In today’s competitive markets, many organizations recognize that customer service represents an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competition. However, our research into the agent desktop shows that providing excellent customer service is a real challenge in many areas, starting with managing the channels of communication required to offer customers a choice in how they interact with the company. My research into customer and contact centers shows that over the last 18 months, companies now support an average of five channels, including advanced channels such as chat, text messaging, video calls and social media. This presents a challenge for companies because these channels are often supported by different lines of business and the information delivered through them is not consistent. The net result is that customers don’t get a consistent experience across channels and so will often skip across channels until they get the result they are seeking. This situation is further aggravated because organizations are still most often organized into silos, with each line of business pursuing its own goals, objectives and metrics. This means customers get a different experience and different information depending on which line of business they are dealing with, and often are met with statements such as “that is not my responsibility” and “I can’t help because I don’t have the information.”
Both of the challenges become particularly acute in the contact center. Our research into the agent desktop shows that agents have to handle the full spectrum of customer interactions and are increasingly asked to handle most if not all the different communication channels. The result is that agents need to access multiple systems as they handle customer interactions, and this in turn means their desktops are cluttered with different systems. This frustrates agents and customers, leads to errors, and impacts key metrics such as average handling times and customer effort scores. This has led organizations to develop several goals to improve agent performance, with the top goals being to improve agent retention and satisfaction. Industry research shows high agent turnover in most centers, which leads to increased recruitment and training costs, and a direct, mostly negative, impact on the customer experience.
The complexity of the desktop has a direct impact on agent satisfaction and thus retention. Agents often have to navigate through multiple screens in multiple applications to resolve interactions – at the same time as they’re listening to the caller. However, the research shows innovative companies are twice as likely as less mature companies to have adopted desktop systems that make the agents’ tasks easier, which in turn means agents in innovative companies are more satisfied. Closer examination of the results shows that more satisfied agents are twice as likely to meet key metrics such as average handling times, net promoter and customer effort scores. Such systems can also help address the other two top five goals – up-skilling agents to handle more types of interactions and increasing the use of best practices – by building a desktop that enable these tasks and ensuring all agents follow the same best practices.
To meet these customer service and agent-related challenges, companies have set themselves a number of goals. In recognition of changing consumer communication habits, the top goal for companies is to enable more communication channels. My research into the contact center in the cloud shows that the only practical way for companies to achieve this objective is to adopt communication systems in the cloud, because few companies have the skills, time or money to build the required level of integration using on-premises systems. The same research shows organizations now support approximately five channels from a growing list that includes telephone, email, fax, letters, forms, chat (instant messaging), text messaging, video calls and social media. My research into contact center analytics shows that customer effort scores are a new metric that’s growing in importance. This is leading organizations to see how they can respond more quickly to customer interactions, and to the increasing adoption of mobile customer service apps as consumers look to apps to carry out more actions. To overcome the challenge of distributing interaction handling, and in an attempt to increase first contact resolution rates, the research shows companies plan to deploy more collaboration systems that enable multiple employees to work on customer issue resolution. Indeed, the research shows that innovative companies are more likely to have deployed desktop systems that include collaboration capabilities, thus making it easier for agents to collaborate with other agents or knowledge workers in other lines of business. The final top five goal is to increase customer lifetime value, showing that organizations recognize that it is not just about increasing customer numbers or top-line sales, but it is more to do with customer retention and maximizing overall customer lifetime value.
As it becomes easier to replicate products and services, customer service has become critical to long-term business success. I am not convinced this means “the customer is now king,” but providing excellent customer experiences through multiple channel of communication has become a business necessity. This makes the task of those handling interactions more complex. As shown by innovative companies, deploying smarter desktop systems is a way to help overcome these challenges. We therefore recommend organizations learn from these experiences and evaluate how such systems can help them meet ever more demanding customer expectations.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director