Why is Customer Service So Bad at Handoffs?

September 8, 2016
PV Kannan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

You might be wondering why I've chosen to use a picture from "Young Frankenstein" to accompany an article about customer service. Like many people, I've been thinking about the comic genius of Gene Wilder, and remembering this movie monster creation, stitched together from disparate parts. This kind of monster doesn’t just exist in the movies, I thought. It exists in customer service.

Recently, I was approached by Marketplace reporter @Sally Herships who asked me a simple yet profound question: "why, when calling companies for customer service, do consumers often have to enter information, like an account number, or date of birth, via an automated system, but then have to repeat it to a human operator?" It's something every consumer has experienced, and they deserve an answer.

The resulting story "Why is automated phone help so bad?" aired nationally on NPR, and explores some of the issues associated with interactive voice response (IVR) systems and the handoff to a human agent. Among them are the failure of many large companies to integrate their IVR systems with their live agents, the delay in agents being able to pull up relevant information and the lack of supervisors on the contact center floor.

IVRs are popular because they help reduce the costs of interactions with live agents, but when agents don't have access to the information they need to do their jobs, it leads to frustration, and many times consumers request to speak to a floor supervisor. You canlisten to the story here, and hear Sally's reaction when I told her that some contact center employees will put a consumer on hold and then come back on the line as a "supervisor."

What if a consumer starts a journey on a website and transfers to a contact center? Shouldn't that context transfer as well? We know from a global study of 3500 consumers that 64 percent of consumers start their customer service journeys on the web, as opposed to 23% who start on the phone. Those percentages are shifting every day as businesses move increasingly towards digital channels.

The problem is not IVR technology, but rather computer telephony integration or "CTI" (or lack thereof), along with simple business processes. So what can businesses do to improve customer service in world where frustration runs high and customers are channel hopping frequently to get what they need to get done?

Connect the touchpoints

More than 50 percent of consumers are already on a company's site when they call an IVR system, however, being on the web and on the phone simultaneously means tracking two fragmented interactions. It’s a high-effort experience, compounded by the fact that voice interactions and web content typically are not designed to work well together.

Modern IVR systems are becoming "web-aware," meaning that they can understand when a consumer is online, and what they are doing. To determine where and how you’ll need to make your IVR web-aware, you need to focus on customers’ high-value journeys. That means understanding where in your channels customers fail to accomplish what they’re trying to do.

There are four key success factors that are common to successful web-aware IVR deployments:

  • Have an audacious goal but a pragmatic approach - Solve the right problems. To determine where and how you'll need to make your IVR web-aware, you need to focus on customers' high-value journeys. Certain intents and journeys are great candidates for self-service, but others require assistance and end up getting escalated to agents.
  • Anticipate and understand customer intent - Use predictive models to understand intent and make customer engagement smarter and more conversational. Deep Neural Network (DNN) technology is important because it dramatically improves the ability and accuracy of the recognition in the most challenging acoustic environments.
  • Be "journey-aware" - Focus on logical channel pairs and retain relevant content. Make an IVR web-aware is to determine the most logical channel pairs for your company. What are the high-volume channels that people use and tend to escalate from one to the next? Web and phone will be the logical starting point for most businesses.
  • Orchestrate experiences - Choreograph a consumer's experience within and across channel pairs such as web to IVR, virtual agent to chat or mobile app to agent. Channel orchestration combines different channels either simultaneously or sequentially. It depends on the nature of the experience and what needs to be done.

Provide Intent-Driven Experiences

Businesses have enough information about consumer journeys (and individual customers), that they can determine what the consumer is trying to do. Consumers want an IVR that considers who they are, what they did on the web or in mobile apps, and what they tried before calling the 800 number. By gleaning insights from the customer’s activities in other channels, devices and sessions, you can predict in real-time, why the customer is calling and provide a more relevant and personalized IVR experience.

When companies do this, they can more quickly solve problems, make their customers happier and sell more products. Intent-driven experiences can increase self-service rates by up to 25%, raise call completion rates up as high as 90%, reduce IVR call duration up to 30%, saves customers’ time and drive higher CSAT and NPS.

One company that does this is Avis Budget Group. ABG is connecting consumer journeys through the web, IVR, mobile, and social media touch points and maintain one continuous customer journey to rent a car. Since speech recognition is even more critical in the cacophony of airports and other busy public spaces, ABG uses a platform that incorporates Microsoft's Deep Neural Networks technology so that customers can effortlessly complete their transactions in the IVR.

Digitize the interaction

Businesses have the opportunity to embrace the digitization that the smartphone offers, enabling the enterprise to craft a compelling customer experience. You can give customers the option to invoke a visual experience, callback or mobile chat session from within the call and make IVR integral to digital customer engagement on mobile devices.

Taking this a step further, imagine what's possible with Visual IVR. Let's a consumer's card is temporarily deactivated due to suspicious activity. The consumer calls the IVR, and the IVR (or agent) reads a set of charges, which can be tedious and challenging to recollect. However, with Visual IVR, the consumer can receive a text with a link that opens a mobile web session. There, they can quickly navigate through the charges and double-click to see more detail. It's a rich, interactive experience that takes full advantage of the consumer's smart device.

But it can be even better. If you're logged in to the website when you call, an IVR that employs "presence technology" can invite you to review the charges on your PC or tablet instead of your smartphone. Presence determines if you're using more than one channel (e.g. a smartphone and a PC) and adapts to the consumer’s screens to make things as easy as possible for them.

Customer service is an area that's rife with opportunity for improvement. I'm hopefully in the next few years that smooth handoffs between IVRs, agents and channels, will be the norm, rather than the exception.

PV Kannan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer
PV Kannan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

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