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Misjudging digital transformation

Last month, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) highlighted the extent to which HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has been over-optimistic about customers’ willingness to drop traditional contact channels, leading to a collapse in customer service.

Taxpayers forced to hold while calling HMRC last year lost the equivalent of £97m. Call waiting times tripled, causing frustration and increasing the call costs. People missed important tax deadlines and subsequently received fines.

The HMRC example shows just how important timely and personalised customer service is, and its role in improving trust, confidence and the perception of a brand. But what can other organisations learn from HMRC’s digital tribulations?

With all the buzz around AI and the future of automated customer service, brands need to learn, based on HMRC’s example, that automation is not the solution for a flailing customer service programme. And when implemented incorrectly, can severely exacerbate issues.

Digital isn’t a bolt-on

FAQs and generic support tools are becoming a thing of the past because they do not retain a human touch between customers. Chatbots and automated control systems, on the other hand, are only getting smarter and more effective. This is because you can easily feed them with conversational data, which in turn makes the customer feel like they are speaking to a person rather than a machine.

Diverting customers from costly channels like call centres should save companies millions, for example, by delegating the more basic and mundane FAQs to chatbots. And the advantage to deflecting call inquiries to the live chat channel is that well-trained customer service staff are able to support multiple clients at a time. In fact research from the Aberdeen Group shows that organisations using customer messaging enjoy a 23 per cent lower cost per customer contact, compared to those that are not using messaging.

But although the business case makes sense, digital solutions should never be just a bolt-on and what the HMRC example shows, is that there are multiple challenges that exist on the way to digital maturity.

Digital transformation is tech-powered, but human-led

To overcome these challenges, brands and businesses need to grasp that technology is only one part of the puzzle. What matters more is understanding the precise needs of their customers and what constitutes customer satisfaction in their eyes. Organisations need to choose the right digital partners to help them do this, experts who can help them meet their business objectives, support their brands, and can create customer experience that drives trust and loyalty.

Most importantly, it’s vital to understand that digital mastery means more than just two-way texting. Consumers now want customer service that is more timely, responsive, relevant, familiar, respectful, convenient, and personal. A key part of this means providing easy access to relevant and immediate insights needed to manage customer conversations successfully.

In the case of HMRC, its webchat and digital services fell short. Not because consumers don’t prefer the convenience and immediacy of digital channels, but because people weren’t receiving advice related to their personal tax returns, which is what they really needed. This meant that any user needing this level of support would immediately have to be directed away from web chat and chat bots to a call centre agent because digital staff and platforms were not equipped with personalised information, nor had access to it. And they were diverted in droves, creating a call centre pile-up that caused damage to the HMRC brand.

However, there is another way.

Security and sharing of personal, sensitive and confidential data are of huge concern to any organisation. But there are many providers that specialise in highly secure and scalable platforms who are already working with the world’s largest banks including RBS, providing chat behind their sign-in areas, which are helping customers with their unique banking enquiries day in day out, creating a level of personal service that people rely on and feel positive about.

When implemented correctly, a chat programme can massively facilitate complex conversations and ease frustrations. Digital platforms allowing for co-browsing for example, where consumer and tax assistant can be looking at the same section of a form together. You can also send links to helpful pages and videos to a customer, and help others while they digest that information.

Championing the blended alliance.

These days customers will only be temporarily inconvenienced by poor experiences before searching out alternatives and then be snapped up by brands that invest in the right forms of engagement and customer service.

The beauty of a digitally driven customer engagement strategy is that it will continue to optimise itself (i.e. a feedback loop). It’s our opinion that the most successful customer care teams of the future are likely to be a blended alliance of chatbots and human experts. The real value of this symbiosis will be that the bots know when it’s time to escalate the conversation to a live person and both can be integrated within one comprehensive platform.

The triumph of AI and chatbots will be that by dealing with the routine and perfunctory, it will free up live human agents to spend more time with customers who need the most human assistance. It will mean customer care teams can really focus on delivering timely personalised assistance to consumers based on their precise demands. This is important as the need for 1-to-1 communication will never go away and creating meaningful engagements that breed long-term connected relationships is crucial to driving loyalty, which in turn delivers its own business benefits.

It’s only by blending AI and human intelligence that we can hope to transform today’s contact centre into tomorrow’s highly efficient “connection centre.”

Reuben White, North EMEA Sales Director at LivePerson

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Dudyrev