A customer, Mary, calls with a question related to a recent claim.
Before she even speaks to a live rep, the AI-enhanced routing system predicts what her need is on the basis of her profile data, latest mobile and web interactions, and recent purchases.
The system uses this context to route Mary not to the next available agent but to the one whose interaction style and technical proficiency are best suited to the issue at hand.
Once the call is connected, an AI-enabled coaching system analyzes Mary’s tone of voice and rate of speech during the call and provides guidance to the agent in real time about ways to improve her experience.
Instead of trying to prevent customers from ever reaching a live human—so often the default cost-cutting strategy—such systems focus on speeding calls to the right human.
This scenario is described in The Harvard Business Review’s The Loyalty Economy series and demonstrates how leading companies are transforming voice-based customer experience as part of a broader customer experience and digital transformation.
So, what are the elements of transforming your voice-based customer experience?
The importance of Voice Based Customer Experience
Many business leaders are rethinking customer service, starting in the contact center where innovation has been slow to be adopted, and searching for voice solutions that can scale and grow with the business. Contact centers are a company’s ‘safety net’ and, while some companies are moving towards self-service models to mitigate calls, complex problems and delicate situations can go terribly awry without an empathetic and personal touch from a customer service agent.
Most of us have horror stories about calling customer service, with unanswered phones, queues, complicated menus, the dreaded hold music, being passed from agent to agent, having to repeat information, and often still not getting the problem that we called about solved. Such an experience may be based on using the telephone, but it need not be what we mean by voice-based customer experience!
Talking is instinctual and it’s usually the easiest way to engage and, for those who are unable or uncomfortable to type and text, speaking is the hands-free alternative. Despite having many channels of communication, people are familiar with using phone services to connect with companies.
And voice is no longer analog. As a consumer, it’s become second nature to command and interact with Alexa or Siri to play a song, look up a recipe, take a selfie, or voice a text. Companies can provide a similar capability to their customers, powered by conversational artificial intelligence (AI).
Transformed voice-based customer experience provides the best of both worlds, empowering customer service agents with an integrated set of digital technologies including enhanced interactive voice response (IVR), automatic call distribution (ACD), and voice bots using natural language understanding (NLU).
An essential part of Omnichannel Customer Experience
Gartner defines omnichannel is the seamless integration of digital and physical assets, typically in retail. The purpose is to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick-and-mortar store.
An omnichannel customer experience allows customers to pick up where they left off on one channel and continue the experience on another. For example, a customer may start an interaction with a company on webchat, providing their account number, then decide to end the chat and call customer service instead, with the account number transferred to the customer service agent to avoid starting over.
Voice based customer experience is an essential part of omnichannel customer experience, with integration across digital and telephonic channels and an optimized blend of AI virtual agents and human customer service agents.
Customers calling in can be asked if they would prefer to continue through a more digital channel such as messaging (known as IVR Deflection), and voice and chat bots can minimize repetitive work for the customer service agents, allowing them to focus on more complex inquiries.
How to design your Omnichannel Customer Experience transformation
While every company aspires to provide great customer experience, most companies cannot do that ‘at any cost’. Business and financial strategy will influence – indeed, should drive – the level of ‘white glove service’ and first call resolution that is needed, and the pace of change of transformation to that required state must be pragmatic and effective in terms of sustained business results.
Customer experience design focuses on understanding the problems, pains and gains faced by customers along their customer journeys to define new and improved service offerings that will meet or exceed their expectations. A customer journey map, based on how customers think, act, and behave, is used to design the ideal customer experience to enhance customer engagement while meeting the company’s specific business and financial goals.
The customer journey map identifies a set of customer value propositions and customer performance indicators, allowing the design of a corresponding set of customer value streams to deliver those value propositions. These customer value streams will be enabled by a combination of omnichannel business capabilities articulating the right blend of digital and voice channels.
How to enable your Voice Based Customer Experience transformation
Analysis of the customer value streams identifies the business capability improvements, based on the current state of maturity and the gap to the desired target state. The target state architecture can now be designed to articulate the business capabilities needed to enable the new customer value streams, in terms of organization, business processes and enabling technology.
The transformation of voice-based customer experience is normally based on a technology platform including automatic call distribution (ACD), enhanced interactive voice response (IVR), and voice bots using natural language understanding (NLU). For more digital channels, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can handle simple tasks allowing customer service agents to focus on more meaningful experiences.
Underlying these specific examples are the technology trends for composable and integrated applications, coupled with a migration to the cloud to allow greater flexibility and scalability. Modernizing the technology supporting the customer creates synergy between digital transformation, omnichannel experience transformation and voice-based customer experience transformation.
How to deliver your Voice Based Customer Experience transformation
A transformation roadmap is used to structure activities into stages to deliver to specific milestones goals and achieve the targeted business outcomes, providing a plan that will shape, prioritize, and mobilize the organization. This roadmap identifies how, where and when to invest funds to ensure the best possible return on investment based on the point of departure and the ‘transformation gaps’ to the target state.
For companies delivering transformation using scaled agile techniques, the transformation roadmap dovetails with the SAFe Lean Portfolio Management framework. The customer value streams delivering the customer value propositions essential to optimize the customer journey are, in SAFe terms, operational value streams enabled by solutions and products delivered by development value streams.
This allows voice-based customer experience transformation to be delivered as epics, features and stories by product teams organized around enabling a specific customer value stream. In larger organizations, this could be focused on a specific customer segment, such as for a line of business or business unit.
Any transformation, and certainly voice-based customer experience transformation, is a large cultural change in any organization and explicit Organizational Change Management (OCM) is essential to ensure its adoption and success, especially in the broader context of omnichannel and digital transformation.
How do I get started on transforming Voice Based Customer Experience?
Forrester advises that building a human-centered contact center is one of the trends shaping the customer service landscape, with the pendulum swinging back from hyper-automation to human-led conversation.
The transformation of voice-based customer experience provides the best of both worlds, supporting the customer with the right blend of automation and human contact, especially when designed as part of omnichannel customer experience enabled by digital transformation.
Transformation of any kind is a multi-step journey, and voice-based customer experience transformation is no different. But as daunting as it can seem, getting started is not always as difficult as you think.
The first step is usually to assess the company’s strategic objectives, points of customer abrasion, and customer service and technology capabilities, to develop and align to an overarching transformation approach. A principal factor is to think about where to start, so you can be sure to deliver the near-term impact so crucial for gaining buy-in, funding and capacity, and for building momentum. A good tactic is to identify prospective change agents, either high performers who want to get better or laggards who need to improve quickly!
As you start out, understand that customer service is never something that will be a ‘check the box’ exercise as you have to keep doing it.
Future articles will dive deeper into these elements, so stay tuned. ExperienceIT is a digital transformation consulting company that specializes in customer experience transformation. Click here for more information.