Customer EngagementCustomer ExperienceOperations Management

Digital Customer Care

A fundamental element of providing an excellent customer experience is making it easy for customers to get their questions answered through whichever means they prefer.”

Susan Hash, Editor, Contact Center Pipeline.
Susan Hash, Editor, Contact
Center Pipeline.

While consumers may prefer the human touch when it comes to complex transactions, study after study has shown that they increasingly seek the ease and convenience of digital and social media channels to research products, find user manuals and self-help guides, and to get answers to basic questions and simple support issues.

For contact centers, providing easy access to relevant, up-to-date information through apps, websites and social networks can help to lower call volume (and costs)—and if done well, drive higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. We’ve spoken with many organizations over the past 12 to 24 months that have successfully leveraged digital touchpoints to proactively respond to their customers’ information needs. The following is a look back at a few of our favorite examples.


At Sharp Rees-Stealy, a multispecialty medical group in San Diego, the customer experience vision is to provide an outstanding experience for patients regardless of the setting (i.e., in-office direct patient care, over the phone, on the website or via mobile). It’s all part of “The Sharp Experience,” a journey to enhance the way the organization interacts with and serves patients and their families, physicians and employees.

The mobile component of that journey began with the launch of Sharp’s homegrown patient portal, called mySharp. Patients can access mySharp via desktop computers or through a free mobile app, which patients can use to manage their appointments, get directions and maps, communicate with their doctor, view lab results, pay bills and view a snapshot of their medical records.


In addition, Sharp deployed an integrated strategy to engage with patients in a timely and cost-effective way using interactive communications via text, voice, email and smartphone. They began by providing appointment reminders by phone (voice or text). Next, Sharp has launched reminders for other types of health screenings, such as mammograms and colorectal screenings, vaccinations and disease management program enrollment, as well as readmission reduction efforts. The reminder calls allow patients to connect instantly to the appropriate department to schedule the appointment with a single press of a button.

There are endless possibilities for expanding the value of the mobile reminder system further, says Kathy Hutchens, vice president of business development and patient engagement. “We need to be constantly looking at ways to send useful communications through the mobile channel,” she says. “Consumers are used to getting reminders from airlines and banks—and they keep raising their expectations for what they want to receive from us. We want to be able to provide that same type of high-level service and also save resources so that we can provide a great experience at the bedside when the patients really need it. We think this marries the best of both of those objectives.”

At C Spire Wireless, a fundamental element of providing an excellent customer experience is making it easy for customers to get their questions answered through whichever means they prefer. C Spire provides multiple connection points for customers, including voice, text, web chat, email and social media.

As its customers’ preference for texting began to grow, the company responded with a cutting-edge SMS support solution. Text CS (Text C Spire) is a free text-for-help service that allows customers to text their questions via SMS or a mobile app instead of calling the center. Text messages come into a web-based application through which customer care advocates reply. If the response required is too long or complex for a text conversation, the customer care advocate will call or text a link to the information online.

Text CS has been a win-win for customers and the company, says Vice President of Customer Operations Craig Jackson. “It’s an innovative solution because most of our customers have adopted text,” he says. “It has also allowed us to increase efficiency and reduce costs. A customer care rep can only handle one call at a time, but we have some reps who handle up to 10 text sessions simultaneously due to the back-and-forth nature of text. Over the course of several years, we’ve been able to do more with less because of efficiency gains from utilizing text as a support channel.”

While the popularity of applications like Skype and FaceTime have increased consumers’ familiarity with video-based communication, not many have used it in an online shopping transaction.


One of the most vital services offered by the City of Houston is its information and non-emergency service center, which provides a single point of entry to a variety of city services. The 311 Houston Service Helpline is a 24/7 operation that handles over 2 million contacts per year, covering a wide range of issues—from reporting a pothole to inquiries about court hearings. There are about 270 different types of service requests, and 2,600 frequently asked questions.

A few years ago, the city implemented a robust knowledge management system to provide 311 agents with quick access to accurate, up-to-date information (LAGAN Enterprise customer service suite from KANA, A Verint Company). The system is interactive so agents can continually improve the speed and accuracy of search results by voting on the most relevant answers, which pushes those to the top of the list in future searches.

The contact center operations leadership team realized that providing citizens with access to the information from the knowledge management system would relieve some of the workload on its agents, and they set about redesigning the Houston 311 website to make it user-friendly. The new website provides users with multiple options to find information. The most common requests are easily accessible from the 311 home page. Users can also view a table of contents or pull up an index of all city departments.

Prominent on the Houston 311 landing page is an interactive map that shows all open service requests within minutes of a request being entered. Citizens who wish to submit a service request can view the map to see if there is an existing request, check the status of the request and when it is due to be addressed. Website visitors can also access 311’s interactive performance dashboards that provide data on service request volume and response performance, which can be filtered by department, request type, neighborhood, channel and status. The combination of a more user-friendly design and access to real-time information substantially increased Houston 311 website usage in its first year from 20,000 hits to about 300,000.


When the U.S. Army wanted to find new ways to connect to today’s digitally savvy younger generation, they decided to reach out to them in their own environment—virtually. In 2006, the Army partnered with Next IT to develop SGT STAR, an intelligent virtual guide to answer questions from potential recruits about Army life at

SGT STAR’s persona is intelligent, helpful, straightforward…a model soldier. He was designed that way. “SGT STAR was created to be representative of the average enlisted soldier (married, 27-28 years old, etc.), which makes him more relatable for this audience,” explains John C. Myers, former director of marketing, U.S. Army Marketing and Research Group. “STAR is an acronym that stands for Strong Trained And Ready. We wanted SGT STAR to be fun and engaging, but also serious where appropriate—and he does an effective job of this. We did some focus group research initially to make sure that young people would connect with him and to also get feedback on his personality.”

