Does your customer service strategy include the latest user trends?
Most customer service strategies include common channels to allow contact with end users through phone, chat or web interactions. Referred to as “contact centres”, these units are typically the only way for an end user to reach out for help to a specific vendor or provider. Whether your call centre/contact centre is outsourced or self-sourced by your company, it can be expensive to operate and seldom is able to meet all of the end user’s needs within a high level of customer satisfaction. Long hold-times, queue abandonments, language barriers and unskilled or improperly trained agents available when the end user requires it, make for an unpleasant experience that is then transferred to your brand equity.
Creeping up on us over the past several years, many end users are using new technologies we are all aware of; however, are we aware of the missed opportunities within these new offerings? Specifically, I’m speaking about the huge wave of smartphones, the devices we might take for granted that many – and in some cases most – of our user base now rely on. Users no longer want to deal with a call centre if there is another path of resolution, especially if that path includes using an application on their smart phone. Why deal with accent problems, long hold-times in a queue and then to possibly get to someone who can’t either understand my problem or sends me down a path alone to attempt a solution only to find that it didn’t work and I’m starting all over again? As an end user, if I could use an application on my smartphone or chat with an agent through texting that solves my problem, what do I care if I talk to a real person or not?
Statistics of an end-user trend change
Many industry analysts and followers are predicting that smartphones are currently outselling PCs. Estimates are that over one billion phones are sold globally per year, with 850,000 smartphones being sold each day (310 million per year). This surge of technology infusion into the end-user world will definitely have an impact on user trends, user behavior and how people access information and support – especially if the vendor offers an application that I can access from my smartphone.
Sources: RF Culbertson/Carnegie Mellon University and IDC
Smartphones are basically replacing many of the user’s requirements for a PC or laptop. They are getting so powerful now that they are transcending from a mobile extension of the PC to a full replacement for many. With the latest offerings available, as well as many other add-ons and ongoing advancements, smartphones are becoming a dominate information and a communication hub for society.
Consider the following:
- over 82% of all U.S. adults are now active cell phone users;
- over 44% of all cell phone users have apps on their phone (rising quickly);
- 5 billion smart phone applications have been downloaded – generating over $1 billion for developers;
- iPhones control over 58% of the mobile browsing market (with Android their closest competitor, having under 23% as of Q3 2010); and
- over 3 million iPads have been sold by Q4 2010 (1 million more than forecast).
Sources: RF Culbertson/Carnegie Mellon University and IDC
So, providing customer service on your products or services is no longer handcuffed to the aged call centre/contact centre model. Users are open and hungry to use their new-found, powerful tools in the smartphone to access information, buy product, track shipments, make travel arrangements, make reservations, find locations of businesses, get product support and almost anything they did on their PC and phone – but now they want it on their smartphone.
Many users also tend to use texting more for communication rather than voice. Texting through IM or chat lines is becoming a preferred manner of “talking” to many, if not the main portion of the user population. Texting eliminates accents, and at least one product has a multi-lingual text chat capability, where your agents are speaking in English but the users can talk in one of many languages. This same product also provides a virtual agent who can handle many of the same issues a human agent can, while the user believes they are texting to a real person.
If you are not incorporating the latest user trends into your strategy, you are clearly missing an opportunity and opening yourself up to your competition, which are – or will be at some point – catering to them.
One case study I have recently analysed is where smartphones have clearly changed a large population’s method of communicating to a service provider, a municipality. A large city in the US, like several hundred others, had invested in a fairly expensive 311 information call centre over the past several years. They were paying upwards of $4 per call to provide non-emergency services to their public.
Then the municipality purchased a new product, based on artificial intelligent technology, which allowed them to create an application on smartphones as well as virtual agents for their phone agents. Within several months, their cost was reduced to less than $1 per contact, and they increased their contacts exponentially as more of their citizens used the new and more powerful application. Because the hold-times and the common problems associated with human call centres were virtually eliminated, their customer satisfaction climbed exponentially as well. Plus, they were able to significantly increase their offerings to their constituents.
Their citizens could now pay their water bill online, report a pot-hole in the city with a picture and GPS reading, report graffiti in the same manner, notify someone of a traffic-light outage, find a real-time bus schedule and gain information from the city on new programs, taxes, news and alerts, as well as many other programs.
Every month the city easily incorporates new functionality and all the while their costs are reduced from the call centre model while their offerings and services to their end users increase. In addition, the city was able to sell space on their window for advertising and created a revenue stream. Estimating the timeframe based on real results, within 18 months of the startup, the cost centre for the call centre will become a profit centre, all the while increasing functionality to their customers while increasing efficiency in problem solving. Customer satisfaction has moved up quickly and the city’s efficiency to respond to problems has increased (you can fix what you know is broken).
This city quickly learned that the key to customer service is not answering a phone call in a call centre more quickly; it’s getting the information out to the right parties, getting pertinent information from their customer base to respond to and thus resolving problems more rapidly. Lastly, all of this communication with the end users and the service provider is done over the web, so there are smaller communications costs to bear.
Think of a call centre eliminating 10 million minutes per month, or 333,000 minutes per day. Even at 1 cent per minute, that saving is over $100,000 per month in telecom fees, while you are generating 2.5 million opportunities to generate advertising revenue while solving problems that typically came to the call centre. The end users don’t really care how this is done, only that it’s done quickly and accurately. And, these contacts could come in Spanish, German, Italian, or any one of 25 languages and get resolved without having a specific human agent who can speak that language available at the time of the call. This is exactly what I mean by including the latest user trends into your customer service strategy.
Not every customer service function will apply to a smartphone application and certainly not every call centre / contact centre function will be replaced by the same. However, many functions can be taken care of through self-service channels on a smartphone. The more functions you provide on these devices, the more end-user interaction you will accommodate, thus increasing your customer satisfaction with lower costs than the standard techniques in a standard call centre.
There are many companies who tout artificial intelligent smartphone applications out there and some are for real and some are still in the marketing stages. If you desire, simply send me an e-mail and I’ll gladly send you information based upon my research.