The Customer Contact Expo in London is an impressive event with lots to see, learn and experience. There are keynotes, workshops and exhibits galore. But some remain etched in our memory even now. Paul Scott of Dimension Data presented a talk entitled “Go digital or die”, which falls into that memorable category.
This is not just a title for dramatic effect. It is a daunting fact or fate for many businesses that are contemplating the transition to digital. The common adage nowadays is that, "after yesterday, today is the second best time to go digital." This is because the behavior of customers, workers and other stakeholders has shifted so radically towards digital preference that the change has taken many by surprise. Nowadays, people are using digital technology and systems for a host of activities, both privately and professionally.
What was different about the recent Customer Contact Expo was that the “go digital or die” message was being talked about with direct reference to the contact center environment. Even Dimension Data’s report introduces its contents with “Engagement Models – Go Digital or Die” as the opening chapter.
Integrated digital channel support from luxury to essential
A couple of months after Dimension Data published the blog post, “Contact centers need to go digital…or die”, Kate Leggett from Forrester wrote a blog post with a very similar title, "Contact Centers Must Go Digital or Die". Forrester followed up with a report bearing the same message and has been releasing webinars that deal with the “go digital or die” topic. There is no shadow of a doubt that this message needs serious consideration. What exactly do Forrester and Dimension Data mean with this message? And the bigger question: why are they only prioritizing this message now when the integration of digital support channels and technologies for customer service has been a topic of discussion for a while already? Back in 2009, YouGov conducted a poll that had the following findings: 96% of contact centers supported email, 27% supported SMS queries, 20% supported social media including Twitter and 11% supported online chat and other instant messaging channels. This on the back of these customer usage figures: 70% of customers make their queries via email, 43% use web-based self-service, 4% use social media and 3% use SMS.
Supporting is old speak, optimizing for the future
So why the sudden interest in the role digital can play in customer services? There are a number of reasons why the “go digital or die” adage has gained such traction. Customers have changed their behavioral and spending habits. And besides, just because a channel is supported by the business, doesn’t mean that the level of service being offered on that channel meets the customer’s expectations. These are some of the more challenging issues:
1. A rapidly growing digital contact channel and the challenge of isolation
Many contact centers realized early on that it was important for them to integrate digital channels in their offerings. However, many contact centers also did not realize this imperative. The change to digital has not favored the latter group because advances are being made constantly, including the arrival and integration of newer channels by some centers. Dimension Data’s prediction is that digital will be customers’ preferred channel of contact in two years, unseating voice-based contact from the position it has held for ages. The interesting thing is that many customer service channels continue to exist in isolation from each other.
2. The unavoidably important role of knowledge management
Kate Leggett points out that, although digital and social channels are now being supported by more and more customer service centers, they often ignore the fundamentals when it comes to integrating these channels. Good knowledge management processes are as essential for these new channels as they are for other more traditional channels. Leggett says that 50% of contact centers do not use knowledge management, meaning that for many centers, self-service boils down to troubleshooting FAQs. Agents are under equipped to deal with the queries that they face.
3. Optimizing self-service
Customers prefer to resolve whatever queries they have without an agent having to intervene – unless of course they want to speak to an agent from the get-go. Self-service is on its way in. According to Forrester’s research in the US, self-help and FAQs have outperformed the phone as the customers’ preferred channel of service.
The truth is that these channels have been invested in and supported for more than a decade now. But a combination of factors has made it necessary not only to offer the channel, but to optimize its use as well. That is part of the reason why it has become necessary for knowledge management and knowledge bases to be improved and expanded, both for the agents and for the customers.
The inseparable trio: data, analytics and the customer experience
One of the major hurdles that businesses need to overcome is analytics. A need has arisen to look beyond transactional measurements. Customer service has become a leading strategic performance indicator, meaning that other key performance indicators need to be developed. Dimension Data has predicted that analytics will be a key factor in the coming five years, although 40% of the contact centers in their studies do not have this capacity yet.
The future of the contact center agent in the digital world
Quite blatantly, “go digital or die” refers to the channel-agnostic customer who prioritizes speedy and efficient service above the channel being used to get that service. It is not as important the number of channels they use, just that the business responds in the time and fashion that the customer desires. If we remember that this customer prioritizes his/her needs above loyalty to a company, it becomes even more important to meet their expectations. CEB’s Matt Dixon spoke on this topic at the recent Customer Expo.
The above study shows how web-based FAQs and self-service have outperformed the phone as the customer channel of preference in the US for the first time in history. Going digital doesn’t mean completely removing the human factor from customer interaction. Since those customers who are not assisted digitally will resort to the phone and other personal channels, the human factor will still play a crucial role. As mentioned before, the customer service agent’s role is not dying, it is merely evolving to encompass knowledge management, customer interaction tools and integrated systems – they will need all of this to serve the digital customer. Investments need to be made in the training, management, monitoring, evaluating and mastery of this skill set for the customer service agent. The digital environment demands this, as it helps to drive the change. Matt Dixon says that the current state of call centers looks much like the factory floor of old, where human resources were just cogs in the machine. He says that this needs to change.
Go digital or go home