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I was delighted to participate in a recent virtual round table meeting hosted by Odigo and the Executive Leaders Network. This was a great event attended by customer experience (CX) leaders from many different types of business. Proceedings were expertly driven by our Master of Ceremonies Peter Dorrington, Chief Strategy Officer at Anthrolytics and the content for discussion was delivered by Neil Titcomb, Managing Director UKI at Odigo and myself. Despite the remote, video-based format of the session, participation in the discussions via the live and chat-based channels was high.
Our main focus for the evening was a recent study commissioned by the Contact Centre Managers Association (CCMA) in partnership with Odigo. The study is primarily focused on the state of customer experience in the United Kingdom in 2021 and what effect the global pandemic has had, if any, on the CX offered by major brands when viewed from the customer’s perspective. The study and report are very comprehensive however to focus our thoughts and maximise the time available we targeted discussion in four key areas:
This is a simple, yet powerful, question that goes to the heart of the issue. How has the unprecedented shift in working procedures, since early 2020, affected the CX? As we already know, this period saw a rapid shift towards home-based personnel, automated technology and flexibility of working times.
All attendees expressed that they had found it very difficult in the early stages of the pandemic to support this rapid shift. Some, with more modern technologies, found the change less painful than those with less up-to-date systems. However, all participants highlighted those other non-technical aspects of the changes were a real challenge for them.
Maintaining a regular cadence of management and reporting without the face-to-face element was challenging. However, it also proved enlightening by uncovering some of the effort they previously expended on detailed reports and dashboards as unnecessary “busy work” which could easily be eliminated from the business.
The consensus of the attendees was that CX has become better since the pandemic but that this was highly context-specific. Complex interactions were considered much less effective when delivered remotely.
Public opinion was very interesting in relation to this area. The data shows that 28% of customers believe that customer service is worse than before the pandemic, however, a contradictory 31% believe that things have improved. When digging a little deeper the data shows that younger people tend towards positive opinions in this area, and the older age groups tend towards negative ones in this respect.
Our second discussion dug further…
This was a very lively area of discussion for the round-table panel. All industry messaging for the last few years has tried to convey that the phone is a legacy device that will soon be abandoned in favour of digital access channels. Interestingly, the data shows somewhat the opposite. The survey shows that the telephone is still the dominant choice for customer service, in all age groups and for all transaction types. Only live webchat had a faster growth rate.
The attendees offered some great thoughts in this area, particularly related to the operational shift due to the pandemic. One recurring theme was that the telephone was now used in preference as in-person customer service was no longer available. Customers crave that “real” connection to a real-life person and, for example in the Finance sector, with banks closing their branches the telephone is the only way to complete the complex transactions customers require.
An interesting discussion regarding the psychology of interaction was also key to the attendees. In a climate when interactions with others can be severely limited, it was discussed that enabling agents to display empathy and emotional connection regardless of call handling times was a real need. This recognition of the importance of empathy was well received by customers and will likely remain when some level of normality returns.
The third topic considered the other customer service option…
Interestingly, as previously discussed, the telephone is a growing channel of engagement. At the same time, customer acceptance of self-service options has increased and adoption in all age groups is growing. This again triggered some lively debate, particularly in the areas of technological capability and of engagement type.
All agreed that the technology available for self-service has improved immeasurably over recent times with the availability of AI and machine learning (ML) based solutions. These are truly able to deliver what the customer wants, which is to get their task done in the quickest way possible. Furthermore, the panel could only see this increasing as these technologies become more commonplace, with the associated benefits of agent satisfaction as many mundane tasks are removed from their workflow.
The survey results reflected this in that certain types of customer interaction, such as raising a complaint, are more likely to be automated. Obtaining advice before purchase, however, was less likely to be automated. This varied by age group and led to our final discussion topic…
This question was purposely provocative and did indeed cause the liveliest debate.The data in the survey does show that different age groups use and respond uniquely to different customer service channels, treatments, and engagement models. There was significant debate on the topic however the consensus was that any attempt to vary treatment by customer age would be discriminatory and a better approach would be to strive for a personalised engagement model where possible. Technology to offer this is now available and should be considered by all organisations.
The session delivered great informative value and was a fun way to engage with our peers in the industry. Indeed, it has been so popular that Odigo and the ELN have scheduled two repeat sessions in late Summer and early Autumn. In the meantime, you can obtain a copy of the report by clicking on the link here.
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