8 Things Contact Center Leaders Must Do In 2017

Contributor: Brian Cantor
Posted: 10/04/2016
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We already know it is the age of customer centricity.  We already know customer satisfaction represents a top business priority.

As we approach 2017, we need not worry about acknowledging the importance of the customer experience.  It has long since been acknowledged.

Attention must instead turn to action.  Specifically, it must turn to the role the contact center plays in fostering such action.

The contact center is the gateway to the customer experience, if not the business.  It is the medium through which businesses and customers connect.  If elevating the customer experience is a priority, so too is optimizing the contact center operation.

CCW Winter, January 17-20, 2017, New Orleans, LA, will empower leaders to markedly improve their contact centers.

In advance of the event, we’re pleased to share 8 Things Contact Center Leaders Must Do In 2017.

Establish an EP ³  Experience

It is no secret that the contact center plays an instrumental role in driving the customer experience.

It is consequently imperative that contact centers deliver the right kind of experience.

Leaders must drive their organizations to achieve that ideal.  They must guide the contact center – from the metrics it uses, to the training it provides, to the technology it implements – in accordance with the type of experience customers are demanding.

They must enable their contact center – and empower their agents – to deliver an effortless, personalized, predictive, and proactive experience (EP³).

Mindful of the customer’s time, cognizant of the customer’s personality, and appreciative of the customer’s ultimate intent, the EP³ experience yields meaningful satisfaction in a streamlined, efficient manner.

It can only happen, however, when executives put their organization in position to succeed.  Their efforts, not simply their words, must make the EP³ experience not simply a goal but an unbreakable reality.

In 2017, contact center leaders must establish an EP3 experience.

Reward Customer Centricity

Agents are motivated by compensation, job security, and career trajectory.  They know all three hinge on strong performance.

How contact center leaders measure performance, therefore, greatly impacts the way agents deliver customers.

If “good” performance is defined by low talk times and high call counts, agents will speed through calls – potentially at the expense of optimal interactions with customers.

To improve the customer experience, leadership must condition agents to believe customer-centric performance is the best kind of performance.  They should position customer-oriented metrics (such as CSAT and NPS) as paramount.  They should reward agents who go above-and-beyond for customers.  They should promote agents not for “hitting call counts” but for consistently dazzling customers.

In 2017, contact center leaders must reward customer centricity.

Optimize the Agent Experience

The phrase “happy agents = happy customers” may be simplistic, but is absolutely accurate.  When agents are properly engaged, they are able to best engage customers.

In order to improve the customer experience, contact center executives must therefore make the agent experience a priority.

Such an endeavor requires a combination of “soft” and “hard” initiatives.

Executives will certainly want to create a warmer, more enjoyable, more motivating workplace.  The initiative will put agents in a better state of mind when connecting with customers.  They will better appreciate the brand and thus work more passionately to keep customers happy.  They will stay for the long-term, reducing the customer service (and cost) gaps that emerge when agents are frequently replaced.

Culture means nothing, however, if the agents are not empowered to perform.  A great agent experience is not simply about cultivating a fun workplace; it is about providing agents with the tools, training and guidance to succeed.  Systems need to be fast, intuitive, and integrated.  Routing must be optimized based on the competencies of the workforce.  Training needs to be tailored to individual agent quirks.  Performance must be measured based on customer-centric objectives.

In 2017, contact center leaders must optimize the agent experience.

Humanize Technology

One of the great misconceptions is that “low-touch” technology experiences – think web self-service and virtual agent interactions – are fundamentally inferior to live agent conversations.  They, many mistakenly believe, are a product of financial necessity rather than customer-centric ideality.

Contact center executives must urgently recognize the error in that philosophy.  Technology-driven experiences are not inherently inferior.  They have simply been used incorrectly.

Many customers actually prefer to self-serve, in theory.  They prefer the theoretical convenience of low-touch experiences to the anticipated (if not assured) hassle of high-touch ones.

In these cases, offering self-service is the right platform for the interaction.  It is the superior, more customer-centric option.

The key is ensuring the self-service experience meets (or exceeds) the customer’s expectation.  Can the platform handle (or adapt to handle) the customer’s specific issue?  Does it communicate in a natural language?  Is it easy to use?  Does it offer a real resolution?

In essence, does it offer the “human touch?”  Does it empower the customer?

