In today’s digital age, where customers want fast, efficient service that allows them to get what they need in as effortlessly as possible, self-service is an increasingly important part of the communications mix. According to a recent report from Zion Market Research, the global self-service technology market accounted for US$15.70 Billion in 2015 and is expected to reach US$37.75 Billion by 2021, growing at a CAGR of around 15.8% between 2016 and 2021. It enables routine enquiries to be dealt with quickly. Moreover, it allows contact centres to focus on higher value human interactions increasing productivity, efficiency and customer experience while driving the agility needed to stay ahead of ever changing customer needs. The benefits of self-service are increasingly a given but it’s nevertheless a multi-faceted; highly complex area. After all, self-service within businesses today takes many forms. It can encompass everything from web-based FAQs to Google search and from knowledge bases to online discussion forums and traditional automated voice-based interactive voice response (IVR) systems – to name but a few approaches. You can easily get self-service wrong but you can also reap significant rewards if you get it right. Here we outline six habits of self-service that you could benefit from getting into.
Deliver outbound notifications – Few businesses want ranks of contact centre agents permanently assigned to dealing with incoming enquiries. It’s expensive and time-consuming to focus on sorting out issues after they have already become problems rather than proactively heading them off. Delivering outbound notifications, typically by text message, email alert or through an app, can help you get on the front foot, keeping customers informed and freeing up agents to focus on more complex concerns.
It’s an approach that works best with standard processes with predefined parameters, less well where those processes are open-ended and variable. That said, there are many examples of organisations getting into this habit and doing it well. A bank sending alerts to your phone if someone logs into your account using a different device than normal is a case in point. Airlines use mobile apps to alert you to boarding gates and times, eliminating the need to deal with inbound enquiries. Dental practices can issue reminder text messages in bulk to keep patients informed, saving time and effort for the customer and the practice alike.
To be truly effective though, these kinds of alerts need to be a two-way interaction. It needs to be easy for your customers to follow through with a response. A message sent to a dental patient, for example, needs to make it easy for that customer to respond and say: I can’t make that time now. I want to rebook, or ideally confirm they can still make it. The ability to make things quick, easy and as effortless as possible for the customer is key to a good customer experience.
Provide continuously updated automated voice-based options for customers - When they are designed well and continuously updated in line with the business’s customer engagement model, these solutions, known as interactive voice response (IVR) systems can be one of the most powerful self-service tools, enabling customers to quickly and easily resolve routine queries. It’s important to ensure you are continuously reviewing the design and functionality of your system though.
Many companies today have IVRs in place but have not redesigned or reviewed them to see whether they are functioning correctly for some time. That’s a mistake. After, all, if you have got contact centre agents you don’t just hire them; train them once and leave them for the next five to ten years. You should be monitoring and ‘coaching’ your IVRs in the same way you do your staff. You need to make sure menus are intuitive, that IVR tools can create statistics to inform you about usage levels and that you have people in place who can retune your IVRs when required. Such an approach can be used across any vertical sector from housing to utilities and from financial services to telecoms. Equally, the capabilities of the approach will benefit the delivery of many services from interacting with a collections company to booking an engineer to making a payment.
Focus on making your customer self-service apps more visual – Any business needs to start thinking about seeing the world in the same way their users do. They need to place a premium on customer time. That’s what the developers of the latest generation of mobile and visual IVRs that effectively use mobile or web-based apps to connect customers to self-service options, have done. Often, they have learnt from the unwieldiness of the traditional IVR where typically users have to listen to five or six different options before pressing their choice and often undergoing the whole process again. Using simple swipes left and right, mobile and visual IVR users can work much more intuitively on their devices and quickly speed their way to where they want to go. It is so much more in tune with the way customers think and work these days and has potential applications across a wide range of vertical sectors from the largest telecoms provider to the smallest car dealership.
Identify and fix broken customer journeys as soon as you can – Many businesses struggle to deliver fully joined-up customer processes. Often, for example, if they have to redirect a customer seamlessly from an agent call to a voice IVR, they will struggle to do so and the business will be forced into the clunky option of sending them an SMS instead. However, if an agent or even an automated system itself can identify that the customer journey is consistently breaking down at the same point with the same kind of customers, that should act as a ‘red flag’ alert to effectively tell the organisation that a business improvement initiative needs to be put in place to streamline and strengthen the process.
The classic example is an ecommerce business realising their customers are running through the initial stages of the customer journey quickly but then loitering on the payments page for up to a minute before abandoning the interaction. In such a scenario, the business might look to take action by delivering a chat window pop-up to highlight to the customer that they are here to help and ease the process that way.
Make better use of speech – In the consumer world, where devices like Amazon Echo, Siri and Cortana are increasingly ubiquitous, people are getting used to asking open-ended questions using natural speech and getting informed answers. Businesses need to start harnessing that kind of capability within their IVR devices, which instead of being predominantly menu-driven will increasingly need to start understanding and responding to natural language. The potential benefits in terms of operational efficiencies and enhanced customer engagement are significant. The technology is increasingly in place today. A good example of what might be possible in the future is the commercial bank, embracing voice technology and prepared to put to one side the old directed dialogue and multi-menu systems in favour of a new approach where the customer can simply speak the words ‘I would like to open a current account’ and the bank will respond accordingly.
It’s clear that in the new world of customer communications where delivering service 24x7x365 is increasingly a given, self-service will become an ever more important element of every business’s overall offering and an increasingly important differentiator. Getting it right, though, is not always easy. Often, it’s a question of getting into good habits. Taking account of the six key approaches outlined above should give businesses an excellent chance of making a success of their overall self-service approach.
Jeremy Payne, Marketing Director, Enghouse Interactive
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