September 22, 2017 | Point of View

Turning the contact center into a profit center in the digital age

How reimagining your contact center can lead to business growth and improved engagement across all customer channels.

Escalating pressure to consistently boost the bottom line is driving executives to cut into tried-and-true establishments like the contact center, which may not appear as relevant in a digital age. And while contact centers have long been considered a necessary but expensive point of customer engagement, they are now a target for cutbacks as customers take to social media and self-help. 

But downsizing your contact center for the sole purpose of cutting costs is a short-sighted strategy. An organization’s contact center can remain the heart of its customer service and raise top-line growth as long as it is purposed properly for the digital age. From reimagining contact center operations to enhancing training programs for customer service representatives (CSRs), organizations can improve the contact center value proposition. By taking steps to build and advance contact centers, businesses are one step closer to creating the efficient, informative experiences consumers expect – and transforming a cost center to a source of profit. 

Successfully transforming the contact center to a profit center requires a shift in mindset – organizations must gain leadership buy-in, redefine the role of CSRs, and develop a wide range of customer-centric processes. 

Chapter 1: Digital’s impact on customer expectations: Speed and individuality

In today’s digital age, keeping customers on hold and subjecting them to multiple transfers is no longer an option. One survey found that nearly three out of five consumers wouldn’t wait on hold for more than a minute. From instant messaging to real-time conversations on Twitter, consumers have grown accustomed to customer service channels that provide answers at the speed of a click. 

To better accommodate consumers, businesses will boost investments in self-service channels – such as chatbots, virtual agents and interactive voice response systems (IVR) or portals – throughout the rest of 2017 and beyond. These investments are part of reimagining the contact center, devoting more of a CSR’s time to complex issues and customer management versus redundant, manual tasks or questions a chatbot or FAQ page can handle. 

In addition to satisfying a need for speed, contact centers must cater to the preferences of an organization’s unique customer base. A variety of factors, including a customer’s social media activity or contact history, can illuminate their preferences and what they expect from your customer service team. For example, Customer A may wish to receive appointment reminders via text while Customer B could prefer a phone call. By taking such information into account, CSRs can provide valuable, differentiated experiences that digital channels have made an everyday occurrence. 

Accommodating heightened consumer expectations across digital channels may seem like a daunting task, however the transformation will position your contact center for profitability. Superior customer service drives loyalty, which, in turn, increases sales. More than two-thirds of customers are willing to spend more with a company that provides excellent customer service. In fact, good customer service inspires brand loyalty more than tactical variables like price. Providing a memorable contact center experience may also improve brand awareness among consumers who consider digital communication a part of their daily lives. Nearly 90 percent of consumers share good customer experiences with at least one other person, while one-third of customers reach out to five or more people. 

Chapter 2: Onward and upward: Modernizing the contact center

Continuous improvement is vital to the success of any customer-centric business– especially when attempting to thrive in the digital age. With best practices in place, organizations can deliver the customer service experiences their customers expect. 

Elevate the customer’s voice 

Each interaction – big or small – plays a role in determining whether a customer will come back. Whether a first-time customer or a loyal brand advocate, consumers want their needs met every time they interact with a company, and that is the goal of your contact center. 

Understanding what your customers want is the first step to elevating the customer’s voice within your organization. To do that, feedback is necessary: From phone surveys post-resolution to periodic e-mail surveys, and even in-person conversations for brick-and-mortar businesses. Organizations that take the time to outline customer expectations will be positioned for success in the digital age. Why? Because assuming to know customer preferences based on industry-wide trends – digital included – isn’t enough. Customers must be asked, and their responses benchmarked consistently and continually to turn your contact center into a profit center. 

Once collected, businesses must detail how the feedback will affect the organization’s processes. Laying the groundwork for ongoing updates and improvements to the contact center experience will help organizations demonstrate their willingness to work on behalf of customers. 

