As the field of customer service shifts more from managing customer relationships to managing the customer experience, we are seeing related changes as well regarding how contact centers manage their staffing and systems. To provide an outstanding customer experience, businesses are realizing the critical need for live help and unified communications. In essence, it's about getting back to basics.
In the early '80s, CRM started out with an emphasis on sales and service automation, using CRM systems for comprehensive contact management and consistent sales follow-through. Over time, interactive voice response (IVR), knowledge databases for self-help, and long lists of FAQs have become the norm for customer service. Understandably, companies have tried to reduce costs by replacing reps with automation wherever possible, and hoping that customers could just help themselves.
As it turns out, customers are indeed happy to help themselves, but self-help is not necessarily enough. For most businesses, great service still requires access to live reps.
Increasing Need for Live Help
As consumers spend more time online, the demand for live chat and personal contact is also on the rise. In fact, half of consumers worldwide browse and research products online daily. That's nearly double the number reporting such habits in 2009, according to a recent study by database-pioneer Oracle.
Consumer use of online customer service is also on the rise, Oracle reports, as 50 percent of consumers now use live chat compared with 37 percent using it in 2009. Oracle says live chat is among the three most important features consumers expect to find at a company's website, along with detailed information about products and services, and access to personal account information.
"As consumers frequent online sites more than ever, they expect to engage with companies' customer service representatives while they are there," explained Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail. "Whether the customer visits the company's commerce site or social media page, there must be a clear link to a customer service person that is informed and able to help."
Live Chat Enables Cross-Selling
What does that mean for today's contact centers? According to Michael Misasi, a senior analyst at Mercator Advisory Group, a payments industry consultancy, it means more focus on live chat and email support are needed.
Sharing his input with BankTech.com, Misasi explained, "The call center [or more accurately, the contact center] of the future will have a stronger focus on live chat and email support, which [in the case of banks] could potentially be delivered within a mobile banking application. Inbound phone calls will always be a priority, but banks are having success resolving many of these interactions with automated systems, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated."
"There will also likely be an increased emphasis on cross-selling and up-selling. Banks will rely on call centers for revenue generation, not just customer service," he added.
Live Chat Drives Intent To Buy
Of course, the increased reliance on contact centers for revenue generation isn't just happening in the banking industry. Auto dealers are among those who say live chat helps sell cars. In an Accenture Automotive study last year, almost seven in 10 said they would welcome the chance to chat with auto dealers.
"Shoppers who chat are often giving strong intent-to-buy signals, so it's vitally important that auto manufacturers and dealerships are ready and waiting to answer questions online," said Ed Parkinson, VP of Automotive Solutions at Contact At Once. "They could be hours or even minutes away from making a purchase decision, and dealerships who have salespeople immediately available to chat or text with them can have the inside advantage."
Live Chat Curbs Abandonment
According to the Connecting with Customers Report, commissioned by LivePerson and performed by third party market research firm Loudhouse, 71 percent of visitors expect to be able to access help within five minutes when purchasing online, while 31 percent expect this help to be immediate. If this support wasn't forthcoming within their expected time frames, 48 percent said they would go elsewhere or abandon their purchases altogether.
What's more, 93 percent of consumers see real-time help as being beneficial during their online customer journeys, whether it's before, during or after their purchasing processes. Fifty-one percent stated that they were more likely to purchase from websites if they could get answers via live chat.
"With consumers becoming more adept and familiar with digital channels, they have come to expect the same levels of help and customer service as they would in a physical store," said Jeremy Sokolic, senior vice president of Marketing at LivePerson.
"The research shows that consumers are quick to abandon a purchase and jump to another website if they don't receive the assistance they want, in the time frame they expect," he said. "To drive conversions and really impact customer loyalty, online businesses need to be able to derive insights from consumer behavior, identify the type and level of engagement that consumers require, and respond accordingly."
Image credit: iStock/Artist's concept.