Upgrade The Self-Service Experience

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

Customers increasingly turn first to self-service to answer questions or solve problems. When they do, they value quick, easy access to relevant and accurate content so that they can find the information they need and get on with their lives.

There is a massive focus in the industry to try to push customers toward digital, not just to reduce costs, but because customers are asking to have those channels available.”

Yet providing customers with a low-effort self-service experience that meets their needs has been a challenge for many organizations. In a recent survey conducted by Strategic Contact and Pipeline, contact centers cited insufficient self-service as one of the top 3 challenges that they faced (behind high attrition and the lack of cross-departmental collaboration).

For contact centers, self-service has been viewed largely as a call-deflection tactic—a cost-effective approach for handling basic inquiries and transactions. But once in place, it seems that not enough has been done to ensure that the quality and performance of self-service channels have been keeping pace with phone interactions.

ANDREW MCNAIR Head of Solutions & Global Benchmarking, Dimension Data
Head of Solutions
& Global Benchmarking,
Dimension Data

In fact, digital channels across the board are currently suffering from a lack of quality management methodologies that have been in place on the telephony side for the past 20 years, says ANDREW MCNAIR, head of Solutions & Global Benchmarking at Dimension Data. According to findings from the “2016 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report,” 75.9% of contact centers said that they reviewed telephone processes annually or more frequently, but only 46.1% said that they perform process reviews of self- service less than annually. Another 19.3% said they never review their processes, and 16.8% will only do so by exception and when an issue has been reported.

Digital is missing a
human touch… that’s
where we see things
falling short.

Why the hands-off view of digital channels? Most digital channels are being developed within silos, which obstructs the flow of information, focus, decision making and accountability “The theme of this year’s report is that digital is missing a human touch,” McNair says. “That’s where we see things falling short. The technology is there and the information and business intelligence is becoming more widely available, but what is missing is the operational and business ownership to ensure that the desired customer experience is delivered, as well as the return on investment for those channels.”

Search Analytics Provides Key Insights

With online self-service, getting customers to accurate information with as little effort as possible can provide them with a high-value experience while meeting the business’ cost-reduction objectives. Unfortunately, too many websites contain outdated information buried beneath pages of FAQs and knowledge base articles and/or poorly configured search engines that retrieve irrelevant results.

MATT RILEY CEO and Co-founder, Swiftype
CEO and Co-founder,

An effective search engine is the quickest path between your website’s landing page and the content that customers want, says MATT RILEY, CEO and co-founder of Swiftype, a hosted search solution that lets companies deliver powerful, customizable search for their external-facing knowledge base and internal support directory. “Search is a clear expression of intent from your customers—they’re typing in exactly what they want,” he says.

Monitoring the actual words that customers are entering into the search box and tracking how they find content can provide key insights to help companies streamline the knowledge base and the self-service experience, Riley says.

Search is a clear expression
of intent from your
customers—they’re typing in
exactly what they want.

There are three metrics that he advises companies track and review on a regular basis:
Total search volume. “Your search volume will increase as the quality of the search experience increases,” Riley says. “As your customers learn to trust it more, they’ll use it more.”

Total number of searches without results. This metric will reveal blind spots in your content, Riley explains. “You may not have published content about a problem that many of your customers are experiencing,” he says. “You may not even be aware of it because you don’t realize how many searches are going through that keyword and how many times it’s returning no results at all. As you identify new opportunities to create content, and then write and publish that content, the number of searches without results will decrease over time.”
Search session conversions. Look at the total number of people who have completed a search and whether they have converted into served users or support tickets. Ultimately, you want customers to conduct a search, read an article and get the answer that they want so they don’t have to submit a ticket. Another type of conversion to track is the number of abandoned support tickets; for instance, as a customer types into the ticket the description of their issue, Swiftype will suggest articles and content based on the keywords used. If the article resolves the customer’s issue, they will abandon the ticket.

Practical pointer: Make sure that your search engine is not overly literal. Humans are unique and not everyone will use the same words or formats when using search, Riley says. For instance, when typing phone numbers, some people may use parentheses around the area code and some will use all dashes. Make sure that your search engine can identify natural language patterns, typos, plurals, hyphens and other variants, and return results based on the context of the words.

Enhancing Phone Self-Service: “IVR with a Brain”

Poorly designed IVR applications have been frustrating callers for years—and in too many cases, alienating customers rather than providing a quick and easy way to handle the most basic transactions. Worse, when callers opt out of a self-service system, their personal information often is not transfered with them and they’re forced to repeat it to the agent.
While Dimension Data’s findings show that contact centers are improving when it comes to passing the caller’s information to the receiving agent, it is happening far too slowly. According to the benchmarking report, 80.9% of calls are routed via IVR systems, but 56.6% will then fall out to an agent. When the customer drops out of self-service, 48.1% pass no information to the agent; about one-third (33.5%) will pass along the customer’s name; 30.9% will include account information and customer history; and 18.4% will have been validated through relevant security checks.

