Jitender Mohan, Head of Customer Interaction Services at WNS explores how combining human workforces with artificial intelligence and digital tools can deliver a complete, omni-channel customer experience.
While COVID-19 may be the reason for slower-than-usual customer service currently, it cannot be a long-term excuse. Though everybody is wrestling with similar challenges, the patience of customers with brands and their challenges, especially with quality or timeliness of delivery, will reach its own limit.
Interestingly, despite the shift to more digital and online channels, many businesses have reported an unexpected spike in calls. In the US, telecom operators reported that both the number and duration of calls overall have increased, while in the UK there was a surge of up to 50 per cent in the number of mobile and landline phone calls. Many organisations are struggling to manage these huge volumes as their employees continue to work remotely.
While the pandemic has unleashed massive disruption, and is radically altering consumer behaviour, the cornerstones of quality customer experience – relevance, personalisation, and value – remain in place. How can brands, whether in retail, utilities, hospitality, financial services, or any other high-volume, consumer-facing sector re-define the experience they deliver to customers?
Optimising Limited Human Resources
Research has consistently shown that consumers prefer interacting with human agents, with one study suggesting that a lack of available human customer service representatives can actually harm a brand’s chances of securing business. One of the reasons there’s been such a spike in telephone calls is that people want to feel more connected. With so many messages flying around about what people can and can’t do, and different sectors under various stages of lockdown, sometimes the telephone offers the most direct route to answers, or at least more detail.
Yet, as previously noted, brands will be wrestling with human challenges – most noticeably, the increased restrictions of when and how people can work. There’s also the issue of juggling working from home with childcare arrangements for those with families, as well as the ongoing mental toll many are struggling with.
All of these issues can adversely affect a brand’s human resource – its most valuable customer experience tool.
Ironically, considering consumer preferences, the answer may lie in the implementation of technology. Not as a replacement for agents, but as a way of augmenting their capabilities; allowing them to focus on their strengths (such as empathy and creative problem-solving outside of pre-defined processes) by integrating digital tools to automate tasks that prevent them from spending all their time helping customers.
What sort of digital tools? Smart automation, analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to take away the grunt work, such as administrative tasks or finding customer records, freeing up agents’ time to find solutions faster.
There is greater potential, however. Through cognitive chatbots, predictive and sentiment analytics, businesses can identify the causes of customer dissatisfaction and provide agents with real-time intelligence and potential solutions as they engage with the customer in question. This is where the empathetic abilities of the human agent come into play, along with the ability to identify potential solutions that fall outside of standard processes.
By resolving the issue quickly, the customer is left satisfied, and better placed to be up and cross-sold to at an appropriate point in time. This integrated customer experience model helps businesses understand audience behaviour and drive a more immersive experience, irrespective of the channel.
This model works across sectors, from mobile operators dealing with service issues to banks offering financial products, businesses can have proactive, contextual and intelligent conversations while significantly reducing cost-to-serve. It can even have a positive impact on talent retention and acquisition. With agents moving away from transactional tasks to become value-adding, knowledge consultants, opportunities for personal development increase manifold. At the same time, new employees, whether permanent or temporary, can be easily integrated as and when required to cover spikes in call volumes.
Delivering an Integrated Customer Experience
With limited resources, businesses need to think creatively in order to continue to deliver the experience their customers want. Empowering valuable human agents with smart automation, sentiment analytics and AI-powered chatbots means employees have access to all the information they need in real-time, freeing them to offer empathetic and creative solutions to customer issues. In doing so, they can take the big step forward in helping their employers rebuild trust, improve brand loyalty and unlock new opportunities.
About the Author
Jitender Mohan is Head of Customer Experience Service at WNS. He is responsible for the strategy, growth initiatives and financial performance of the CIS practice. He has decades of experience in the IT sector in various roles ranging from transformation, process re-engineering, operations, sales and training.