Is your automated technology a threat to customer relationships?

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We’ve all been there: trying to call our bank, GP, or utility provider, and having to press an infinite number of keys to get through to an automated voice that will make us wait on the line while letting us know that we’re number 20 in the queue. Companies claim that automating communication with the customer is making their journey much more efficient and streamlined. But is that really the case or are companies just putting a barrier between them and their customers?

The broken process: using technology to replace human interactions

It seems almost impossible nowadays for customers to get through to anyone on the phone when calling a company. Bearing in mind customers are likely to only pick up the phone when they want to sort something out quickly or they have a problem, this poor experience is probably going to have a damaging effect on brand perception and loyalty. A Times investigation for instance recently found that Britain’s Big Six energy suppliers were taking more than 20 minutes to answer customer phone calls in some instances, prompting many to switch suppliers. In today’s competitive market, businesses cannot risk losing their customers because of poor service. They need to develop good relationships with them rather than relying on technology to do it for them. They need to stop hiding behind automated processes and chatbots and distancing themselves from their customers.

Forcing customers to communicate with robots through several layers of filtering and recorded voices can make them more frustrated and their lives more difficult than a quick conversation with a customer service agent. For customers, there is nothing worse than feeling like the organisation they are trying to reach is not prioritising their needs. Avoiding unpleasant conversations by hiding behind technology only makes it harder for customers to trust the brand and build a positive relationship with it.

The solution: using technology to enhance human interaction

Fortunately, we live now in an age of unprecedented technological advancement; which means that for every pain point organisations have, there is usually some technology available to solve it. Advancements in telephony technology mean that businesses have the resources to make the phone experience much more enjoyable and insightful for both their customers and their staff. Businesses no longer need to see the phone as the conduit for difficult conversations, but as one for insights that benefit the business.

The first thing organisations need to keep in mind, when it comes to their customers, is that they want to have the company’s whole and undivided attention. This means a personalised experience, which entails knowing your customers well enough to provide that experience. When customers know they are being cared for, they start thinking positively about brands, and might be inclined to expand their conversations beyond complaints or issues. When conversations become more pleasant, this is an opportunity for brands to build positive relationships with their customers and gain more insights. There are now smart solutions that allow companies to record information about every conversation that they have with a customer over the phone; keeping track of their details, what was discussed and even the tone of the customer’s voice to track whether it was a positive or negative call. When a customer calls back, the system uses that information to provide a personalised journey right from the beginning. Often it is strong emotions – stress or confusion – that lead us to pick up the phone. Making that experience as easy and helpful as possible will make a huge difference to that customers’ perception of your brand.

Technology can also help businesses provide greater job satisfaction to customer service agents by ensuring their skills are properly used and they get the training they need. Skills-based routing can for instance allow customers to be automatically directed to an agent equipped with the skills needed for that particular customer’s profile; this is made possible thanks to artificial intelligence collecting and analysing data from previous interactions between the customer and the brand.

When speaking to a customer, a salesperson or call centre worker will be able to help them quicker and more effectively if they have information about previous conversations, language preference and company name at their fingertips. Not only will this improve customer service, but it will also make staff more efficient and productive. By that same measure, technology can also be used to spot ways to improve staff performance. For example, Artificial Intelligence is starting to be used to determine good calls from bad calls. As well as helping personalise the experience for the customer, as discussed above, this is also crucial information for staff development. In a contact centre environment, where calls and sales performance are recorded and logged, managers can listen to the calls to identify particular trends and spot potential areas of improvement. That way the employer can provide training specific to the individual’s needs. In the same environment, managing how calls are allocated between the team ensures that workers are not overloaded, and employees can create a more relaxed and productive working environment. Ultimately, businesses want their call centre staff spending less time redirecting or inadequately answering customer queries and more time on building relationships with customers – which an automated phone system cannot do by itself.

Using technology to stay human

The automation of phone services does have benefits – if companies use it properly. Too many companies today use technology for the wrong purposes, as replacement of human contact centre agents for example. This was recently illustrated by the story of Marks & Spencer replacing all its contact centre agents with an AI that understands human speech. Putting this barrier of technology between you and your customers removes the business further from creating and supporting the long lasting partnerships that it relies on to succeed. Technology must be used in ways that will enhance the performance of contact agents, freeing them up to do their job: be the first point of contact in an organisation and build positive, lasting relationships with customers.

Neil Hammerton, CEO and co-founder, Natterbox
Image Credit: Georgejmclittle / Shutterstock