Most IVRs are like Dory in ‘Finding
Nemo’—every time you call, it’s as
if they’ve never met you before, and
yet you might have had a 20-year
relationship with the company.

TOM LEWIS CEO, SmartAction
CEO, SmartAction

“Most IVRs are like Dory in ‘Finding Nemo’—every time you call, it’s as if they’ve never met you before, and yet you might have had a 20-year relationship with the company,” says SmartAction CEO TOM LEWIS. “You need to use that intelligence to your advantage—whether it’s from activity on the website, in your business process, or anything that the system should know about and your customers expect you to know about, it should be reflected in the prompts. The prompts and the flow should be dynamic enough to be able to handle that.”

SmartAction provides artificial intelligence-enabled voice self-service. The company’s Intelligent Voice Automation (IVA) solution takes artificial intelligence and infuses it with stateof-the-art speech recognition capabilities, creating a customer service experience that rivals that of a live agent. “Our company was founded as an artificial intelligence research company, so a lot of what we do is based around not just hearing what is said, but knowing what to do with what’s said, and dealing with it in a very conversational and comprehensive way,” Lewis says.

SmartAction’s IVA offers a wide spectrum of functionality that allows it to handle more complex interactions than traditional IVRs. Take roadside assistance, for example. A common call type might be that a customer’s car has broken down on the side of the road and they need a tow truck. “Not only is that a stressful situation, but it requires the system to understand unique words, such as tow or accident, to discern what that customer needs,” Lewis explains. At this point, a traditional IVR would route the call to an agent, but IVA is able to handle the next steps, as well: requisitioning the tow truck and following up with the customer to make sure it arrived. “We have outbound calling integrated with texting to make sure that the customer gets served,” Lewis says.

Proactive Automation: Eliminate the Need to Contact

What requires less effort than self-service? How about not having to contact the company at all? Proactive outbound communication eliminates the need for customers to initiate contact by anticipating their information requirements and delivering it to them at the right time in the customer journey.

Sharp Rees-Stealy, a multispecialty medical group in San Diego, provides a good case in point. Sharp deployed an integrated strategy to engage with its patients in a timely and cost-effective way using interactive communications via text, voice, email and smartphone. Initially, Sharp began providing appointment reminders by phone (voice or text). Next, it 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—a much more effective approach than a postcard reminder that may be set aside and forgotten, and less effort required on the customers’ part.

Dimension Data’s research estimates that more organizations will explore proactive outbound in the coming year. “Thirty- one percent of contact centers globally have that capability now,” McNair says. “But having a capability is quite different from delivering in terms of executing those services.”

According to the report, 17.2% of contact centers currently use proactive outbound for service inquiry updates and 24% use it for default notifications. The number of centers with proactive outbound capability is set to rise to 57.2% by the end of 2016.

Digital Strategies Driven by Customer Experience

An interesting finding from Dimension Data’s report is that, for the first time, customer experience has surpassed cost reduction as a primary reason for offering digital channels (73.7% vs. 67.9%). “There is a massive focus in the industry to try to push customers toward digital, not just to reduce costs, but because customers are asking to have those channels available,” McNair says.

In addition to making digital channels available, though, organizations are recognizing the need to connect the customer’s journey across channels—cited by participants as the No. 1 trend affecting their organizations in the next five years. Currently, only about 20% to 25% of organizations have that capability. “We were surprised at the lack of information that is available now, in terms of tracking those customer journeys—30.4% cannot track the customer journey at all, and only 36% can track journeys across multiple channels,” McNair says. “When we looked deeper into whether organizations could identify blockage points in their processes, we found that only 17.4% could do so, and only 27.7% can identify key decision points, which is crucial, particularly in a sales environment.”

While there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of managing the customer’s journey across digital channels, McNair points to optimistic results around the use of analytics. Organizations currently have access to quite a bit of customer data, and they’re using it to validate their investments in customer experience.

“Analytics will to help further validate the right balance around investment and services, and the move away from big data (corporate level) to small data (individuals) will drive a personalization of services going forward,” McNair says. “A great deal of that personalization will be created through proactive automation where customers are contacted at their most relevant points, and a lot will be automated based upon the information that we have at a micro-level on a particular customer.”

For customers, he adds, personalization will bring back the human touch and emotional engagement that digital channels currently lack.

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

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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