Many people consider Ritz-Carlton the pinnacle of customer service excellence, and stories of how the brand goes out of its way to delight its customers are legendary. For example, one guest forgot his laptop charger while staying at the Ritz. Before he could even call the front desk to inquire about his missing item, the hotel had already couriered his charger with a personal note and extra charger in case he lost his again.
Then there is Atoms, a new shoe company that only manufactures sneakers in two colors: white and black. Despite its roots in Pakistan, the company has created a loyal customer base worldwide with their personalized approach to shoe buying down to the quarter size. In fact, customers who purchase shoes from Atoms receive six pairs: the size ordered and a quarter size bigger and smaller as well.
This is what consumers consider great customer service in 2021.
We now live in a personalized economy wherein everything from your underwear to your perfume can be tailor-made for you. A continued rise in consumer expectations, rapid products/services commoditization, and the ease with which people can switch brands has put personalization and customer experience at a premium for those that yearn to dominate in the market.
And that was before the pandemic.
The current crisis has resulted in droves of people, many of whom are not digital natives, moving to digital channels and asking for help, creating the perfect storm for a new customer service organization - one that balances speed of customer care with personalization, brand connection and empathy.
So what does it take for customer service organizations to meet the new demands of the business? How can we deliver the Ritz-Carlton type of personalized and tailored services to our customers at scale?
Before we dive into what we can do, let's talk about what is holding us back today.
Top 3 Challenges Facing Customer Service Organizations
For those who have spent time in a contact center, it's easy to see the current challenges that are drowning customer service teams today. Agents aren’t just facing a surge of cases. Rather, they’re tasked with solving more complex cases for customers who are harder to satisfy. Add to this the increasing number of channels to be serviced, and the stress faced by customer service agents is palpable.
Unfortunately, the increased demand for customer service isn’t currently being met with increased resources as businesses face budgets cuts and are instructed to do more with less.
A recent survey by Salesforce validates this reality where case volumes have increased by 54% while for the same sample size, budgets remain largely stagnant or are in fact lower about a quarter of the time. Beyond this, headcounts have also largely stayed the same or decreased.
Resources are Generally Stagnant as Workloads Rise:
When you consider the challenges facing customer service agents, the top three—according to a recent 2020 agent survey conducted by Contact Center Pipeline—are "high attrition," "lack of and/or bad desktop tools" and a "lack of understanding and respect for the center’s role."
What are your BIGGEST challenges today?
The root cause of many of these challenges actually boils down to a few fundamental issues that must be addressed for customer service organizations to provide superior, delightful customer-centric service.
Challenge #1 High Attrition and Long Ramp-up Times for New Agents
Talent management comes through as the biggest problem facing most customer service organizations. Long hours, monotonous work and a lack of collaboration between team members—combined with the high stress of dealing with demanding customers—are some reasons why attrition remains high in contact centers.
According to McKinsey, attrition costs companies as much as $10,000 to $20,000 per contact center agent, which includes recruiting costs, upfront training and loss of productivity during the ramp-up phase.
The length of time it takes to successfully onboard a new rep depends upon a number of factors: the tools they need to learn, the number and complexity of your products and services, the customer service soft skills they need to develop, and so on. Given this is the top challenge for most companies, any impact to attrition and on-boarding can go a long way in reducing costs and providing consistent, high quality customer service.
Challenge #2 Lack of Access to Information Needed to Solve Customer Problems
One of the biggest complaints we hear from our customers is the inability to keep their knowledge base up to date given the speed with which businesses change. According to the Salesforce survey, over 50% of the agents are unable to find the information they need to do their jobs.
Agents’ Ability to Find the Information Needed to do Their Job:
Hence, it is understandable why both agents and customers are frustrated—given the lack of correct information and/or time investment required to dig this up for hundreds of customer queries.
The reasons for this problem are many and vary by industry. For example, a real-estate customer of ours faces constant regulatory changes in their industry, making it difficult to maintain an up-to-date knowledge database. Another customer (global printing services company) faces the challenge of information residing in various, disparate silos: emails, old tickets, SharePoint, Google Docs, etc. For others, there is no clear owner responsible for keeping the knowledge base up to date. This means that support teams are often the last to learn about new promotions, campaigns or product changes, which then impacts their ability to provide tailored customer service.
Challenge #3 Too Many Manual Repetitive Tasks
Regardless of your industry, chances are that if you examine your ticket distribution, there are ticket categories where the answer is simple and requires the same actions for all.
