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June 03, 2013

Mobile Customer Self-Service Means Less Talk And More Action! Part 1

Business communications are changing dramatically, as the Internet, mobility, unified communications (UC), video, CEBP, and social messaging become part of all business processes. While there is great value in using UC for improving the efficiencies of internal “collaborative” communications, there is even more value in improving interactions with consumers/customers for greater revenue generation. The role of the traditional contact center operation for customer services in particular is changing with the rapid consumer adoption of multi-modal smartphones for more flexible access to information and people.

Smartphones now provide mobile consumers with a convenient way to access a variety of online applications (“mobile apps”) that can include customized business applications to support customer self-service needs as an alternative to always requiring real-time live assistance. The requirement for self-service applications, however, is that they all still require quick and flexible access to live assistance whenever the customer runs into a problem or question, which can typically happen 30 percent of the time.

So, there are two basic challenges for any size organization interested in exploiting the new world of mobile self-service applications:

1.    A convenient platform and software tools for easily developing, maintaining, and running such “mobile apps,” and

2.    Providing integration with contact center customer assistance staff (wherever they may be located) through “click-for assistance” multi-modal contacts.

“Different Customer Service Strokes for Different Folks”

Regardless of the type of business that an organization is in, there will still be a variety of customer services that must be offered. Some services can be “self-service,” and some will require live assistance. However, every self-service application must allow for access to live assistance in the event that the customer has a question or runs into a problem with the self-service application. The basic concept for exploiting the growing number of online self-service applications, is that consumers will prefer to do things by themselves first, and, then, if necessary, access live assistance in their choice of contact.

By starting with an easy-to-use self-service application, there is then greater “contextual” history that customer-facing staff will see before interacting with the customer and thereby more efficiently handle the customer’s needs.    

The differences in how customer assistance can be provided will be based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Different relationships – High-value customers, new prospects, customer-facing staff roles, etc.
  • Different assistance skill needs – Questions, information, transactions, problems with apps, complaints, mobile devices, authorization/approvals, etc.
  • Different modes of contact/response needs  – “Click-to-chat/call/message/social post,” proactive automated notifications 

Having the flexibility to provide services across all forms of interactions that next generation mobile consumers expect when using multi-modal smartphones and tablets, can best be described as “Multi-modal Interaction Services.” This is what legacy call/contact centers must transition to in the future of customer service.

The Two Biggest Operational Challenges for Customer Service Management

Whenever you talk to contact center management, you always hear them voice concern about two primary operational performance metrics:

  • “Customer experience” needs
  • Fulfilling staffing requirements for live assistance

When the wired, voice-centric telephone was the fastest way to make contact for customer services, the “customer experience” was limited to how well and how fast live assistance could be provided to a caller. Pro-active notifications were also hampered by the fact that recipients were not readily accessible at a wired phone number and there was no guarantee of accessibility to a busy phone number, other than a voicemail message.

So, the “customer experience” became dependent on staffing resources and voice telephony accessibility to the customer. If the information the customer needed was extensive or complex, voice telephony was not an efficient medium for such delivery.

Of course, contact center management has always been concerned with having enough staff to support inbound call traffic. It also was concerned with training agents for efficiently handling different modes of customer contact. With the advent of smartphones, voice is not always the best choice of contact for a good “customer experience” and the flexibility of customer choice, based on their environmental situation and varying informational needs, dictates “multi-modal” solutions.

Self-service Mobile Apps in the “Clouds” to the Rescue

The two basic operational problems, satisfying varying “customer experience” needs and lowering the need for qualified agent staffing, can both be handled by minimizing the need for live assistance in the first place. In the past, when most consumers didn’t have PCs or laptops to access information online -- nor could they use such devices anywhere, any time, in any mode of interaction -- real-time live assistance by telephone was the only way to keep up with customer needs. Today, however, as more and more consumers become mobile and “multi-modal” with personalized smartphones and tablets, it is time to exploit such capabilities to minimize those two key operational responsibilities related to contact center performance.

If and when live assistance is needed, it is most important to assign the right person to assist a customer. This has always been done in legacy contact centers with “skills-based routing” technology. However, unless you knew more about a caller and what they wanted, the routing decision was pretty crude. With legacy IVR applications, there was a limited amount of such information available, and most callers hated the time consuming limitations of IVR applications. Now, however, visual online self-service applications can provide not only more utility to a mobile user, but can also provide more useful, up-to-the-minute, contextual information about the customer’s recent interaction activity and current status (e.g., location, mobile accessibility, etc.) for more selective routing intelligence.

With customer mobility comes increased response accessibility. That means it is less necessary to service a customer assistance request instantly, even if it is for a voice conversation. The request can be instantly acknowledged with a message to the mobile customer, whether that request is done through a “click-for-assistance” or even as a traditional inbound voice call, and a live chat or voice call can be done at any time that the customer designates in response to the “acknowledgement” message.  

What is also different, is that “cloud” based self-service applications can be more easily and cost efficiently implemented, integrated, trialed, managed, and changed in a “virtualized” environment, than a premise-based operation. Whether private, public, or hybrid, “cloud” implementations are particularly key to dynamically serving a variety of different mobile end users and customers. “Cloud” implementations also cost-efficiently facilitate differentiated and personalized self-service applications, as highlighted earlier.

The “customer experience” is a two-way street, in that whatever the customer does interactively with a self-service application can be productively used to proactively suggest simplified access to appropriate customer assistance resources. This would improve the overall, personalized customer experience with self-services by bringing in options for live assistance as soon as the need is noticed, rather than wait for a customer reaction to trigger the request.      

Mobile Customer Outbound “Notifications”

Another source of relief to the staffing problem is to exploit the increased accessibility to individual customers who can be notified of important situational or time-sensitive information. Again, consumer multi-modal mobility opens the door to such proactive “alerts” and “reminder” messages, but they can be done by automated business process applications, rather than by live agents.

Such notifications are really outbound messages, which can also provide links to interactive applications in online portals, as well as links to “click-for assistance” options in any mode of contact the recipient desires. The message can be created and delivered in text format, but can be retrieved with text-to-speech on demand if the recipient so desires, e.g., while driving a car.

Proactive notifications also help reduce inbound call traffic by avoiding more complex problems that would require greater customer assistance, if the situation were not attended to promptly. Needless to say, such service would also be viewed as improving the “customer experience.” 

Check back tomorrow for the second installment in this two-part series!

Edited by Rich Steeves
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