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Will AI Replace the Contact Center? 7 Actions to Deliver Exceptional Service, with a Human Touch!

Updated: Oct 19, 2022


Businessman shaking hands with a robot.

There is a lot of discussion about AI. The conversation spans from freeing people from rote tasks in their job to, perhaps, replacing people. Let’s face it, the future direction of AI is exciting and a little concerning! So, what about customer service? How important is AI to providing exceptional customer service? AI is becoming more prevalent in today’s customer service models. Increasingly the first contact the customer has with the contact center is AI. While AI chatbots can be effective in dealing with the most frequently asked questions, it is not particularly effective in dealing with high levels of complexity and cannot read a customer’s emotions, temperament, and frustration. This can quickly escalate to a negative customer experience and sets up the customer service rep for a tense interaction when they go online with the customer after the AI chatbot hand-off.


However, there are many positive aspects of using AI in customer service.


According to Daniel O’Connell, VP analyst at Gartner,


“Many organizations are challenged by agent staff shortages and the need to curtail labor expenses, which can represent up to 95% of contact center costs. Conversational AI makes agents more efficient and effective, while also improving the customer experience.”


Gartner projects that 10% of agent interactions will be automated by 2026. Today, 1.6 % of agent interactions are automated using AI. Staff shortages and the pressure to reduce contact center costs will fuel this automation.


So, what is the correct mix of technology and human involvement?


A survey administered by Cyara revealed that 80% of respondents said one of their top concerns with chatbots was not being able to get answers to basic questions. 76% said being redirected to a customer service representative and having to repeat everything was frustrating.


Customers do not want to repeat themselves!


So what do customers want from their customer service experience? Here are 4 important objectives:


1. Quick resolution

2. Empathetic, knowledgeable, “can do” customer service

3. Knowledge of their customer history

4. Convenience


To achieve these 4 customer service objectives requires a blend of live customer service reps, chat, AI chatbots, and self-help service. It may be possible that AI will be able to do all of this in the future, but until then human customer service reps are at the core of exceptional customer service experiences.


Here are 7 actions you can take to deliver exceptional customer service


  1. Prioritize the customer’s request.

  2. Respond to customer issues, questions, and requests quickly.

  3. Show empathy and emotional intelligence.

  4. Enable omnichannel customer service.

  5. Communicate effectively in your customer’s chosen medium.

  6. Own the issue, question, or request. Stay with the customer until they are satisfied and happy with the actions taken.

  7. First call resolution is your most valuable currency.


1. Prioritize the customer’s request

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet this is not always the easy path. Customer needs are not always in alignment with your company’s needs. For instance, your customer may ask you to dispatch a field service technician on the same day to fix equipment issues that are holding up production. While getting the customer’s equipment up and running quickly is in the customer’s best interest, there may not be an available Field Service Technician (FST) with the correct skills who can be onsite the same day without redeploying them from another customer job. You are being asked to prioritize one customer over another. While customers who have a service agreement are routinely prioritized over customers who do not, pulling a FST from one customer and redeploying to another is a tricky customer relations matter. How you communicate this information to your customer can make the difference between a customer that feels their needs are a priority and a customer that feels neglected. Better to focus on telling your customer what you can do to resolve their issue than what you can’t do.



2. Respond to customer issues, questions, and requests quickly

Resolving issues quickly increases customer up-time and satisfaction. Quick action and issue resolution can turn a customer’s negative experience into a positive one, with the potential of creating not only a satisfied customer, but also a loyal customer. In this situation time is money, literally. An equipment issue may be slowing or holding up a production line, causing the customer lost revenue and profit. The longer the issue goes unresolved, the less patience the customer will have, eroding the relationship with the service provider.


Resolving issues quickly is also a benefit to the service provider since it reduces the cost of service delivery and frees up time to deploy service resources to other revenue generating activity.


Response time to customer issues is critical to the success of resolving issues quickly. If a customer must wait hours or even days for their service supplier to respond to their issue, even a quick time to resolution will have lost many of the relationship benefits it may have garnered otherwise. Speed is essential to delivering an exceptional customer service experience.


