Customer needs are always changing, while expectations are constantly rising. For example, the questions customers ask are growing in complexity and come through a widening choice of channels – while answers have to be delivered faster at the same time. Being customer-centric is essential to success – and it starts with the contact centre.
So, what exactly do customers want today? The latest UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide from Contact Babel provides detailed insights. Sponsored by Enghouse Interactive and based on an in-depth survey of 233 contact centre managers and directors it is the largest and most comprehensive study of all aspects of the UK contact centre industry.
When it comes to customer needs the report highlights three key areas to focus on:
The pandemic and lockdowns have driven a major increase in the number of digital interactions that contact centres have to respond to, including via chat, email and social media. In fact, traditional telephone communications have dropped to 65.7% of all interactions in 2020 while chat and social media both grew.
This shift to digital cuts across demographic groups, although different generations have their own preferences. For example, the guide found that older people like to use email (perhaps as they come from a generation that is used to expressing itself in writing) while younger consumers prefer a mobile-based app.
Driven by changing consumer behaviour, more and more contact centres are switching to digital. 57% of contact centres already use social media for customer service, with a further 11% planning to implement it within the next 12 months. Just under half (44%) use chat with another 27% wanting to add it in the next year.
The majority of today’s customers ideally want to be able to switch between channels during an interaction for an omnichannel experience. When asked 53% of consumers listed having to repeat themselves or re-enter information when making contact as a top 3 customer experience issue.
However, most contact centres aren’t ready to meet customer needs. Only 30% of contact centres surveyed described themselves as omnichannel, with 15% assessing themselves as multimodal (able to use more than one channel) and 55% multichannel (offering a range of channels that are not joined up).
Respondents listed three main barriers to creating an omnichannel experience:
Overcoming these challenges is therefore central to successfully delivering omnichannel.
Smartphones give consumers an instant way to make contact – whether by calling or emailing or by messaging via social channels, web sites or mobile apps. Consumers value the ability their phones give them to interact instantly from wherever they are.
As you would expect contact centres are increasingly embracing mobile. 52% of this year’s survey respondents said they offer mobile functionality for customer service, with a further 27% having definite plans to doing so in future.
So how can they best offer mobile service? One easy option is to provide a phone number on mobile websites or apps, with 82% of the sample offering this, of which 19% offer a click-to-call shortcut too. And 42% provide a web chat option within their mobile site or app.
Despite its relative age, SMS is also growing as a customer service tool, particularly for reminders, notifications and customer surveys with 59% of contact centres currently using it. Large operations are slightly more likely to be using SMS to communicate with customers, but there is also interest in implementing SMS in the short-term from smaller organisations.
Meeting these challenges requires businesses to focus on these four areas:
Understand your customers and their needs. Make sure you are on the channels that they want to use and focus on ensuring the process is as easy for them as possible. By giving them the information they need on the channels they prefer, you can reduce the chances of them being forced to call or email your contact centre unnecessarily, which pushes up costs and wastes customer time.
72% of contact centres today have agents that work across both email and voice. Training agents to work across multiple channels makes service more flexible and means that they can deal with interactions whatever channel they come in on. At the same time, you should recognise that there are different skills requirements for “typers” and “talkers”, so you need to put in place training to help meet any skills gaps.
Consumers want to be able to use multiple channels in a single interaction. For example, 12% of contact centres in the report said web chats require movement across different channels. So, it’s important to overcome the obstacles that are stopping you from seamlessly integrating channels to deliver the experience that customers demand.
AI can help contact centres successfully deal with an increasing volume of queries, across multiple channels. For example, it can support human agents when dealing with complex queries, give fast, automated answers to more routine queries and be used for automation and real-time analytics.
Customer service is a vital differentiator in a growing number of industries, but with customer needs evolving and continuing to change, organisations need to be sure that they are delivering what consumers want. In order to thrive, contact centres need to bring together technology, well-trained staff and the right processes to deliver the digital, omnichannel and mobile service that every consumer is demanding. Find out more on how to do this and the overall state of the industry by downloading the Contact Babel report here