Neville Doughty, Partnership Director, Contact Centre Panel

As sure as night follows day, autumn follows summer, the nights get longer and thoughts for many will turn to handling peak demand, or for those who’ve just been through a peak – reviewing how it went and learning lessons for the next one.

Entering Q4 with the headwind of a cost-of-living crisis there’s uncertainty for some as to how busy they’ll be this year. However, all have the challenges of potentially needing to do more with less as increasing costs and potential recruitment issues could mean fewer contact centre agents.

Whether by design or not, the same difficulties apply and that message in the IVR saying “due to covid” isn’t well received by customers any longer.

So how do you balance demand and costs to serve? Service from a cheaper location, provide self-serve options, automate… all well-trodden paths with many failing to flourish if not approached in the right manner.

But isn’t voice king when it comes to resolving emotive issues, customers want to be able to engage via multiple channels based on their requirements. We’ve recently heard that:

  • 67% of consumers prefer self-serve
  • 96% will leave your brand if they have a high effort experience
  • 83% expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company

So, with these numbers in mind, what are the options and where does voice retain the throne?  If staff are harder to find and more expensive than ever, then is the key to ensure that they’re being used as effectively as possible? A ‘well trained’ bot can make a difference in the triage of those 67% who prefer self-service to ensure they only speak to someone if they really need to, it keeps people free for the 83% that want to engage immediately too.

Asynchronous messaging offers flexibility for a customer if they don’t have time to talk but need support, there are opportunities using WhatsApp or web messaging, for example, to easily send photos of what’s causing the issue and switch channel to voice at the right moment.

Proactivity remains a jewel in the crown when trying to minimise customer effort. For example, my train tickets for a strike day are no use to me now. I need a refund but clearly for commercial reasons I’m not going to be immediately offered one, they’d rather I just decide to travel on another day, but that doesn’t work for me, whereas a proactive contact with a link to trigger a refund would. Other scenarios are easier though and brands making timely interventions can improve the experience for the customer, whilst managing demand and pressure on their own staff.

Voice is here to stay, especially for complex or emotional conversations and certainly when looking to make a sale. The key is ensuring that people have the right skills and information to hand, as well as understanding the insights from those contacts and improving processes where possible.  Or when outbound dialling that productivity and conversion are optimised through tools which support the agent in maximising their potential. Good people are hard to find so ensure you give them the tools to do a great job, failing that there is always the option of outsourcing – a problem shared and all that.