 

“Quick action and issue resolution can turn a customer’s negative experience into a positive one…”


 

3. Show empathy and emotional intelligence

Making a connection with the customer, especially one with an issue, is vital to customer happiness and satisfaction. The first best connection you can make with a customer is to understand what they need on both a professional and an emotional level. An empathetic customer service voice on the other end of the phone is an excellent first step to resolution.


Emotional intelligence is the natural extension of empathy. Along with being empathetic it includes being extroverted, having the ability to adjust to different personalities, being persuasive, and being a customer advocate. Being empathetic falls short if you are not able to give the customer confidence that you can solve their issue. Emotional intelligence combined with empathy is a powerful combination to give customers confidence that you understand their issue and can resolve it too.


A recent survey of 300 consumers by MyCustomer about customer service reveals that the customer’s perception of good customer contact center service has changed dramatically over the past 2 years, “with greater emphasis now placed on empathy, quick responses and an understanding of their service history.”



4. Enable omnichannel customer service

According to Sprinklr CMO Arun Pattabhiraman, “Traditional strategies and systems hold companies back. Customer service leaders need to approach service in a digital-first way that unifies teams, processes, data and technology.”


All the teams in your company that have an impact on the customer need to have access to the same customer information to collaborate and deliver a uniform customer experience. AI is an enabler of omnichannel customer service, collecting customer data from across the company, including social media, and providing organization and interpretation, creating valuable and actionable customer insight to users across the business.


Customer Service has a lead role in this process, with dependencies across the organization, to make good on a mission to resolve the customer’s issue, request, or question as quickly as possible.


 

“An empathetic customer service voice on the other end of the phone is an excellent first step to resolution”


 

5. Communicate effectively in your customer’s chosen medium

Telephone, email, website, chat, chatbots and social media are some of the ways customers will choose to communicate with your business. An omnichannel customer communications system is critical to delivering exceptional customer service. Customers become annoyed when they have to repeat themselves after they have been switched to a different communications channel (usually a live person) to resolve their request, issue or question. Regardless of which medium a customer chooses, or is required to use, it should be a uniform, consistent, efficient, and seamless customer experience.



6. Own the issue, question, or request

Take ownership of the customer’s issue, request, or question. This does not necessarily mean that you are going to fix the issue, it simply means that you will take responsibility to see the issue through to resolution. Taking ownership of the customer’s issue and effort to resolve it will lead the customer to see you as their advocate, which will go a long way toward winning the customer’s confidence. Set an expectation of how long it will take to resolve the issue and how often you will be updating them on the progress that is being made. Then, do what you say you are going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.



7. First call resolution is your most valuable currency

Since quick resolution topped the list of objectives that customers want from their customer service experience, it stands to reason that first call resolution is essential. The definition of first call resolution according to HubSpot is a company's ability to handle a customer's call, email, question, or complaint during their first outreach for that specific incident. This is the gold standard for any customer service organization.


The first level of first call resolution could involve an AI chatbot and/or a contact center representative with a lower level of technical product understanding and training. Their primary role is to gather information on customer issues and use basic diagnostic tools to resolve simple issues remotely, with the goal of a first call resolution.

The second level of first call resolution is the technical support team and/or field service technical team, depending on the nature of the problem. Often these teams work in tandem to resolve customer issues. Ideally you would prefer that the technical support team resolve the issue(s) remotely as a first call resolution. If successful, the customer is up and running sooner and the time and expense of sending a field service technician is avoided.


So, rest easy fellow customer service professionals. AI is not going to replace you! It is a digital tool, that when applied properly will help to decrease response time, increase first call resolution, as well as organize and make available customer history and information, resulting in an exceptional customer service experience!


“We must face our fears if we want to get the most out of technology—and we must conquer those fears if we want to get the best out of humanity.”

- Garry Kasparov

Former world chess champion who has the distinction of having lost a chess match to IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in 1997


 

To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.


 



Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.


Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below

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