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Peter Tetlow

GUEST BLOG: What is Customer Experience?

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Peter Tetlow, Client Solutions Director, Ventrica

The contact centre industry is continually evolving. A few years ago we were in the Customer Management industry. Now we have evolved to be in the Customer Experience industry.

On the face of it, this rebranding of the industry shows that we look at things from the customer’s point of view rather than simply trying to manage them as if they are a nuisance. However, do we really understand what the customer experience is and how to improve it?

A starting point is to look at what experts say. Forrester defines Customer Experience as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.” This is correct in as far as it goes, but only tells half the story. As with most things, we tend to look internally as an industry and assume that the customer experience is all about us and the type of interaction a customer has when contacting the company.

However, ask any customer. Customer experience starts long before they pick up the phone or start a chat session. For a manufacturing company, the experience starts when the customer researches and then purchases the product. Their experience continues when they set the product up and try to understand the instructions; it continues when they register it and use it.

Customers need help from the start to set up their new product and get it working or indeed they may get many months or years use from the product before they have an issue and they need support. Only then, when they need help, will they contact the company. Their experience at this stage can make or break the relationship because the customer won’t necessarily remember the fact that something has gone wrong, but they will remember how the problem is dealt with.

The critical part that is missing from the definition above is an understanding that the customer experience starts long before they try and make contact with a contact centre. As customer experience professionals, we need to be able to influence the full end to end experience, not just when a customer contacts us. In many ways, that is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Advisors understand customer issues because they are in the privileged position of speaking (or chatting) with customers. The majority of the issues identified will be outside the contact centre’s direct span of control, but this knowledge is a source of invaluable information and insight. For example, if customers call in because product instructions are not clear, only the contact centre will know this within the organisation. If customers talk about multiple and confusing correspondence received, again, the contact centre is probably the only team aware of this and the impact it has on the customer.

Contact centres and retail stores if appropriate, need to be at the centre of the organisation and become the insight and analytics hub, collating and analysing insight gained, to drive improvements. Because this insight comes direct from customers, capitalising on it is the optimal way to improve the customer experience, leading to higher satisfaction, more loyal customers, reduced contacts, reduced costs and product insight.

This will require a change of mindset for many organisations who may see the contact centre as a necessary evil, within which to minimise spending as much as possible, rather than a business critical function that helps to inform and drive product development, product management and marketing amongst many other teams. Ultimately, the contact centre is a strategic asset rather than a simple cost centre but to use it as such requires a deep understanding of the end to end customer experience.

CX and contact centres: What will change in 2019?

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By Peter Tetlow, Client Solutions Director at Ventrica

In 2018 it was predicted that voice would soon be dead and that the only sounds heard in contact centres would be keyboards – or chatbots controlling the customer experience (CX).

However, this prediction missed one critical factor: the customer. With this in mind, Peter Tetlow, Client Solutions Director, Ventrica, outlines 10 top trends for contact centres and the customer experience in 2019.

Brands will start going back to basics

Artificial Intelligence (AI), chatbots and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are the current vogue, with everyone wanting a piece of the new technologies. However, these same organisations frequently have no CRM or data management capability and don’t understand the customer journey or the desired customer experience. Without these basic building blocks, AI, chatbots and RPA may add little benefit or indeed may damage the CX, so in 2019 we will see many organisations returning to the basics to get the foundations right before exploring the new toys in the toolbox.

Innovating for the CX, not focusing on metrics

This prediction has made an appearance in one form or another over past years, but it’s time to get it off the shelf and dust it off again. There are increasing numbers of brands focusing on the CX rather than basic contact centre metrics, which is a positive move for the industry as a whole. This year, more companies will place weight on CSAT, NPS or customer effort rather than service levels and AHT. If, and when, they do, customers will feel the benefit.

Messaging is the new way to chat

Some companies have already taken the plunge into messaging. Most consumers use messaging apps almost on a daily basis, and so it makes sense to use them to contact companies they interact with; additionally, messenger will enable conversations to flow and companies to engage with their customers proactively.

Natural language bots will grow

Many organisations aren’t at this stage yet, but the use of natural language bots will continue to grow in 2019, allowing customers to use voice but in an automated way, that may well be linked to some form of machine learning to predict what the customer may want. This will allow multiple and more complex issues to be resolved quickly.

Bot coaching

In the same way that human advisors should be coached to refine and enhance their skills, the industry will need to start doing the same with bots. As processes or customer expectations change, bots need to be coached to refine them and enhance their skills. As a result, we will see the rise of ‘Bot Coaches’ within the contact centre.

Data management will be central

This is not just because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the potential fines associated with it, although these tend to focus attention, but data management is becoming more critical to running a successful business. The more companies that use data to understand their customers and to predict behaviours and requirements, the more the customer experience will grow and improve. Because of this, we will see a greater focus on the importance of data within all organisations.

Omnichannel was so ‘last year’ – it is now about the CX

So many predictions over past few years have focused on omnichannel and proudly boasted that the contact centre can handle any channel a customer may want to communicate in. However, this fails to take the customer into consideration: there is no point in encouraging a customer to get in contact with a brand, using the most convenient channel, if the service is bad. The brands that thrive this year will be those that understand CX will drive the channels, not the other way around.

CX: digital or non-digital?

Another false prediction from yesteryear. Organisations have wanted to somehow separate the digital CX from non-digital CX. Once again, another example of completely misunderstanding the customer. They do not think a company is brilliant because they can converse with chatbots. They simply want their issue resolved. CX covers everything and you cannot separate digital from non-digital.

The brand promise will tie in closer with CX

Brand image has always been important to organisations, but this has rarely been transferred to the customer experience. This year, companies will start to combine brand image and promise with CX, recognising CX as a key component of the brand.

Analytics will continue to be important

Contact centres are differentiated by many things – a key one being analytics. Understanding the customer and being able to predict future behaviours is key to growing the business. Many organisations only have basic insight from contact centre MI, but this will change as voice and text analytics become more widely adopted. At the other end of the scale, companies who have already adopted complex analytics functions will move more to machine learning and predictive analytics.

Twelve months to go

We don’t have a crystal ball, but the path is clear for these predictions to come true this year. It will certainly be interesting to reflect at the end of the year to see what changes the industry makes, and what part brands and their customers have played along the way.