Over the last 15 years, companies have embraced a rapid succession of technologies—smart phones, social media, the cloud, SaaS, big data, AI—to transform how we do business. However, while the benefits have been extraordinary in the areas of communication, transportation, healthcare, public safety, retailing and much more, we’ve also seen how new technologies can be abused, from excessive screen time, to cyber-trolls, to identity theft and fraud. This is a common pattern. New technologies designed to solve one problem cause new problems that need to be solved by even newer technologies.
It is time for that to happen again. It is time for technology vendors to rise to the occasion and develop new solutions that meet the new challenges of a big-data-driven world. In my domain, which is customer experience intelligence, I believe we need solutions that balance our constant drive toward automation and efficiency with the ability to engage customers on a deeper, more human level.
This is not just an altruistic wish. It is a business imperative.
One of the consequences of the technology evolution we’ve experienced is that customers have more choices than ever before, and it is extremely easy for them to change vendors or service providers. This means businesses need to find new ways to generate customer loyalty. At many companies, this has taken the shape of customer experience initiatives that attempt to engage customers through a more personalised customer journey, such as one that includes recommendations based on the analysis of past shopping activity. Other companies choose to refocus their missions around core values, such as trust, transparency and empathy, that appeal to their customers.
Both these efforts are laudable, but I believe we can do even more. Consider the customer experiences that encourage you to be loyal. They are the ones that touch your emotions. They are the ones where you connect with people, for example, the baristas and other customers at your local café or the people answering your call to the emergency services.
Now consider experiences that discourage loyalty. For example, look at what is becoming a common contact centre experience. Many companies try to increase customer engagement through the convenience of having multiple channels for getting help: web, text, chat, social. However, access to a company through a plethora of channels doesn’t instantly ensure a positive experience. In some cases, it can make the situation worse if you end up having to use multiple channels to get the help you need, and when you finally speak with an agent, he or she has no idea what you are going through and you have to explain the problem all over again, making you angry and frustrated.
It is that simple. Experiences like these, good and bad, create an emotional connection with a company. It can be a positive experience or a negative one, so if you want to increase loyalty, you must be able to engage customers on a deeper, more human level—that is consistently positive.
Humanising the customer relationship in the contact centre
To create deep and positive emotional connections with customers, you must put human beings at the centre of every process and strategy. To do this, you need to be able to achieve a deeper understanding of who they are and what drives their interactions with the company. And the best way to do that, ironically, is with new technology.
As you think about humanising your customer interactions in the contact centre, here are three ways you can use new technology to better understand and respond to your customers:
Take “listening” to the next level – collecting a lot of data isn’t the same as really listening to customers. If the information you collect via each channel is siloed, you won’t be able to grasp the totality of what they are saying. By breaking down siloes and combining insights into unified dashboards, a company can get a full picture of the customer journey. This then enables managers to take actions that elevate future customer interactions, such as agent training to improve negative language habits or knowledge deficits.
Enable agents to respond appropriately – it is not enough just to listen to customers. You need to empower agents in the contact centre to provide the appropriate emotional response given a customer’s issues. Today, sophisticated AI-fuelled applications can analyse customer sentiment, enabling businesses to tie the language customers use to emotional states. In turn, agents can be coached to better understand how to respond to what a customer may be feeling, whether its frustration, confusion or delight, and gauge if the interaction is going well or not.
Humanise the employee experience – Empowering agents to respond at the right emotional level doesn’t ensure they will always do so but it offers them more guidance to really see the customer as a person with emotions that need to be dealt with in the right way. It is important to note that helping agents to consistently provide a satisfying customer experience—alongside tools that give them better control over their performance, schedule and working situation—can actually make an agent’s job more enjoyable and reduce turnover.
As companies and consumers, we now face an unalterable truth. New technologies will continue to solve problems and make our lives better—even as they introduce new challenges that need to be solved. This is one of those times. Technology needs to step up and help companies put more humanity back into their customer relationships, and by doing so, help them forge deeper, more positive connections that will encourage loyalty and better business outcomes.
Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO, Calabrio