Taking a Conversational Marketing Approach to Your Contact Center

While many businesses are increasingly driving self-service models, there remains an ever-present need for a high performing contact center. Where organizations miss the mark is attempting to replace the conversation with robust scripts, scenarios, IVR, etc. They overlook the reason the customer called in the first place--for individual service. It is frustrating and aggravating to engage in a customer service call in which policies and procedures are regurgitated from content the customer has most likely already reviewed…they are calling on the hope that the brand will treat them uniquely or as an exception. If that’s the case, then a one size fits all approach will not only fall short of customer expectations, it may lead to customer loss and negative customer sentiment.

But every business depends on its customers as the foundation of organizational health. The quality of these relationships is the culmination of every interaction that has occurred with customers. Organizations invest significant resources to make sure the user experience is tested, evaluated, and delivered efficiently in order to increase the likeliness that every online interaction exceeds customer expectations.

According to a study by Zendesk, 72 percent of customers go online to serve themselves, with a 12 percent rise in self-service usage. This is a dramatic increase in time spent online where customers expect flawless interaction. Paradoxically, only 52 percent of those customers are able to completely satisfy their self-service needs, and ultimately end up contacting companies for more information and/or service. These customers require more complex answers and more personalized service, creating a unique set of opportunities and challenges for contact centers.

In Deloitte’s 2013 Global Contact Center Survey, it was reported that as ecommerce numbers boom and SaaS products flood the market, customers depend on contact centers more than ever, and that trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Additionally, it was stated that 82 percent of the respondents recognized “accuracy and quality of information” as the most important customer experience attribute. While it may seem challenging to deliver a great user experience and maintain accurate and quality information across all customer touch points, companies that can deliver on this customer demand within their contact center experience stand to gain significant market share.

HOW DID THE PARADIGM SHIFT?

When we think about the transformative role that technology has played in our lives recently, we think about the business models that have been changed or eliminated through the presence of exceptionally built online interfaces. The best of these interfaces have been successful by reducing or eliminating personal interaction, and subsequently the cost of the business model that preceded it.

Technology has shifted the paradigm. It wasn’t in the too distant past that it was essential for companies to start emulating their brick and mortar retail experience on their websites. Customers grew to expect that whether entering the doors of a retail store or visiting a website, they would be greeted with the same messaging, feel, and attentiveness. The shift today sees companies doing the opposite. Customers are shopping online more than ever due to the tools that new technologies have made available, i.e. viewing past purchases, maintaining shopping carts, product recommendations, etc. Because of this, customers are now expecting companies to emulate their online experience in stores with items like kiosks for catalog and search, mobile push notifications or beacons, tablet checkout, and other features that feel more like the comforts of their online experience.

Similarly, travel, banking, buying a car, buying a home, and even B2B interactions have been transformed by this paradigm.

Travel – ability to segment down to the most finite detail (pet friendly, all-inclusive, special dietary capabilities), real-time availability, instant behavior based recommendations and cross sales, as well as access to online reviews giving users the ability to choose a truly personalized experience.

Retail – Elimination of apprehension to buy items such as apparel, jewelry, and luxury items that previously needed to be online because of in-store/automated returns, tools to virtually try on items, cross sale of accessories and/or related outfit items, suggestions based on past purchases, standardization of free shipping and reasonably priced shipping expedition, in-store pickup, and multiple payment methods, etc.

Financial services – paperless deposits, managed alerts, online account management, automated payments, loan sourcing across multiple lenders, etc.

B2B – Real-time inventory check, contract based pricing, automated reordering or order copy and edit, vendor managed inventory, virtual catalogs, etc. all deliver items which previously consumed an inordinate amount of resources, time, and effort are now automated, allowing more focus on core sales functions.

In the past, all of these activities required some level of personal interaction and in most cases a significant amount of time with someone face-to-face. The success of organizations that led these markets was largely based on the effectiveness of the relationships customer-facing representatives had with prospective buyers. As more technology became available, businesses were able to automate items that often required custom engagement before.

  • Automated account balance checking

  • Password resets

  • Frequently Asked Questions section of websites

  • Online forums where interactive responses are provided by other users to resolve a customer’s issue

  • Voice Enabled Interactive Voice Response that eliminated the need for the clunky dial pad process for customers to gather information

Each of these internal modifications were sold to senior management in their respective organizations at one point as a way to decrease call volume and reduce cost.

In large part, that hasn’t happened. Why not?

Because consumers are using the online experience to inform themselves, solve minor issues and complete routine tasks. With mundane tasks out of the way, the reason customers call contact centers now is to handle more and more complex items and to receive (in large part) a much different level of engagement than at times in the past.

So in alignment with the shifts outlined earlier, customer expectations have shifted once again.

HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOU?

It means that the process-first, canned and scripted approach to contact center management, leading with metrics like ‘Average Handle Time’ no longer represents successful customer experience management. Additionally, customers who choose to call have generally exhausted online capabilities or policies and are seeking a customer-service representative to address their need.

HOW DO YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS TREND? ENTER CONVERSATIONAL MARKETING.

Companies that understand the evolution of customer needs and modify their old habits to accommodate these changes will be able to differentiate themselves by including the contact center as a cohesive element within the customer journey. Conversational Marketing is an approach that employs a listen and lead strategy to engage customers, delivering a productive result and quantified as ‘Value Per Interaction’. It allows for personalized, one-on-one communication between company and customer, strengthening the relationship and the brand image overall.

HOW DOES THE CONVERSATIONAL MARKETING APPROACH ADDRESS THIS?

We have evidence that supports that the most critical role of the contact center has to become strengthening the relationship with a customer at every interaction through personalized and complex conversations. The framework to do that has evolved from:

the manufacturing method of the past that is largely based on a scientific approach in which the most effective tactical path was identified and replicated by robots without variation

…to:

a relationship building approach where science and art combine in equal parts to address a customer’s concern and track the interaction in a way that provides useful data, along with customizing discussions to meet customers’ needs in a way that influences how they feel, not just what they hear.

Conversational marketing is:

  • 1 on 1

  • Personalized

  • Communication with a customer that strengthens the relationship with your brand and encourages future engagement

To successfully execute conversational marketing, the previous rules need to be challenged. Genuine relationships with customers require authenticity, taking a listening first approach, freedom to pursue the RIGHT solution (not just the cheapest), and the reliance on senior management to evaluate the ‘Value Per Interaction’ metrics in a contact center, not just the cost.

Will paying your front-line employees $2.00 more per year more than make up for itself in customer retention?

Will more training and communication empower your staff and translate to increased customer satisfaction?

Will an engaged workforce and intentional investment in company culture decrease new employee recruiting and training costs enough to offset the downtime you take to create these experiences?

We have proven the answer to all of these questions can be yes, when led appropriately.

A conversational marketing approach can turn your contact center into a profit center, as long as you are willing to challenge some previously held beliefs.