The appeal of using innovative technology to reach the Army’s target recruit audience wasn’t the only factor in opting for a virtual guide over a live representative, FAQs or other text-based information. “A virtual guide is fast, accurate and consistent. People want immediate answers and they don’t want to have to look all over for information. SGT STAR gives them a way to get answers in seconds,” says Myers. “Those who engage with SGT STAR feel empowered when they are able to get answers to their questions quickly and easily. Another benefit of a virtual guide is that it is anonymous. Occasionally there are questions that potential recruits want to ask that are of a personal nature and they might not ask if speaking to a live rep. Live chat can be an effective channel but it is expensive and SGT STAR costs the Army less money than live chat.”

SGT STAR has been a highly popular feature on the site, and the Army has released a SGT STAR app for iOS and on Google Play for Android devices. “The Army wants to give recruits the ability to have ready access to information about Army jobs, benefits, eligibility and Army life, 24x7x365,” says Myers.


For U.K. furniture retailer DFS, the focus on innovation never trumps the personal touch. The company’s contact center does not rely on IVR technology to field basic questions—calls are answered by live agents 24/7, 365 days a year. On the website, the company strives to provide customers with a shopping experience that is more than simply convenient—the goal is to be exceptional. DFS advisors are available to answer questions via text chat. Or those who wish to blend the convenience of online shopping with more personalized assistance can opt for a conversation with a DFS advisor via live video chat.

The video chat experience has been an important stepping stone on the company’s journey to worldclass status, says Arron Burton, Online Operations and Compliance Manager for DFS. “It allows us to change a potential customer’s expectations,” he explains. “If they take some time to consider which products they liked and which retailer, we stand out in their mind as the one that provided a rich engagement and experience.”

DFS’ success with video chat may be attributed in part to the care taken by its leaders to address potential concerns with video upfront. While the popularity of applications like Skype and FaceTime have increased consumers’ familiarity with videobased communication, not many have used it in an online shopping transaction. DFS decided to put in place a few processes to ensure that its customers would be comfortable with the experience. If customers clicked on the tab to initiate a chat session, they were presented with a brief overview to describe the service—before they were connected with an advisor. The introductory video first clarified that the chat was video-enabled since some customers might have assumed that they were opening a text chat window. Next, it explained that, when the customer was connected to an advisor, they would be able to see the DFS advisor, however, the advisor would not be able to see the customer unless the customer opted to turn on his or her camera. “If a video image pops up on your screen, the natural reaction is that, if I can see them, then they can see me. But that is not the case,” Burton says.

The video chat capability has allowed DFS to provide a personalized customer experience that, in some cases, goes above and beyond even an in-store experience. Burton recalls a recent engagement with a customer who wanted advice on what type of sofa to purchase. She used the camera in her laptop to show the DFS advisor around the room so that the advisor could see the space, colors and decor. “It evolved into a great conversation about the different things she could potentially do with the room and how she could change it,” Burton says. “The fact that she’s sitting in the comfort of her own home, and that we can actually see into her home: We could not have had that level of engagement in any other medium that we currently offer.”


In addition to providing timely responses to customers’ inquiries and comments over social media, Nokia’s social Customer Care team strives to proactively engage customers through the content shared on its customer blog, Facebook and Twitter. Content includes product tips designed to enhance the consumer’s experience with their Nokia device, software update notifications, and through Nokia Care contests, which management believes takes the engagement beyond troubleshooting to a more fun and enriching interaction.

Most Nokia Care contests are typically designed to leverage the knowledge and expertise of its fans. For instance, one contest asked followers to produce a three-minute how-to video for various Nokia devices. Others keep followers engaged via the channel, such as a recent contest where followers were instructed to look for a tweet with a tip followed by a question. And some are developed to show fan appreciation, such as an essay contest in which followers could win donations for their favorite charity.


AVG Technologies also is active across multiple social media channels, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. The global provider of security software uses its online presence to inform and educate its customers by providing daily content on a wide range of security topics. AVG has built a substantial Facebook community with which the company actively engages through a multilevel customer recognition strategy. Monthly Community Awards recognize those customers who are active and provide helpful comments and advice. The company’s biggest advocates on Facebook become AVG “Hall of Famers.” These are customers who are passionate about the company and its products, and happily volunteer their spare time answering questions from other community members.

Those who are the most helpful are rewarded with a special VIP status. VIPs are selected based on the quality of their community contributions over a period of time. They are recognized (for instance, they are profiled on the AVG blog) and rewarded with a wide range of benefits, including software license keys, certificates, T-shirts, stickers and other forms of highly prized “swag,” as one VIP customer noted in his blog spotlight.

The customer advocacy program has generated great value for AVG. “Advocacy brings AVG closer to those who are lifelong supporters of the brand and our products,” says Director, Customer Care Self-Service and Social Care Jas Dhaliwal. “Our advocates take our messaging and content and share it with their own niche networks and groups. They help us to grow the AVG community and make our Facebook page the daily destination for security news and updates. This allows the wider public to have an ongoing conversation with AVG.”

Susan Hash is the Editorial Director of Contact Center Pipeline and Blog.ContactCenterPipeline.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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