Beyond humanizing low-touch platforms, your 2017 strategic plan should also include better integrating human and non-human channels.  In the event that self-service does prove insufficient, the customer should be able to quickly and seamlessly transition to a live agent.

In 2017, contact center leaders must humanize technology.

Integrate & Unify Contact Channels

In the omni-channel world, it is not simply about where a business interacts with customers.  It is about how the organization engages customers across all channels.

The days of urging contact centers to “join social media” or “install live chat” are over.  There is no mystery or ambiguity about the importance of giving customers a myriad of channel options.

The focus for 2017 is the experience being created within and across those channels.  Is a particular web channel simply being used for outbound marketing?  Is it being used as a mere switchboard for routing customers to higher-touch channels?  Or, is it being used to productively engage customers the way they want to be engaged?

If a contact center does not answer the lattermost question in the affirmative, it needs to take urgent action. It needs to elevate the experience it is providing within channels.  A business cannot have “weak channels” and “strong channels.”  It must simply have a great customer experience, regardless of channel.

It must currently remove seams that prevent customers from moving between channels.  In addition to allowing customers to instantly span channels, the omni-channel contact center ensures the relevant issue context follows the customer.

The goal is a singular, consistent experience regardless of when, where, or why the customer is contacting.

In 2017, contact centers must unify and integrate contact channels.

Earn Every Seat at the Table

Ask a contact center leader to identify his top challenges, and you will almost surely hear about trouble securing “buy-in” for key initiatives.

It is time to change the conversation.

We can safely assume that most stakeholders are ultimately guided by profit.  We can also safely assume that most stakeholders are rational human beings.  If there is an obvious opportunity to earn a profit, they are going to seize it.

Contact center leaders routinely argue that their departments represent profit centers rather than cost centers.  They repeatedly declare that great customer experiences yield great returns for the business – “what’s good for the customer is what’s good for the business.”

Given that, ambitious contact centers are not asking the C-suite for more money.  They are offering the C-suite an easy opportunity to make more profit.

If “buy-in” is a concern, something is not being communicated properly.  The value that seems so obvious to those inside the customer service sector is evidently not obvious to those in the executive boardroom.

While it is easy to simply claim that executives “don’t get it,” the more productive approach is to make them get it.

Contact center leaders should ensure their efforts, messaging, training, performance, and investments are aligned with -- and guided by – universal business objectives.  They should guarantee their internal initiatives complement those of other departments.  They should speak the business’ language.

Upon doing so, contact center leaders will win the support of the business.  They will not simply rely on one voice (a “chief customer officer,” perhaps) to defend their message; their message will be second-nature to all key business stakeholders.  Stakeholders will not simply agree to support contact center initiatives; they will encourage them.

In 2017, contact center leaders must earn every seat the table.

Value Scalability and Versatility

Many contact center environments would benefit from a transition to the cloud.

All, however, will benefit from the key values associated with the cloud: versatility and scalability.

Customers are unpredictable, and the issues that compel them to engage with the contact center are constantly changing.

What does not change is the demand for a great customer experience.  Your brand has no choice but to deliver.

To do so, the contact center must be able to adapt.  It must be able to instantly write new rules when unexpected issues emerge.  It must be able to instantly rewrite rules in the event that issues play out differently than anticipated.  It must be able to account for sudden volume surges; such surges, after all, tend to occur when support is especially urgent.

Cloud technology provides a cost-effective framework for managing this uncertainty, but scalable infrastructure alone does not solve the problem.  The business will also need to consider staffing options – including work-from-home support, cross-trained personnel, outsourced workforces, and even virtual assistant technology – that allow for flexibility in the face of volume changes.

In 2017, contact center leaders must value scalability and versatility.

Leverage Data

Not simply a gateway to connecting with customers, the contact center is a gateway to learning about customers.  What do they want?  How do they feel?  How are the products they are purchasing and experiences they are receiving changing what they want and how they feel?

From informing the types of employees to hire, to the types of products to manufacture, to the types of marketing messaging to use, to the types of support channels to offer, contact center data can empower all facets of the business.

When the business truly understands its customers, it can map out the most productive pathway to success.

Leaders cannot allow this data to be minimized, lost, or taken for granted.  They must develop strategies and implement systems that allow the organization to acquire, interpret, and actualize the information.

In 2017, contact center leaders must leverage data.

brian
Contributor: Brian Cantor