s typical contact center operation is perched between promise and peril. The importance of customer contact centers has increased, even in the ubiquitous world of e-commerce. Human-to-human interaction, coupled with new and emerging technologies, can have a profound impact on a brand’s services, products, and overall customer experience. The ability to harness insights from nuanced customer interactions and look beyond standard operational efficiencies can create a powerful tailwind for improvements across an entire brand experience. However, the environment is in constant flux, and contact centers struggle to fulfill their potential—both to their customers and their companies—many times by simply not having actionable insights from smart listening to customer interactions. Solutions are available to swing the pendulum toward promise, but they require an understanding of what’s at stake for the brand, and a commitment to probing deeply enough to find root causes and answers.
Some trends in contact centers are promising
Businesses are realizing the true importance of the contact center in relation to the company brand. Companies have traditionally burned through hefty advertising and marketing budgets in a determined effort to capture (potential and current) customer mindshare—through broadcast, online and social media, and myriad other forms of promotion. And penetrating the noise of the marketplace doesn’t come cheap; yet, many of those same companies have sought to reduce customer interaction with their contact centers because those interactions can be expensive.
The result is a curious irony: Companies seek out engagement with customers, but when customers reach back out to the company with a concern or problem, the company often places a low priority on those interactions. That’s a serious mistake. A 2017 report from Microsoft stated that 95 percent of participants said customer service affected brand choice and loyalty.
So as businesses recognize that the contact center is a critical component of building the customer’s brand experience, the contact center is evolving from a necessary cost center into an important marketing tool—connecting with the customer exactly when the customer desires. However, this change in perspective is only part of the promising potential of contact centers.
Technology, too, holds promise.
Chatbots and virtual assistants are becoming more commonplace and sophisticated, they are able to engage in simple communication and answer straightforward questions. Data analytics offers the opportunity to provide contact center staff and bots more background on the customer and can help staff focus on the information that is most likely to be relevant to the query.
Cloud-based communication is decentralizing the contact center office and allowing workers to locate almost anywhere. This development not only reduces some expenses but also opens a significant untapped source of potential employees—workers who prefer, or need, to work from home.
These technologies enable customers to connect with a contact center in the way (phone, email, chat, etc.) that best suits their needs. The tools also allow contact centers to be more effective—which benefits time-pressed customers, improves morale among workers, and boosts the company bottom line. A win-win-win.
But challenges remain
Despite these promising trends, contact centers face significant challenges. Although the industry has embraced emerging technologies, those tools have not always delivered on their potential. Voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) speech analysis have improved significantly in recent years but are not on par with a human being on the other end of the line. Data collection has vastly improved, but too often it results in data overload, with actionable nuggets buried under a flood of data noise. Although new tools have made progress toward a seamless, effective interaction between business and customer, improvements are uneven and unevenly applied. Much remains to be done.
Tight budgets among contact centers have made offshoring attractive, but this trend of offshoring contact centers led customers to a perception that contacting customer service was an exercise in frustration. Failure to understand language and cultural nuances often left customers feeling as if they had stepped into a foreign country with only a marginal ability to make their needs understood. According to one study found that nearly two-thirds of customers would change their buying behavior if they learned that the company used an offshore call center—even if the customer had been satisfied with its customer service. This perception of ineffectiveness has been slow to die.
Frustration is a two-way street. Poorly trained and equipped contact center staff quickly tire of customers who begin the conversation upset and end it even more so—escalating the call or simply voicing their frustrations. Many experts consider staff attrition the number one challenge facing contact centers. Attrition rates among contact centers are frequently estimated to be between 30 and 45 percent. Attrition rates among contact centers are frequently estimated to be between 30 and 45 percent. (The average attrition rate in the United States across industries is around 15 percent.)
So, as the industry begins to recognize the strategic high ground that contact centers occupy and as technology offers more-powerful tools, the pressure grows to make contact centers more efficient. Often, brands with contact centers hire quality-assurance businesses to improve the interaction between customer and company. These businesses may audit calls and analyze contact center behaviors, but these efforts often fall short. The opportunities for improvement are missed because poorly equipped staff perform inadequate analyses.
What’s the solution?
Raising the level of effectiveness for contact centers rests on a two-part foundation: The interaction with the customer is, of course, central, but just as important are the analyses and insights that enable the organization to learn. This results in a virtuous cycle, as customer interaction provides data, which is then analyzed to gain insights that, in turn, improve the customer interaction—and so on.
For J.Lodge, which specializes in improving customer experiences with brands through quality assurance monitoring of contact centers, the pursuit of excellence begins well before a customer reaches out to a company contact center. In its recruiting of call analysts, J.Lodge employs a dispersed staffing model, which allows the company to hire from anywhere in the United States. Employees—primarily Veterans and people with disabilities—work from home. Staffers are highly educated and typically bring more than a decade of business experience to the job. Because of this motivated workforce and a company focus on career growth, the attrition rate among J.Lodge analysts is less than one percent—astonishingly low in the contact center industry. With quality assurance companies that employ low-cost staffing models, the deeper insights and recommendations fail to materialize because the employees simply don’t have the skills or knowledge.
When a J.Lodge call analyst monitors contact center conversations, that individual brings education, experience, and a desire not just to hear the interaction between customer and company but also to listen deeply. This background stands in contrast to quality assurance companies that offshore their staffing, which may create situations in which nuances in culture and language are missed.
In addition to these skilled employees, J.Lodge brings a variety of technological tools to bear. Data analysts use AI speech analysis and predictive analytics to sort through volumes of data and help call analysts to uncover the root causes of customer issues. Analysts compare successful calls with unsuccessful calls, looking for those that can contribute to actionable steps for improvement. Industry-leading software provides J.Lodge clients with reports that offer insights, not just data.
Using these insights, J.Lodge staffers conduct mystery shopper exercises to further test interactions and provide training for contact center staff to ensure that those insights are applied where they can do the most good.
Results that tell a story
Outcomes from this rigorous application of human expertise and technological power tell the story. Here are just two examples of superior insights delivered by unmatched talent:
J.Lodge worked with a Standard & Poor’s 500 corporation to lower handle times on wireless network tech support calls. After listening to and analyzing thousands of calls, J.Lodge discovered that tech support agents were struggling to find the customer’s account, log in to the tech support database, and locate the correct information in a timely manner. By increasing agent tool timeout length, revamping the documentation process in the knowledge base, and improving agent coaching, the client lowered thier average handle time by more than 43 seconds, saving millions of dollars annually.
An industry-leading corporation needed to improve its compliance with the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. J.Lodge went beyond typical broad-brush quality-assurance practices and quickly drilled down to details. It worked with each contact center to reduce failure to adhere to the DNC Registry by giving concrete examples of protocol, training staff on correct procedure, and adding a feature to the dashboard to notify the supervisor when there was noncompliance. J.Lodge’s top-to-bottom efforts—a combination of knowledgeable employees, deep insights, and astute analyses—improved DNC compliance from 50 percent to 90 percent in just four years.
Contact centers are being recognized for their critical role in a customer’s experience of a brand. The right combination of human and technological capabilities can help transform a contact center from a cost center to a vital component of customer outreach. With J.Lodge’s assistance, some companies are making this a reality.