Nigel Dunn looks at the role and impact of robots and automation on customer satisfaction levels.
Throughout the annals of human history, we are known for having powerful, passionate and sensitive conversations with another human being – we are ‘programmed’ to do so when things really matter. Preferably, conversations happen face-to-face. Second only to that are voice conversations like phone calls because they too allow us to interact with another human that understands our sentiment and who can reply with new questions to get to the core of the problem.
However, robotisation of phone conversations is on the rise. Robots are predicted to be able to conduct over 10,000 phone calls simultaneously in the near future. Companies investing in robotisation of customer conversations must however realise that the calls that eventually end up being ‘escalated’ to human interaction, are the very ones that are complex and critical for customer satisfaction.
Looking at the Customer Satisfaction Index1, 2013- 2015 showed the biggest drop since the mid-nineties. Not surprisingly, this is the same point in time call complexity increased. Calls have become more complex for the simple reason that customers have become more educated.
When they escalate a call, they likely have already tried to find the answer themselves via various online channels. There is then a customer expectation that they will receive an expert response, should they escalate up to finally making the call. This is specifically the case for companies who traditionally had offline touchpoints in the past – like the local bank.
Analyst company, Gartner2, predicts that 20 per cent of all user interactions with a smartphone in 2019 will take place via voice interfaces. These developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) will require companies to rethink the way they interact with their most valuable asset – their customers.
This is because their success is dependent on how they organise their customer interactions, as well as their willingness to invest in their contact centre agents that are increasingly having to deal with more complex customer interactions. The more important specific issues are for clients, the more likely they are to escalate it from online to a call.
Cost vs. quality
Companies experiment with bringing down the costs of the call in many ways: from outsourcing to low cost countries to implementing robots powered by AI. Is that a smart move? Yes, if the primary objective is to lower costs. However, if the goal is to solve the problems of their most important asset – the customer – things look completely different. Robots are not humans who have the ability to listen, understand, seek out information and apply accumulated knowledge and past experiences to situations to make a valuable problem-solver and agent.
So even though a company can save some money by robotising the call in the future – they take a big risk in de-humanising the touchpoints in the customer journey. Likely the IT department will embrace the introduction of robots: it is their job to ensure the customer interaction functions properly and reduce the costs involved at the same time. They are not being measured on the quality of this interaction. This is where the business should advocate for the quality of the interaction; how to humanize the call in the best way by investing in the right culture and technology.
The customer call should be owned by those closest to the market; sales or marketing departments. Nowadays it is for cost reasons often the back-end office, supported by IT, who are responsible. However, with the right ownership and corresponding mentality, calls can become a critical brand differentiator instead of a cost factor. There are a few easy tricks to make a call a brand advocate:
- Start a discussion. What is more human than having a conversation with a real person? Post your phone number for all to see and invite customers to call to purchase direct from you, provide feedback, ask questions, report product issues, or yes, even compliment you on your product or service.
- Stand for something. Many companies are perceived as being lifeless and lacking in personality. By offering our thoughts and perspectives, we establish common ground, as well as spark useful debate, build trust and invite customers to stand with us.
- Get personal. How often have you received a thank-you email that is generically signed by the “Customer Service Department”? We should strive to make all customer interactions sincere, meaningful and memorable. It can be as easy as making sure all correspondence is signed by another human being or following up with a phone call after a couple of days to check if the client is still satisfied.
Companies spend billions of dollars every year on technology tools to help improve customer experience and retention. From CRM systems that provide a 360-customer view, to highly optimised online sites, loyalty programmes and multiple social media channels.
Key to these personal customer interactions aimed at resolving customers’ issues is the quality of conversation. However, the human voice in conversations is challenged by noise, and noise impacts customer satisfaction. According to a report from British Telecom3, calls are projected to be 40 per cent longer between 2015-2020. This makes the need for noise cancellation even more crucial. The noise issue can be solved by providing the agent with a headset with microphone positioning, designed to take control of the conversation zone by eliminating 360o noise and putting the focus on the human voice. This allows both participants to fully concentrate on the call at hand, without being distracted by colleagues, traffic or other background sounds.
Another important technological development is the wireless movement. A study from Jabra has revealed that a mobile solution like a wireless headset powers productivity – wireless workers are over 20 per cent more productive compared to peers with corded headsets – the reason being increased mobility, which allows them to reach out for information from specialist colleagues to solve complex issues during the call. Being able to do so, ensures that the customer’s question is solved faster and more adequately – improving the customer experience.
Customer satisfaction is undoubtedly one of the hottest topics within sales and marketing. Whilst technology is evolving quickly, the human element cannot be replaced at a more complex level. Therefore, it is important for businesses to look for agents that not only know how to tackle incoming calls, but possess the quality to engage with customers on a wide variety of platforms. That, in combination with the right technology like wireless headsets, will empower the human agent of the future.