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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | August 24, 2017

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Wouldn’t you increase your talk time with your customers, if you could?

Wouldn’t you increase your talk time with your customers, if you could?
Tom Topolinski


First off, we need to be honest with ourselves.  Today’s business requires support and customer service to our clients.  Based on today’s economy, technologies and processes, most of us find that customer touch must be reduced.  Average Handle Time (AHT) is clearly the key indicator for calls and contacts with clients.  Shorter AHTs in the service level agreements (SLAs) is key to our survival as customer service managers.  Shortening calls and contacts with clients, whether outsourced or self sourced, is a reality.  Today’s technology and processes force us to reduce the time with our clients.

Depending heavily on human labour creates this dilemma.  High costs for labour, bricks and mortar, communications, attrition, retention, training and overall management forces the lower AHT.  We can manage to these metrics to some degree from local, technological, competitive and negotiated cost structures, but in the end, the result is lower AHT to resolve the issues.  And this results in less contact with the client and thus, reducing the talk time with your customers.

Attempted Solutions

We have seen many technology based propositions such as “smart IVRs”, agent-assisted programs and cloud products which would reduce communications and contact costs.  However, none of these address the main issue, only partially.  When they do address the problem, sometimes they introduce other problems with the clients.

IVRs still insist on “fixed responses” and use keyword identification even though some have the ability to mask these fixed responses to some level of conversation.  But these are only partial to the client’s predicted requests and typically provide a shallow solution to the client’s inquiry based on fixed responses.  Most IVR issues are forwarded over to a live agent, which many require a repeat from the client of their inquiry and information provided.  Think about how that client feels having to repeat after typing in or speaking to an IVR system, then having to repeat it all again to a live agent.  Many clients wonder – why not have those live agents handle the call from the beginning?

What If?

What if a client called to a virtual agent (VA) who could converse in a normal type of conversation?  What if the client could ask anything at any time during the conversation and get most of their inquiry resolved by a voice from the company that sounded like a human agent?

What if the cost of this virtual agent was so low that any contact with a client was so insignificant that any contact was promoted and not forced by a strategy of reducing calls or contact with a client?  What if that client called on any issue and received a real-time solution without waiting on a long hold queue, without having to wait for an agent who spoke their specific language?

Today’s Possibilities

Based on artificial intelligence, there are options available today which can deliver these types of functions.  Albeit it is an emerging market: however today, there are possibilities which can provide virtual agents who can converse with clients and provide answers to their questions.

Virtual Assistants or Virtual Agents are available today.  They can be deployed within call queues of human agents, over smartphone applications, over websites as guides, or even through chat servers.  They can answer a large portion of the inquiries or. when necessary, can prepare the call for a pass through to a human agent while passing given information when necessary.

Return on Investment

Some of these offerings offer a huge return on investment (ROI), due to lowering the cost of human agents as well as bricks and mortar for those agents.  They can reduce problems related to accent problems from global locations and peak-time problems. Virtual Agents never sleep, never take vacations nor complain about work conditions. They only need to be trained once and modified to changes as they come up easily (that they may suggest) without the high cost associated with human agents.

Within cloud offerings, they can handle huge numbers of calls without long hold queues and start servicing the clients immediately, eliminating peak volume problems.  They may not be able to handle every single client issue, but when they cannot, they can update the human agent during a pass-off and can introduce the client to the human agent without forcing them to repeat all of the data required to start again. Handling the administrative side of the call at a much reduced cost allows for a high efficiency at the human agent level.  This is a huge dilemma within the current IVR world, which is hit and miss, and increases customer satisfaction due to not having to repeat information requested.

Because of being just a “programming event”, ROI has been seen in some virtual assistant or virtual agent programs within the 90-180 day period.  This is a huge plus on introducing new technology into a customer service program, far beyond history in the call centre arena as we know it.

Increasing Customer Touch

In addition to lowering costs on customer service and support, virtual agents can increase the customer touch by leaps and bounds.  For a standard call centre, phone and chat is the most prevalent way of communicating.  But for virtual assistants, we can see the employment of smartphone applications as well as website avatars who can provide the same level of support without having the client call an 800 number.  This opens up new channels for customer touch and increases the ability to converse with your clients beyond the normal call centre. The ability to increase this customer touch is also done by the same logic of your virtual assistant within your voice strategy, or call centre.  Anything you design should be carried over to the smartphone avatar as well as your web avatar, including any chat logic. For some vendors, multilingual capability would be carried over to all channels of communications.

The goal is to increase customer touch and communication for any reason without regard to budget or any other corporate mandate.  You want your company to converse with your clients as much as possible, so that when they are talking with you they are not searching for other options or talking with your competitors.

Turning a Cost Centre into a Profit Centre

In addition to lowering costs in a major manner for customer touch, what if we could incorporate the internet game on advertising?  If your website and smart phone access is large, what if we could play into the advertising game for up-sells and cross-sells?  What if we could play advertisements in web and smartphone communications?

We could start a revenue generation of our communications with our clients that could offset support expenses to a minimal level or even turn our support center into a profit center.  As a customer service manager, how would the board of directors or management look at you now once you start to offset expenses or even turn a profit on a traditional cost centre?

New Ball Game

This is a new ball game now if you look at it properly.  You can lower your outsourcing or self-sourcing expenses for customer service and in some cases turn this into a profit centre.  You can increase your company’s client touch from a minimal touch strategy to a maximum touch strategy while lowering costs or even turning a profit.  You can talk more with your clients for less money.  In the end, clients don’t care who they talk with, only that they get their problems resolved easily and simply.  But talking in a conversational mode changes the normal IVR solution completely and represents your company well.  Virtual Assistants and Virtual Avatars can do just that.  All you need to do is the due diligence to discover who and which vendors have the right fit for your company.

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