(This article is originally published at ICMI)
Hint: Focus on Agent Performance
If you’ve sat through any customer service technology demos or walked the showroom floor at an industry conference, you’ve undoubtedly heard well-meaning sales folks speak of innovation, disruption, and automation. I’ve heard this spoken of chatbots, in particular, this year. Statements like, “Chatbots will automate X% of your customer interactions” and “Your competition is working on a chatbot as we speak” have been uttered in my presence.
While automation continues to grab headlines in a variety of industries, there’s plenty of innovation happening in this space in other key areas that can improve your customer and agent experience – and in some cases, you’ll see gains in both quality AND efficiency – a rare win-win. There are five such areas where I see significant gains for your contact center by upgrading in 2019 if you haven’t already.
Integrate Slack with support tools
Slack has revolutionized contact center communication. Still, I was stopped dead in my tracks earlier this year when a client asked, “Is there anything out there that’s better than Slack?” Wait, what? I thought Slack had completely disrupted their space. How could there be anything better?
That sent me on a quest to understand how our support teams use Slack. That exercise led me to a variety of Slack applications, of which there are many. Let me give you a couple of examples of where support teams are gaining some efficiency in Slack.
Tighter integration with ticketing system – A common workflow on support teams when agents have questions is to enter their question and the ticket ID they’re working on in Slack – hopefully to a channel with multiple people who can help versus a direct message to one person. As you can imagine, this is a lot of copying and pasting and navigating between the ticketing system (like Zendesk or Salesforce) and Slack. That’s when we discovered an integration called BubbleIQ where agents, by simply tagging a ticket, can have that ticket posted to the appropriate Slack channel. Whoever reviews that post can add a note to the ticket from Slack without ever opening the ticketing system.
Tighter integration with knowledge base – Another common use case with Slack is where agents ask questions. Many of our support teams have elaborate systems of editing the post with the question to also include the answer so folks can later leverage the searchability of Slack to find answers to questions that have already been asked. In a way, Slack becomes an internal knowledge base. To take it a step further, Guru has a great integration where agents can query the customer-facing knowledge base and even add new content directly from Slack. This article by Yael McCue, Senior Customer Success Manager at Guru talks about how they’ve gone all in on Knowledge Centered Support (KCS), a process for involving your entire support team in the creation of the knowledge base. It’s a perfect complement to this integration.
Those are a couple examples among many possibilities when it comes to integrating Slack with your other support tools. The likes of Zapier and Workato can take this even further.
I already touched on self-help and knowledge base a bit but have more to say on this topic. Gone are the days of the stale FAQ or knowledge base on your website. Sure, if you don’t have a knowledge base, that’s a great place to start – and if you already have a ticketing system, chances are there’s a knowledge base included that you can use.
When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), self-help is where the biggest difference is being made. While this begins to dip a toe into the chatbot waters, small to medium organizations likely don’t have the volume needed to fully automate customer interactions. There’s still plenty of opportunity for AI to help understand what customers need and connect them with faster, better solutions. Here are a few ideas to take that stagnant knowledge base off the back shelf and place it in the spotlight:
Make sure knowledge is updated and relevant. As mentioned before, a process like KCS can make a difference on your support team. Without going into detail, KCS ensures that everyone on the support team, during every customer interaction, evaluates whether or not a knowledge article needs to be added or updated, keeping the content up to date.
Track what customers are asking. In any searchable knowledge base, the system you’re using should be tracking what customers most frequently search for. Analyze that data closely and make sure you have answers to the questions they’re asking. Any time the customer can’t find what they’re looking for, they’re either calling customer support or walking away.
Put content where customers are looking for it. Don’t expect your customers to go find your content. Present it to them in places that make sense. For example, Zendesk’s Answer Bot sends an automatic response to customers after they email support suggesting articles and allowing customers to close their ticket if it answered their question. Solvvy analyzes the questions customers enter into a support or chat form and presents answers before the customer proceeds with a support ticket or chat. AnswerDash is a widget that lives on every page of your website making it incredibly convenient to search the knowledge base. All of these tools use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to understand what the customer asked and they serve up the most relevant information. Furthermore, they track how often the presented solutions accurately address a customer’s issue.
Harness the power of microlearning
I teamed up with my colleague and contact center training expert, Sheri Kendall-duPont earlier this year to share 8 Essential Features for Your Contact Center Learning Management System (LMS). The feature that stands out above the rest for me is, “Provide microlearning opportunities for busy contact center professionals.
We’re busy in contact centers and I’m guessing that the possibility of shutting off the phones for an hour or two for meetings and training is slim to none in your center. How often do we put off training simply because there’s no time?
There’s a better way and it has to do with making the most of those slow times between customer interactions where agents need something to do. With a robust LMS, it’s easy to design lessons that take a few minutes and can be completed in between customer interactions on an individual basis. Lessonly and Hickory are a couple platforms that do a great job at this and have the tracking to ensure that everyone completes the training.
Recognize the speech patterns that lead to success
This article from Harvard Business Review on words and phrases to use and others to avoid during customer interactions was particularly insightful this year. The authors found that using “I” instead of “We” language, speaking in specifics, and taking charge of the situation leads to more successful customer interactions. This isn’t particularly shocking but sometimes difficult to quantify.
This is the power of speech and text analytics. Our customer interactions continue to be a huge learning opportunity where we can understand both the challenges and successes in the customer experience. I’ve been particularly intrigued by a company called RapportBoost that uses AI to analyze chat conversations and understand the speech patterns that lead to more sales and/or higher customer satisfaction. Those insights are then used to train the entire team to better engage customers.
Keep an eye on the customer engagement market
2018 has been a fascinating year for popular customer engagement solutions. Just to name a few, Salesforce announced an end of life for Desk.com, Zendesk did a number of things like bolster their reporting with Guide and acquire their own CRM platform, Amazon now offers their Amazon Connect phone platform and doesn’t charge user license fees, and systems like Kustomer are rising up with the promise of getting us closer to a true omnichannel customer support experience.
I don’t have a recommendation on this front yet other than to say that this competition stands to benefit the customers using those products. This means that whether you stay put or adopt a new customer engagement platform in 2019, you’re sure to see more and more AI, better integration, deeper insights, and richer features.
To conclude, it’s been a good year of product demos and I expect the same in 2019. There are plenty of opportunities to beef up contact center technology whether it’s in communication, training, self-help, analytics, customer engagement, and more. As you do so, I urge you to focus especially on your agents and ways to empower and equip them to more efficiently serve customers without sacrificing quality.
This article is written by Jeremy Watkins:
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premier provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service, customer experience, and contact center professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Customer Service Life. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.
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