Following on from our previous post, this is all very interesting but what does this mean in the reality of our business today? Let’s run a worked example with a nominal 1,000 seat contact centre, historically providing sales and service on voice. An exec decision to implement web chat based on an efficiency business case typically creates organisational complexity, generally no additional staff short term, and an expectation of staff reduction in the medium term.
For this example, the total capacity of the contact centre is 500k contacts / month and to bring the new channel onboard a small number of staff are moved on to the digital channels resulting in:
- Voice staff – 950
- Contacts / month / FTE - 500
- Total contacts / month – 475,000
- Chat staff – 50
- Contacts / month / FTE - 600
- Total contacts / month – 30,000
The total capacity has increased by 5,000 contacts a month as planned. However, call volume has not decreased, abandonment rate on voice remains constant at 7% and there is an overall increase in contact volume. Not what was imagined but the operational efficiency promise is surfacing, but no actual cost savings available.
Why not? Well there are two things happening here, the first is a maths problem, the second a behavioural change.
On the maths side, creating new capability with a digital team will have deflected some contacts and eaten into the latent demand of the voice channel, but the reduction in voice capacity isn’t matched by the offset to digital. Key to this is the capacity is being managed to abandonment rates so doesn’t actually reduce call volume. Ultimately customer engagement is a function of constrained operational budgets and legacy processes not actual customer requirements regardless of engagement channel.
On the behavioural side, the pain threshold for a customer connecting to a brand with messaging or chat is much lower than it is with voice. This results in more customers wanting to start more conversations with a brand so contacts and associated costs increase.
What’s needed is a strategy to square this particular circle and this is where AI can come to your assistance.
Implications of AI
Rather than looking at your contact volume by channel, look through the lens of customer journey, intent or outcomes. By taking this approach we can focus on the contact drivers which will be consistent across channels, rather than organisational structure and cost base.
This methodology enables us to create a single AI intent model to describe the business. We use this model as the basis of our automation strategy, regardless of channel, to improve the self-serve resolution rates of our customer journeys. Expect the intent split by channel to be skewed, with digital seeing a greater percentage of simple intents and voice carrying proportionately more complaints and complex queries.
Again, you will notice increased call lengths, lower FCR and NPS metrics on the remaining voice calls so need to set internal expectations appropriately.
When considering a strategy there are three general themes. The phasing of each will depend on your strategic business goals and ambition.
With a multi-channel, AI driven engagement capability in place, you can assume a first phase will resolve 20% of customer intents and up to 40% of all contacts. Future phases will require systems integration and greater thought to address the intents as they become more complex leaving you to determine at which point to stop - When does the benefit not justify the investment?
Customer Journey Analysis
Focus on journeys, across channels, to understand which provide greatest customer and business value. By joining these journeys up across your digital, voice, and physical touchpoints you improve understanding on where to focus optimisation effort. Although there may be a pre-determined conception of where issues exist, these tend to be within a channel / functional silo rather than holistically across a customer journey. Resolving trigger conditions for customer contact improves customer experience and delivers significant operational efficiencies.
The premise of staffed digital channels being more efficient than voice holds true, particularly so when your team use AI to support their customer conversations and use automation in their processes. The implication is that a strategy to shift contacts from voice will carry benefit using these relatively simple techniques:
- Deflect voice to messaging and web chat
- Email deflection strategy
- Implement messaging across mobile app and Social Media platforms
Artificial Intelligence, channels, functionality and capability are all interesting conversations if that is your thing. However, to truly transform your customers’ experiences for the better (which we’re assuming is the preference!) then the benefit will be realised faster by redefining how you view the problem.
Most of your services and customer problems persist unchanged and are well known through business expertise and understanding of your customers. So, re-order your questions around customer contact:
Why is the customer in contact with my brand at this moment? What do I know about them, their history, their usual behaviour, recent or current events effecting their experience?
Do we have the answer? Is the query / problem / issue resolvable
Where are they? They have chosen a contact channel for their own preference, regardless of if you wanted or expected them to. Does that channel choice enhance your understanding of their intent and/or what the best resolution path is?
Are they in the best to receive the answer that? Customers don’t, necessarily, mind shifting or crossing channels if you can get them to their best point of resolution quickly. But unless it’s frictionless and enhances their experience, channel shift is almost as bad as ignoring them.
Do you have visibility into the journey they’ve taken to the point of contact, how you resolved their issue, and the impact that had on their experience and your business metrics? Let’s not fall into the trap of the last 20 years of adding complexity without a plan to properly measure and optimise how you engage your customers.
Remember, conversations with your customers are GOOD. A well planned AI supported digital engagement strategy can help you open up conversations at a scale that has never been possible.