Closing the gaps that stand in the way of an exceptional customer experience

When I meet with customers and partners to discuss strategies for customer engagement, they often ask me: “What’s next? What are my customers going to need from me? What is my business going to need?”

My immediate answer is one that all of us have been living and demanding from the companies we work with and buy from: a simpler and more delightful engagement experience. No one wants a laborious and sterile experience when you reach out to your cable vendor, your healthcare provider, or your travel agent (and the list goes on).

But how can you help ensure your customers have the best possible experience? By providing an experience that is simple and efficient, yet personalized. This means not requiring your customer give you all their information from scratch, getting them to the person that can best help them resolve their issue, and doing so when and how they want. And true to the age-old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, even potentially reach out to your customer before they realize they need to reach out to you! That’s how you lock in customer loyalty.

What are the biggest gaps in delivering these delightful customer experiences?

Contact centers have fundamentally operated in a serial and reactive model for the last 20+ years. Inbound contacts are loosely identified, placed in queues based on manual customer inputs, and then handled by agents who are organized into skill buckets based on the training they received. While new contact center channels and workforce applications have attempted to optimize this model to deliver differentiated experiences, there has always been a barrier to breaking through into the next level of customer engagement: “How do we know what we should do next?” “What is the best thing to do with this customer?”.

The answer to this question represents the greatest challenge and opportunity for contact centers when trying to reach the perfect balance of operational efficiency and customer experience during each step of the customer journey, even before the journey formally begins.

There are three main gaps that exist between your company and your ability to provide your customers with the simplest, most delightful, and most effective engagement experiences: the context gap, the best action gap, and the resource gap:

  1. The context gap arises because the agent needs as much information as possible to know how best to address a customer’s need: what is the issue at hand? What product do they have or what services have they subscribed to? What is the likely issue? And how should we resolve this for this customer? Without this context in hand, agents will spend precious minutes querying the customer for information, or worse, err in addressing the customer’s need.
  2. The best action gap arises because it’s simply a reality that many agents are fresh on the job. As a result, it’s entirely possible that this call is the first time they have encountered this need. This means they may not have all the skills or experience necessary to deliver the solution optimally. What does this result in? A dissatisfied customer – and worse, potentially a lost customer.
  3. There is a third gap for many businesses – that there are simply more customers needing things than there are agents available to assist. We call this the resource gap. As we said above, this gap means that you cannot put enough people into your contact centers to be able to handle the incoming call volume. What’s worse, because of the seasonality of many businesses, you’ll often over or undershoot your staffing needs leading to excess capacity or unhappy customers. I’m not sure which is worse, but both are not great.

Artificial Intelligence: the most transformational technology of the past decade

We cannot solve this problem without the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to drive efficiency, experience and scale. Companies cannot and will not staff contact centers with enough bodies that are well enough versed in every customer’s needs and in every business process to do so. Or at least, not at a cost that your CFO will be OK with!

AI has been the most transformational technology in the past decade – disrupting all areas of our lives by making it possible to derive insights and act nearly instantaneously. AI gives us contextual information faster, identifies problems as they begin to emerge and, in some cases, even predicts our actions and needs before we even know them.

And much like how you’re pleasantly surprised when Netflix just seems to know the next movie you want to watch, or when your mobile device proactively offers the best path to a location you normally travel to at that specific time of day, so too can you delight your customers with a proactive and personalized engagement.

AI is helping businesses close the gaps and deliver an exceptional customer experience

Luckily technology has evolved to provide answers to these questions. Specifically, Artificial Intelligence has evolved to allow us to more effectively listen, analyze, and understand events and information about a customer from across multiple sources and applications in real time.

And then this understanding can be used to drive the optimal solution for a customer’s needs.
For example, insights can be evaluated at every point in a customer’s journey so that we can ask ourselves things like “If a specific customer needed to reach us right now, what channel should we offer them based on their current location, preferences, and services they own?”, “Did something happen that requires we reach out to the individual?”, “Of similar customer engagements, which ones were successful and how do I replicate those experiences for the next customer?”.

AI allows us to answer questions like these faster than any human could, leading to a customer experience that is truly personalized while achieving the highest efficiency, thus addressing the context and best action gaps. AI also allows us to address the resource gap in 2 ways: (1) by allowing agents to address customer needs faster, increasing the number of customers can be serviced in a period of time, and (2) allowing for self-service and automated digital solutions to allow customers to resolve their needs without ever even engaging with an agent!

Now that we’ve identified the key gaps businesses face in delivering exceptional customer experiences, we can turn to how to solve for them – and AI plays a big role in that. In the next blog in this series, I’ll do a quick tour of how Artificial Intelligence can be applied to these problems – with a special focus on personalization, intent detection, and smart routing. From there, a final blog in the series will provide deeper dives across how AI can be applied to enhance agent productivity and empathy, and contribute to ongoing optimization with post-interaction analytics.

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