Short Message Service (SMS)

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January 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 8
High Priority

Short Message Service (SMS)

Erik Linask (News - Alert)

Do Your Customers Know How to Reach You

By Erik Linask,
Group Editorial Director, Technology Mareting Corp

Nuance Communications recently published the results of a study it com-missioned from Forrester (News - Alert) Consulting, called “Driving Consumer En¬gagement with Automated Telephone Customer Service.”

One of the key findings was that, by and large, consumers prefer automated self-service solutions for most basic, straight¬forward concerns. It’s true, and how well have organizations followed this model?

Look at Cablevision, for instance. From time to time (far too frequently, IMHO), customers lose their image, though this can often be resolved by simply firing off a signal to the set-top box. In fact, Cablevision now requires a call to its customer service number simply to activate a new box, which I don’t understand, but that’s a question for another issue. For years, in order to resolve the issue, customers had to wait on hold to speak to an agent, who would then manually go through the process of asking for account information and the nature of the problem, and then send a signal to the box. Most times, the picture would reappear and all would be well.

Now, anyone who truly understands the complexities of technol¬ogy also realizes that these issues are bound to arise – it’s the nature of the beast. But, those calls and wait times were, at best, a nuisance. Cablevision, however, has come to its senses – at least regarding this scenario – and added menu options to its customer support line that allow customers to relatively easily identify their problem and have a signal automatically sent to their boxes, more often than not resolving the same problem.

The fact that the total time to resolution probably doesn’t dif¬fer by all that much – perhaps only a minute or two if the call queue is reasonable – is immaterial. For customers, the ability to resolve the problem on their own, without enlisting the help of a live agent holds a higher value than the resolution itself. Score one for automated self-service.

On the other hand, if that doesn’t work, try getting to a live agent. Then try again. And again. And when you finally get a live agent, get ready to provide your account information to each new person with whom you speak.

Which part of such a situation is more frustrating is debatable, but what should concern contact center executives is that they both are. What we do know, however, is that customers want to be able to reach an reach an agent when they want to. The Forrester study confirms that: Two-thirds of respondents value the ability to get to a live agent at any time. What this means is that customers need to know very early in their interaction how they can get to a live agent – whether by pressing a speci¬fied key on the phone, by clicking on a chat button online, or by entering a callback number into a field. It has to be easy.

I just listened to a presentation by Shai Berger (News - Alert), co-founder of start-up firm Fonolo, who was one of four presenters at the first StartupCamp Telephony at ITEXPO. His basic premise, upon which he hopes to build his business, is that contact centers are fundamentally flawed because most do not leverage technology effectively to create a simple interactive process for customers, resulting in longer calls, more calls, multiple transfers between agents – all of which results in aggravated customers and cost the company money.

Berger says that phone menu navigation is among the big¬gest sources of contact center inefficiency. But, he also says the challenge can easily be overcome by simplifying menus and making it easy for customers to reach live agents, regardless of which communications channel they use to initiate interactions.

Of course, simplifying phone menus will help in many cases – but only if customers’ first instinct is to pick up the phone to dial. Increasingly, the initial interaction happens online – if only to locate a customer service number. Instead of simply providing a single access number, Fonolo (News - Alert)’s proposal is to develop a visual representation of the phone menu, which allows customers to quickly navigate their routes through an IVR system – without having to wait for countless menu options – and then click on the most appropriate menu op¬tion to immediately reach the agent that is most likely able to respond to their needs.

Berger’s goal is simple: He wants to change the way customers engage businesses by fixing the inherent flaws in communications channels. By leveraging telephony automation and cloud-based communications, he believes the time to resolution can be sig¬nificantly reduced, resulting in considerable increases in customer satisfaction while reducing operating costs for contact centers.

Success is dependent upon customer satisfaction, and the only way to achieve higher levels of satisfaction is to make customers your highest priority. Companies like Fonolo understand how to integrate the latest technology trends with traditional support mechanisms to optimize the customer experience.

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