Support additional channels 

While contact centers remain the top customer service channel today, consumers are warming up to alternative support options such as virtual agents, social media and mobile apps. From speed to convenience, these digital channels introduce a wide range of benefits. It’s important to keep a pulse on evolving customer preferences, and how those preferences shift across demographics. After all, the effectiveness of a specific channel will often depend on who a business targets. 

Millennials, for example, are more likely to turn toward chat to answer their questions. According to a survey from [24]7, 37% of respondents ages 18 to 34 choose chat as their favorite way to interact with companies. 

Customers always have the option of taking their business elsewhere, so the burden falls on organizations to accommodate their customer base – if they don’t, competitors surely will. Through careful audience segmentation and analysis, businesses can gauge what the right mix of options is for their customers. 

Chapter 3: Investing in your customer service representatives

To satisfy shifting consumer demands driven by digital offerings, organizations must reimagine one of their most important assets: people. As a critical touchpoint in the customer engagement process, CSRs can make or break a brand’s reputation – especially as some brands decrease their personal touch by focusing more on digital channels (e.g., replacing people with chatbots). Indeed, four out of five consumers want human interactions to remain a part of the customer service they receive, and 83% believe speaking with a person will “always be an important part” of the customer service equation. Taking the time to broaden the skill sets of those in customer service positions can fulfill a brand promise of speed, convenience, and most importantly, resolution. 

Develop skills across customer channels 

The emergence of new customer service channels brings additional responsibilities – and opportunities – for CSRs. In addition to interacting with consumers over the phone, CSRs can also be trained and expected to manage customer interactions across a variety of platforms, including social media and click-to-chat. Whether a customer has an issue that needs to be resolved or a question they can’t seem to get answered anywhere else, it’s not uncommon to see them turn to social media for help. To maximize the quality of the customer service experience, businesses need to teach CSRs how to handle customer inquiries – no matter the channel. 

 

While customers who contact CSRs through email may be willing to wait a full business day for a response, those who reach out via social media expect much quicker resolution. For instance, 32% of consumers who contact a brand, product or company through social media expect to receive customer support within 30 minutes, and 42% would like a response within an hour. 

In addition to taking the time to educate CSRs about the intricacies of social vs. email vs. phone outreach, businesses should consider creating social media accounts specifically dedicated to addressing customer concerns. In the same way this strategy has helped major brands like T-Mobile and Nike quickly and effectively address customer questions and comments, organizations will also give CSRs specific responsibilities and another chance to sharpen their problem-solving skills across an evolving digital channel.

Chapter 4: Get the right people in the door

Contact centers are rarely seen as places employees can build careers. But given the amount of time and effort that goes into training capable, effective CSRs, that perception is ripe for change. To mitigate CSR attrition and knowledge loss, organizations must reevaluate what will attract the right contact center employees and keep them around for the long haul. 

Strengthen the vetting process.

Often, attracting top talent requires a reconsideration of what to look for in potential candidates. Greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem- solving skills will help bring in applicants who are comfortable handling the pressure associated with the CSR position. Adding a few extra steps to the interview process – such as practice scenarios or a meet-and-greet with current CSRs – will give businesses more insight into whether candidates will be successful. 

Clearly define clear paths.

Whether it’s tracking down the right information or thinking on their feet, more is being asked of CSRs than ever before. Through increased compensation, organizations can reward top talent for the advanced skillset that’s now required to get the job done. A clearly defined career path should not only outline the roles and responsibilities of each contact center position, but also detail opportunities for advancement across multiple tracks, such as workforce analyst, quality specialist or contact center trainer. This can help drive down annual CSR turnover rates, which hover around 23% for all industries. Employees who once thought of the contact center as a temporary post may be more inclined to stick around when they understand their opportunities for advancement and professional development. 

Rethink (and rewrite) job descriptions.

