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Featured in the Spring 2017 Issue of "CRM Magazine," see how tech tools can assist and empower agents to deliver better service

“We want to take our customer service to the next level.” It’s an idea that gets plenty of lip service, but if you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, it can’t be a mere aspiration—it must become reality.

Why the urgency? Consumers’ expectations are higher than ever before: They can instantly communicate with people halfway around the world, have merchandise delivered by Amazon the same day they order it, and ask virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa to provide information or perform tasks. Smart devices and lightning-fast interactions have become a part of their everyday lives, raising the bar for every experience.

Millennials, in particular, are becoming increasingly demanding. This generation has surpassed the Baby Boomers in population, and is about to overtake them in buying power as well. Forbes estimates Millennials will spend $200 billion annually and $10 trillion over their consumer lifetimes. What’s the best way for your brand to capture a share of their collective wallet? It’s through attentive customer service, according to the Center for Client Retention. Note, though, that “attentive” has a different meaning for these digital natives than it does for older generations. Having grown up using multiple devices to access on-demand content, they expect answers within seconds, not minutes.

Failing to meet such lofty expectations will surely result in a deluge of customer complaints, right? Well, not necessarily. Only 4% of unhappy customers speak up. And nine out of 10 of the rest—the “silent sufferers”—simply stop doing business with you altogether.

To succeed in this brave new world and gain your customers’ long-term loyalty, you must harness the power of technology to serve them. Here are three ways technology can take your customer care team to the next level.

1. Rely on chatbots to do some heavy lifting.

Forrester has found that 72% of U.S. online consumers prefer to use a company’s website to find answers instead of contacting someone by phone or email. This trend of self-reliance will only become more prevalent as those digital-savvy Millennials start to take control of the purse strings.

Millennials expect answers in seconds, not minutesHelping customers help themselves through self-service is a popular tactic, but one that is often poorly executed. Companies that attempt to empower customers through FAQ pages, keyword-based site searches, and multiple (sometimes outdated or disjointed) knowledge bases actually end up frustrating them further.

Enter chatbots. As this form of artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, it’s beginning to be applied to customer care. Chatbots enable consumers to interactively search for answers on any device or channel using natural language—a vast improvement over forcing them to guess which magical combination of search terms will return the right information.

For example, a traveler could message an airline through Facebook Messenger, WeChat, or even the airline’s mobile app or website to find out the status of their upcoming flight, request a seat assignment change, or ask how many bags they can check. An artificially intelligent chatbot would answer just as a human would, giving the customer an accurate and personalized response in their native language via the device and channel they’re already using.

Imagine relying on chatbots to handle the bulk of customer questions, which are often about the same small subset of topics. You could add emerging channels, like messengers and voice-driven virtual assistants, without substantial increases in headcount. Leaving much of the repetitive work to bots would also free up your existing contact center agents to address more complex and nuanced interactions.

While bot-driven customer service may sound futuristic, the technology behind it—including natural language processing, deep learning and artificial narrow intelligence—already exists. If your company can capitalize on the chatbot revolution, you will be poised to gain market share and drive higher customer satisfaction.

2. Equip agents to provide authentically helpful experiences.

Even with a well-executed chatbot strategy, some customers will still need to be escalated to a human agent. But technology can take that experience to the next level as well.

The hallmarks of most traditional contact centers—weeks of training, inflexible call scripts and multiple agent desktop windows—often result in wasted resources and employee frustration. Fortunately, smart technology can address those issues and significantly improve efficiency and morale.

You can drastically reduce training time by using a CRM system that allows agents to search a comprehensive knowledge base without switching screens. Instead of requiring agents to memorize your different product lines and learn to address every possible type of question, you can teach them to use the software to find the answers they need. As a result, new agents can get up to speed and on the job more quickly.

The right technology can also turn a rigidly scripted interaction into a more natural conversation by providing agent guidance. If a consumer calls your company about a defective product, a smart CRM could use customer history and case information to recommend the next best action for the agent, such as an appropriate goodwill offer. The same approach can be used to personalize individual interactions by displaying pertinent customer information like rewards program status, purchase history, location, previous contact and more. When agents can see these details without leaving their main screen, they can easily tailor the conversation in real time.

Using technology that provides context and guidance throughout every interaction allows agents to offer fast, accurate and personalized service. More importantly, it enables a higher level of authenticity and fosters brand loyalty.

3. Automate to empower—not replace—your agents.

Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to spend hours on data entry today!” (If you do, well, more power to you.)

Silent sufferers stop doing business with youThe truth is, much of a customer service agent’s daily work is repetitive. In a recent survey by the International Customer Management Institute, 71% of contact cente leaders noted that difficulties with systems and tools are the top contributors to agent stress. Stressed-out agents are just not capable of providing next-level service.

But in 2017, does it have to be that way? Smarter CRM software includes automation tools that can, for example:

  • Auto-populate customer information (e.g., address, contact details, and history) just by matching their name
  • Prioritize different fields for different cases, so that agents don’t waste valuable time asking for unnecessary information
  • Generate customized email responses that agents can simply review and sen

However, it’s important to remember that automation in the contact center is not intended to replace employees, but instead to empower them to deliver a higher quality of service. CRM systems that automate and streamline repetitive functions allow agents to shift their focus to creating emotional connections, preventing future issues through proactive education, up-selling and cross-selling products, and gathering inputs into the voice-of-the-customer (VOC) process. No amount of automation can compete with the strong, positive brand associations your agents can create when they are empowered to do so.

As you plan to take your customer care to the next level, remember that technology can be a powerful ally. Use chatbots to handle the bulk of customer inquiries and deliver better self-service interactions. Give your team the in-context guidance they need to be authentically helpful. Lastly, find a balance between automation and agents in order to build relationships with your customers. With these technologies in your corner, you’ll achieve next-level service in no time.

 


Natalie Adler Skarzynski manages digital marketing at Astute Solutions, a leading provider of consumer engagement solutions. Throughout her career, she has focused on digital strategies to help software companies engage with customers and drive results.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 Issue of CRM Magazine.