From Zombieland, to World War Z, to the Walking Dead, if there is one thing we have learned about zombies, it’s that they never give up.
No matter what kind of wall or barriers we put up to stop them, they will keep clawing, pushing, punching and climbing until they get through. The same is true of consumers who are desperate to get through to your customer service.
The traditional paradigm of customer services is to put up barriers. Today, too many companies treat their customers like ravishing hordes of zombies, attempting to block them from getting through. They come from the mindset that staffing customer service is too expensive, and that it’s easier to get new customers than to keep your existing ones happy. Most websites bury their help pages, offer dumb chatbots that simply serve up links, or use old-school IVR systems that make customers jump through hoops without the ability to put them through to a live person. These are all designed to make customers give up. The problem is, they don’t. They are beating down your doors asking for help, and whether you like it or not, they will break through. People are searching in Google because they see all these walls, and eventually they’re going to get through to an agent.
Even well-meaning companies like Apple put up unnecessary barriers. When I try to reach Apple customer service through its website, I’m confronted with stupid questions such as “what’s your device?” and “where are you located?” Apple knows exactly what device and they know exactly where it’s located. They just don’t want to make it easy for me to contact them. Not only is there a wall, but there’s a mentality of authenticating every single time. When you get to the agent, you get authenticated. In some cases, it’s hard to tell whether the company is intentionally throwing up barriers, or just haven’t fully tied customer service applications to back end systems, but either way, it feels like they’re trying to keep me out.
In Order to Succeed, Let Go of Your Fear
This behavior is well entrenched, and won’t change overnight, but I am here to tell you it can be done. First of all, your company has to really want to provide great customer service. When I look at companies that do the best job at this, it’s because their rallying cry is to be number one in Forrester’s CX Index, or they want to be recognized by JD Powers. It’s because they recognize that those ravaging hordes are not trying to kill you. They are trying to reward you with repeat business if you serve them well.
There is also new technology that can be used to disarm the angry masses. It’s called business messaging, particularly asynchronous business messaging, and it supports applications including Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger, Google’s Business Messages and WhatsApp. For example, a customer may begin an interaction with either a bot or a human, then step away from that conversation, and return to it any time. They may even continue on the conversation in a different channel, without losing context and history. And even though I picked on Apple as an example of a company that put up barriers on its website, it does a fantastic job demonstrating what is possible using business messaging.
With business messaging, the customer experience goes from one extreme to the other. Not only do I not have to identify myself, but I don’t have to authenticate. I just pick up the conversation where I left off and these companies know exactly where that is. The experience is always on and AI technology can provide real-time, contextual responses to agents responding to customers. This is particularly important in an era where agents are working from home. And, by operationalizing messaging in the contact center, businesses can enable new lower-cost staffing scenarios.
DISH Corporation and Columbia Sportswear are two examples of companies that have gone live on Google’s Business Messages to enable this rich, convenient, asynchronous experience. These companies have eliminated the “wait in queue” concept, meaning that a customer can send a message at their convenience and the underlying platform takes into account the nature of the query, the customer profile, past engagements and other business parameters, and assigns it to the right agent.
By letting go of your fear, you can do what DISH and Columbia have done, and provide a great experience.
Instead of Shooting at Them, Think “How Can I Heal Them?”
All your Zombies were once happy, healthy customers. Instead of keeping them away, think about whether there is a way to heal the sick and make them healthy customers again.
Earlier this year, 7.ai and Dimensional Research conducted a study to examine perceptions around the quality of customer service. The study, called “The CX Reality Check” found that what companies believe they are delivering does not align with the quality of service that customers say they receive. This is particularly true when it comes to automated customer service. For instance, while many of the surveyed companies felt the transition between their automated systems and human agents was seamless, nearly 90 percent of customers disagreed. Additionally, while 89 percent of companies believe that their automated systems understand customer intent, only half of customers felt the same. The study showed that human voice and chat agents remain far more effective at resolving issues than automated services, and in nearly half of the cases handled by automated systems, customers had to resort to other support channels to resolve their issues.
Here are some recommendations from the report:
- In order to improve the overall support experience, first determine the customer’s intent—or what it is they hope to accomplish. By identifying intent, your CX system can direct the query to the agent best able to handle that request, be it automated or human.
- Meet the customer where they want to be. That means enabling your systems to support conversations across all channels. Whether customers prefer to communicate via SMS, web, messaging, or the phone, the experience should feel the same.
- Continuity is absolutely essential, so when it’s time to escalate a case to a human agent, the handoff should be seamless. Human agents should be able to continue conversation, instead of having to start from the beginning.
- AI should be combined with human agents to guarantee resolution in the most cost-effective manner. Human agents can correct the AI and provide training data to improve machine learning. AI can minimize agent effort, improving productivity while also improving the quality of responses.
- Deliver seamless handoffs between virtual and human agents. It’s vital for a solution to provide the interweaving of human agents and conversational AI during customer interactions.
- When reviewing a solution, consider how easy it is for human agents to call on chatbots, and how quickly they can identify customer intent when reviewing chatbot transcripts.
- Companies must ensure security of customer information and transactions. Therefore, it’s imperative that CX solutions incorporate robust security features for authentication and protection of customer information that meet or exceed industry standards.
- Define a long-term vision for conversational AI. Think about what you want the customer experience to be like in three to five years and look for technology that can support that vision. Look beyond the needs of today and invest in the future.
- To improve efficiency, seek advice from industry analysts and other objective parties. Third parties can help you assess each vendor’s road map as well as the competitiveness of their CX solutions.
- Consider asynchronous messaging so that you can enable a single, continuous conversation with your customers across channels. Asynchronous messaging also changes the traditional models for calculating contact rates, handle times, and the corresponding contact center heads.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
P.V. Kannan is the co- founder and chief executive officer of 7.ai, a leader in AI-driven customer experience software and services. He holds more than 30 patents (issued and pending), and has been featured in several books as CX thought leader. His new book “The Age of Intent: Using Artificial Intelligence to Deliver Superior Customer Experience,” is now available on Amazon and iBooks.