Also of importance, job descriptions need to be updated to more accurately reflect the required skills and expected tasks of CSRs, such as experience with technology, click-to-chat, or an ability to effectively operate across digital channels. After all, the roles and responsibilities of the CSR position will fundamentally change as businesses reframe contact centers into profit centers. To paint a clearer picture of what the job entails, identify potential questions a CSR would answer, or walk applicants through a typical day. More accurate job descriptions can equip potential candidates with improved insight into the ways in which new technology and trainings can help them complete more advanced tasks, and subsequently, accelerate their careers. This also aids in setting clear expectations as to the type of advanced work the CSRs will be completing, should they be hired into the organization. 

Chapter 5: Build better opportunities for CSRs

As customer expectations rise, so too must the support businesses offer service agents. After familiarizing CSRs with preferred customer service channels, the training program for these employees should focus on two skills in particular– problem-solving and communication. 

Oftentimes, customers turn to contact centers only when they’re unable to solve a problem themselves. That means a customer’s problems is more complex by the time they reach the contact center. To help CSRs address tougher issues, organizations must raise the bar on contact center training. 

Nearly three out of four customers believe valuing their time is the most important way to provide good service. From a thorough explanation of products and procedures to helpful resources that can be accessed at a moment’s notice, developing materials that coach CSRs on how to efficiently solve problems can have a long-term impact on customer satisfaction. 

Since more consumers are viewing contact centers as escalation paths rather than the first line of support, it’s not uncommon for CSRs to hear from especially passionate or frustrated customers. With ongoing training and reinforcement, CSRs can diffuse situations, establish their expertise, and minimize the customer effort required to resolve the problem at hand. 

Helpful ways to address complex customer problems: 

  • Setting up regular (daily, weekly) stand-ups that discuss observed issues or themes from customer feedback
  • Developing case studies as part of training courses that detail common issues and best way to address them 
  • Implementing performance reviews that pinpoint areas for improvement based on recurring customer feedback on the service they receive

Emphasis must also be placed on creating contact center metrics and incentives that align with more advanced customer experience strategies. While speed is important, it’s not the only metric that matters in measuring CSR performance. 

Rather than attempting to answer as many calls as possible, CSRs must also focus on resolving customer issues at the first point of contact. By training CSRs to prioritize effectiveness, or “first- call resolution,” businesses can avoid call-backs that take up valuable time and lead to dissatisfied customers. 

Resourcing is another metric to keep in mind when looking to build up CSRs. While full-time or part-time staff may be able to address most customer concerns, there may be times when additional help is needed to create an optimized contact center. During peak periods, for example, temps may be needed to handle an influx of requests. Organizations also have the option of outsourcing additional work or hiring remote workers in times of need. 

By keeping a close eye on seasonal shifts in business, companies can determine the right mix of external, remote and/or office-based teams. When it comes to organizational structure, demonstrating a similar degree of flexibility and responsiveness can help you better prepare for shifting consumer preferences as well as technological advancements and regulatory changes. 

Why employee engagement matters 

Few workplace metrics are more crucial than engagement. In fact, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share. Other key performance indicators – including productivity and profitability – can jump more than 20% when employees feel connected to their organization. As far as customer satisfaction goes, businesses can expect to see a similar increase coupled with a decline in employee turnover. 

But a key question remains – how do you make it happen? What steps are needed to replicate the success employee engagement has introduced to competing firms? Developing a strong company culture is a great place to start. 

Surveying employees on what they like and dislike about their current work environment helps to highlight what needs to be changed to create a more responsive environment, one that fosters communication as well as collaboration between team members. Taking the time to share an organization’s motivation and direction is yet another way to help employees feel invested in the success of a company. Use staff meetings to detail the growth of the company and give employees a chance to air any concerns. These types of initiatives can cultivate a culture in which employees feel both valued and heard. 

