Authored by Jon Arnold from J Arnold & Associates
Until recently, picking up the phone and calling the contact center was the first resort for getting customer service. There were limited options available, and none of them could address customer issues quickly. Email was another channel, but it was slow and largely ineffective. Later, we had web chat, but the results weren’t much better, and if you had no patience to wait on hold for a live agent, IVR was the last resort.
Customer service has evolved dramatically since then, and most would agree for the better. The good news is that there are more channels customers can use, so there are alternatives now to these legacy options. Customers are certainly better served this way, but this can also be bad news for contact centers that aren’t willing or able to uplevel their capabilities to properly support these channels.
When it comes to enhancing customer experience (CX), the key to success is supporting these channels in a way that’s optimal for each customer interaction. With advancements in AI, IVR can now provide a more effective option, especially as chatbots become more accepted for self-service. Today’s CX is all about meeting the customer where they are, and via their preferred channels. In some cases, voice is all that’s needed, and in others, IVR can manage the interaction – but sometimes both will be needed.
However, CX is also about adapting to changing demographics and preferences for how customers communicate. Digital natives are becoming the dominant demographic among many customer bases, and this cohort is either mobile-centric or mobile-only. They tend to prefer messaging to voice, and digital channels over legacy channels, but that doesn’t mean they won’t talk to you.
Contact center leaders need to recognize how messaging today – and digital channels in general – represents a big step up from analog-based IVR. As such, text-based channels are now playing a bigger role, and can be very effective in certain situations. More importantly, though, is to view messaging and voice as complementary channels, not competing channels. Instead of this being an either/or choice for customers, they are options in the agent’s toolbag, to be used as the situation dictates.
For example, there will often be “moment of truth” situations that can really only be addressed with voice. Sometimes a chat session can start on the right track, but can quickly change for the worse. This is when the agent needs to use judgment – sometimes in concert with the supervisor – and move that session from chat to telephony, where the intimacy and authenticity of the human voice provides the empathy needed to resolve the issue, and turn this into a good CX. In effect, agents must learn how to triage calls, and orchestrate the right mix of channels to get a good outcome.
Coming back to the theme of doing what’s best to enhance CX, the focus here is to show where messaging applications have a growing role to play in the contact center. Voice will always be the default channel, but it’s simply not feasible to handle every customer interaction with a phone call. To better understand why messaging has become the first resort for so many customers, here are three ways it directly impacts CX.
The deeper your legacy roots, the more likely you’re going to associate customer service with telephony. This is still the default mode for many – and will always be – since nothing beats the immediacy and intimacy of voice. Not only is it real time, but it’s personal, and adds an emotional element that feels real, and you just don’t get with text.
As good as that sounds, digital natives have come of age with different experiences, especially around technology. Many didn’t grow up with a landline, and their communications interfaces are screen-based, whether on a smart phone, PC, or tablet. Their communications styles are also different from digital immigrants, being more informal and shorter. The more connected they are with all these devices, the more multi-tasking they’re doing, simply to keep up with their fast-paced, always-on digital world.
In that context, it’s easy to see how messaging seems purpose-built for quick, short bursts of communication amid everything else they’re doing. In contrast, a phone call demands more singular attention, and the trade-off just isn’t worth it for them. Text is simply more expedient,and for some, it eliminates the problems that can arise when dealing with other people.
Keep in mind that when interacting with your customers, messaging can be managed by agents, or automated with chatbots. One reason why digital natives prefer messaging would be having had a poor prior history with your contact center over the phone. For them, when you offer messaging as an option, it will quickly become their go-to channel. That’s a much better outcome than losing them as customers because calling is such a bad experience.
This may sound counter-intuitive to the above, but you can’t get good engagement if the channel isn’t comfortable for the customer. Voice may be superior to text for deep engagement, but that won’t happen if the experience is poor. Many factors are at play here, such as anxiety from waiting on hold to speak to an agent, dealing with an agent that is difficult to understand, having a poor-quality connection (not uncommon with offshore operations), agents that lack empathy and don’t try to understand your issue, being asked to repeat things you’ve already covered, dropped calls, etc.
We’ve all experienced these things, and collectively, they set the bar pretty low for CX. Some engagement is better than no engagement, and messaging becomes an attractive option in these cases. That said, text interactions can be very engaging – maybe not as rich as with voice – and it’s not really fair to compare them, especially when viewed from the lens of a digital immigrant.
Text is different from voice, and for some, it’s a better way to communicate. Instead of picking up customer sentiment from vocal cues, you temper the dialog with emojis. Some people aren’t comfortable speaking to strangers – they may be shy, not confident with their English, or maybe their issue is highly personal and sensitive. Messaging obviates these barriers to engagement, and presents a channel where it’s just easier to express themselves with text.
Aside from the 1:1 engagement between customer and agent, there’s another type of engagement that you cannot really get with voice. When agents have intelligent tools working in the background, they can push out messages with special offers tailored to that customer, and personalized links that could take them to specific web page or a demo video.
Now you have a fuller form of customer engagement that goes beyond just solving a problem, and takes customer service to the next level. Also, it’s worth noting this isn’t an either/or scenario. Multichannel contact centers can easily escalate a messaging session to add voice, where the customer gets the best of both worlds – continuing with text but also speaking to the agent in real time.
Or, if agents aren’t readily available at that moment, there could be cases where the messaging session could hand off the call to an IVR sequence that’s tailored for that specific situation. Not only does that lighten the burden on agents, but when developed for a particular need, IVR can be an effective form of automation.
Like email, messaging is asynchronous, but its nature is to drive near real-time communication. Emails do not require immediate attention, although many people respond that way. Messaging is more about in-the-moment communication, where the running dialog is almost instantaneous, at which point one wonders why they just don’t pick up the phone and talk.
For many texters, those norms are simply hard-wired, where it’s cool to text, and in a way it’s un-cool to speak. That aside, in many cases, it’s simply more practical to text, such as when in crowded or noisy spaces, when juggling other things, or being in a meeting and all that’s needed is a quick reply.
Those behaviors carry over for CX, where the convenience of one-way messaging allows the customer to engage on their terms. There’s a sense of empowerment here that is in stark contrast to the loss of control customers feel when calling in, only to be put on hold and being told there’s a 30-minute wait for the next available agent. This telegraphs a message that the company you’re buying from doesn’t respect or value your time, and for many, that marks the end of their relationship with you.In this regard, asynchronous communication is far from being a bad thing.
Some forms of customer engagement do not demand an immediate response, and this is just a different way to interact. For time-starved customers, the richness of a voice conversation is simply a luxury they cannot afford.
This is another example where the trade-off for expediency is worth it, especially in cases where the customer’s need can be effectively handled via messaging. Not every customer or every scenario will best be served with messaging, but for contact centers that want to be truly focused on CX, this channel should be viewed as being just as important as telephony - and for some, even more so.