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Reimagining the Personal Touch of Customer Interactions

 Sajeel Hussain By Sajeel Hussain
Feb. 1, 2015

It happened again! I noticed that the auto-payment amount for my monthly cable went up. My first question was why? — which was quickly followed by what can I do about it? 

Working in the telecommunications field, I am, perhaps unfortunately, quite aware of how customer service platforms operate — how they can, and should work, what information is readily captured and available for use, and the ineffective utilization of available tools and data to make customer engagement simple and personalized.

More often than not, most customer interactions are impersonal, frequently frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying. So, here’s how it went with the cable company.

Step One: Self Service – “I bet I can take care of this in a snap.”

  • Logged onto my account on the web. Not much to go on there, save the billing summary.

Step Two: Chat- “I just need a bit more information.”

  • Was authenticated; waited; found out my promotion had expired.
  • Chat was too cumbersome to review new promotion options.

Step Three: Phone – “Hmmm, not as easy as I thought it was going to be.”

  • Worked my way through the IVR
  • Finally on the line with an agent – after being authenticated again.
  • Directed back to the web to view new promotions.

Step Four: Phone & Web – “I’m too invested now to give up!”

  • After logging in again, the agent talked me through the options….

Four authentications, 20 minutes of my life, and I still hadn’t resolved the simple question of what can I do about my bill?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the convenience of being able to choose my communication channel. And while walking into a brick and mortar establishment for a face-to-face meeting is pleasant and personal, it is not necessarily convenient, and at times, not even possible. Which begs the question: Why does this have to be an either/or choice?

In short, it doesn’t. There are two simple elements to eliminating this situation: relevant options and contextual continuity.

The first is a matter of offering customers the opportunity to choose the level of personal engagement that makes them comfortable, and funneling those channels through a single portal. A customer should be able to choose their preference of personalization. For example, consumers may find PSTN voice and chat less personal, while video and co-browse could be considered more. Companies need to support all degrees of personalization to suit customer preferences, and provide seamless escalation to more intensive services as needed or desired. Switching channels should not cause unnecessary friction, like downloading plug-ins, switching apps to make a call, or having to rehash authentication information. Friction only heats things up.

Escalation—combined with contextual continuity—is essential for keeping the customer positive and satisfied.

Each time I’m asked to re-authenticate, I just get more frustrated. And each time I have to restate my question or issue, I lose a bit more patience. Why do we continually test the resolve of our customers, when the information— as well as the context of the engagement — is readily available and can be passed seamlessly from agent to agent?

The common reality in many contact centers is that each new communications channel came into the fold as a separate platform. Sometimes even solutions from the same vendor don’t play well together. While this siloed environment can challenge the ability to convey contextual information, it does not make it impossible. The key is to deploy a unifying platform that can fuse the back-channel communications between all of the different systems and share the bread-crumbs from the browser, chat logs, agent notes, and other contextual data, in real-time, regardless of the customer’s chosen channel of the moment.

The end result might be that customers feel better about the answers they receive, as well as the whole engagement process, which takes an adversarial feeling and transforms it into something convenient and likeable. And that is the essence of superior customer service.