Finally, it is important that CSRs understand they are important contributors to the success of their organization, and that they play a key role in the strategic vision of providing excellent customer experience at each touchpoint. This can be accomplished by rewarding teams for achieving key metrics, demonstrating that high performers will be determined based on the revamped job descriptions and outlined career path. All of these factors led a recent West Monroe client to drive their number of disengaged employees to zero – practically unheard of in this day and age, especially in contact centers. Although digital technology has ushered in a host of new customer service channels, the contact center remains important as ever. Whether in person, online, through a mobile device or on the phone–customers expect a consistent and effortless experience. Businesses struggling to begin their transition from contact centers to profit centers should consider these three takeaways. 

Research Customer Preferences:

Before pulling the trigger on any big changes, organizations should first gauge consumer preferences. From e-mail surveys to in-person conversations, developing a better understanding of common pain points will enable businesses to quickly improve the customer service experience. 

Support CSRs:

As an integral part of each customer interaction, CSRs must be equipped with the tools needed to address concerns across any customer service channel. By investing in new training programs and better defining career paths, organizations can attract and retain CSRs who will raise the bar on customer service. 

Embrace Change:

Whether it’s implementing new processes or progressing through the four stages of maturity, plenty needs to be done before organizations can make the jump from contact center to profit center. Support from top executives and CSRs is needed to help facilitate the transition. 

Chapter 6: Path to the profit center

A successful customer service experience centers around convenience. Quickly and successfully providing solutions to customer issues is essential in transitioning contact centers to profit centers. When this transformation takes place, CSRs who once spent several minutes solving common problems can now devote more time toward developing positive relationships with more customers. Those favorable interactions can then foster customer loyalty. 

Embarking on a path to profit center will require your organization to go through these four stages of maturity: 

1. Developing 

From performance management and reporting to core organizational strategies, examining specific areas that influence customer experience satisfaction and loyalty is the first step to delivering improved customer service and meeting industry standards. Organizations that consistently track and report first call resolution and repeat call volumes typically drive behavioral change and improve training programs more easily later on. 

2. Foundational 

Businesses are finally on par with others in the industry. At this point in the process, CSR career progression may be based exclusively on length of tenure or departmental openings. Continued progress toward profit centers will be made as organizations develop more formal career paths which are based on skill acquisition as well as the company’s broader operations plan. 

3. Advanced 

Businesses must take a look at how they fare against competitors while also identifying, prioritizing and sequencing opportunities for innovation. Operating hours, for example, likely reflect recent analysis of customer needs and call volumes. Still though, more work needs to be done before resources are available for 24/7 customer-centric service. 

4. Optimized 

Having reached the final stage on the path to profit centers, businesses will begin to demonstrate competitive advantages in several areas, such as workforce management, multi- channel customer service, customer experience and first call resolution. Organizations are now equipped to deliver a seamless, consistent experiences to their customers –anytime, anywhere. 

Build a culture that accepts and promotes change 

On the path toward building digitally driven contact centers, businesses must ensure they’re equipped to not only execute change, but sustain it moving forward. This type of change management involves a host of focus areas, including: 

Vision and Value: Defining what success will look like, including key measures, at the conclusion of the transformation. 

Leadership Engagement: Getting buy- in from leadership is a crucial step in securing the support and resources needed to deliver the differentiated experience customers are looking for. 

Communication: Consistent communication must be established to ensure both internal and external stakeholders have a clear understanding of how organizational changes will benefit them. 

Organization Alignment: With the right structure, processes, and culture in place, businesses are better prepared to deliver a customer experience that far surpasses that of their competitors. 

Training & Support: Equipping CSRs with new knowledge, competencies and skills will help ensure they’re capable of meeting elevated consumer demands. 

Change Readiness: Businesses must prepare for upcoming changes while also gaining the support required for ongoing adoption and implementation of new operating procedures. Change is now constant. 

Conclusion

Although digital technology has ushered in a host of new customer service channels, the contact center remains important as ever. Whether in person, online, through a mobile device or on the phone – customers expect a consistent and effortless experience. 

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