In the fight for excellent customer service, companies need to go digital first

Originally published on EngineerIT in March 2022

By Ryan Falkenberg, Co-CEO of CLEVVA Pty. Ltd.

Excellent customer service, particularly excellent digital customer service, has been catapulted into the spotlight with the rapid uptake of online services and commerce. Many businesses need to move their customer service and support from a ‘people plus technology’ approach to a digital first approach. But where do you start?

Many companies start with chatbots and digitising their FAQs. They try to put their most common and easily answerable questions online in the hope this will slow down the volume of queries coming into their contact centres, but all it does is create more friction.

Customer service queries can broadly be divided into three categories: informational – tell me more about something; transactional – I want to buy a new data bundle; and advisory – which solution is best for me?

Businesses tend to start with chatbots, answering generic informational queries. Over time they may try to upgrade their chatbot’s capability to handle basic transactional queries. Typically, that is where it ends, and everything else gets handled by an agent using live chat.The reason is that most chatbots are designed to be question/answer machines. They try to understand your question or query, and then search their knowledge base for the right answer. With customer service queries, there is seldom a straightforward answer. To get to the answer, you first need to clarify their question and diagnose their need, situation or the root cause of their problem before trying to work out the right answer. Plus, you need to do this in line with a range of business and regulatory rules, with a detailed record to prove it.

As a result, chatbots have often created more customer friction than benefit. Who wants to engage with a chatbot when you know they are not up to the job? You would rather go directly to a human. For many companies, this reality has made them very cautious about embracing digital self-service, but this is before digital experts arrived on the scene.

“The benefit with digital experts is that you can get your digital self-service offering up and running pretty quickly. Step one is to get your digital expert simply playing the role of ‘customer service triage’. This means whenever a customer types in a request or query, the digital expert makes sure their request is properly understood.

It does this by asking the questions needed to accurately classify the request or query, in context. Once the request is clearly understood, the digital expert can then ensure that the query, with all the additional context, is passed through to a live agent for immediate resolution.

You simply start by getting the digital expert to better understand the details of every request and query. This insight is critical for step two – the targeted automation of the high impact/high volume queries.

This step involves you ‘training’ your digital expert to resolve prioritised queries without having to hand over to an agent. This means that within the first few weeks, your digital expert resolves say ten of the identified 200 query types, while handing the remaining 190 across to a live agent to resolve. Then gradually over the next few months, your digital expert resolves more and more of the prioritised queries alone, until most queries coming into your digital channels are handled unassisted.

From the customer’s perspective, the transition feels seamless. Where most queries initially get resolved by a human agent via live chat, over time they find their queries handled first touch by the digital expert. All that changes is that more and more queries get resolved quicker, with less waiting. This approach to slowly shifting more query resolution from live agents to a digital expert makes the adoption of digital less daunting. You don’t put all your eggs into one basket. You simply hand less across to a live agent, and get more done digitally.

Research conducted by the chat commerce company Clickatell shows (for inbound averages) that the total cost to service using a call centre agent ranges between R20 – R50 per query. Deflecting more calls away from agents to digital experts not only means a dramatic reduction in this cost to serve, but also that your agents can now invest more of their time on higher impact calls.

The emergence of digital experts capable of resolving informational, transactional and advisory queries, in context, across multiple web, mobile, chat and email channels, without the need for human involvement, is transforming the customer service landscape. Not only is it allowing more customer service queries to be resolved unassisted via digital self-service channels, it means human agents can now be used to have longer, deeper, more meaningful customer conversations – the ones that really make a real difference to customer loyalty.

What is a digital expert?

A digital expert resolves customer requests, queries, issues or complaints without the need to bring a human into the loop. Operating like human customer service specialists, they are capable of having hyper-personalised conversations via multiple digital channels such as websites, mobile apps, WhatsApp and e-mail channels. Unlike digital assistants like chatbots that struggle to resolve service queries without the help of live agents, digital experts are designed to handle them entirely unassisted. They can clarify every customer query, analyse their situation, problem or need, identify the right solution(s) in line with business rules and then trigger the right actions. By resolving more queries digitally, first touch, digital experts reduce call volumes into the contact centres. They not only reduce the total cost to serve, but also improve service quality by freeing agents to have more impactful, meaningful service conversations.

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