From Cleverly’s customer data, we have seen that anywhere from 20-30% of the total ticket volume for most companies is ripe for automation, requiring no agent interaction.
Yet for many companies, even those with advanced tools, there is no visibility into ticket distribution. There is no insight into what is important and should be prioritized or is repetitive and should be automated.
So, given this reality, how can companies ensure operational resiliency while delivering hyper personalized customer service?
Simply put, the only way to do more with less is to improve efficiencies and streamline operations where possible. When Cloud adoption went mainstream, the concept of technology resiliency took center stage as companies prioritized SLAs and uptime to take advantage of Cloud technologies without hurting their business. The post-pandemic world will see a new trend: the shift from technology resiliency to operational resiliency.
In this new reality, one thing is certain - customer service organizations can’t continue to do what most are doing today. In a 2019 Microsoft survey, when customers were polled about the most important aspect of good customer service, having a knowledgeable agent and resolving the issue in one interaction were the most important criteria.
What is the most important aspect of good customer service?
This provides an important insight into what should be prioritized given custom service operations complexity and the wide array of available tools from AI, NLP to analytics. The best-performing companies take a holistic view to improving their operations, which starts with placing the agent experience and empowerment of agents at the heart of the transformation. The framework below provides a step-by-step guide and blueprint for creating a better agent-customer relationship.
The K-TAAS Framework
The K-TAAS framework stands for: Know, Triage, Assist, Automate and Self-service. These five components, when taken together, lay a strong foundation for optimizing your customer service operations based on agent needs.
The first step in delivering exceptional service is to ensure your knowledge base of macros, procedures and FAQs are kept up to date. This is the foundation for delivering operational efficiency, as this is what agents ultimately depend on.
Leverage technology to gain insight into your ticket distribution and identify knowledge gaps. In general, we would say at least 50% to 70% of the requests should be answered with a macro. The actual percentage depends on how technical your business is, the percentage of escalations within customer service and how much needs to be done manually on the backend.
Second, put a strong triage system in place that is based on granular and actionable categorization. For many companies, the classification taxonomy is defined using a best-effort approach — meaning, a team member does his or her best to group all the possible support categories into a tree. However, a manual approach to taxonomy can miss important information like the actual intent of the customer request, making it difficult to prioritize, filter or route tickets accordingly.
For example, we've seen customers with taxonomies of 400-plus categories that are very hard to learn by the agents. Some of them include categories that don't make much sense like "campaign related" instead of "refund request" or "cannot checkout." It's important to have actionable triage labels so we can act on them in terms of optimizing the content and the procedures.
A more effective approach is to combine a data-driven approach with industry knowledge to define a granular actionable taxonomy that fits your business case.
On an ongoing basis, eliminate manual triaging of incoming requests that is prone to human error. Instead, implement technology that automatically labels and distributes these requests with actionable information for better routing, prioritization and automation.
3. Assist Agents with Just-In-Time Support
Once you have the foundational processes taken care of, focus on helping your agents deliver the best service in real-time.
Agents spend 20% of their time looking for information: ensure your knowledge database is up to date and easily accessible to help agents reply to questions more quickly.
Yet this is only the first step. To help your agents do even better, use technology to provide just-in-time help—surfacing the correct macro, script or procedure based on the ticket category while they review a ticket. Employ AI as a virtual in-workflow assist that quietly monitors all tickets and actively supports agents in their response. This can provide information like: What are the customer’s intent and past actions? What is the customer feeling? What is the correct procedure to follow in this context? How have similar tickets been replied to?
Customers who do this not only double agent productivity but also shorten the ramp-up time of new agents.
4. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Next, identify ticket categories wherein agents typically write the same replies—such as when customers request password resets—and automate accordingly.
While some help desk solutions allow you to define rule-based triggers that you can use to reply to specific tickets, a keyword-based approach is not a scalable solution. It is difficult to identify which words should be used to recognize a specific intent, and keyword-based automation can sometimes lead to incorrect responses that can impact your brand reputation. Also, if you are managing keywords manually, this just adds more overhead for your teams to keep up to date as business changes and new requests come in.
A better approach is to start by automating replies for one intent at a time, gaining specific insights regarding the automation in question, exploring and iterating other automation possibilities and gradually increasing the number of tickets solved in this manner.
Per Cleverly customer data, companies can typically apply automation for at least 20-30% of their overall ticket volume. Depending on the industry and type of business, this number can go as high as 60%, but as a rule, you can expect to automate 20-30%.
5. Customer Self-Service
Offering your customers an effective self-service solution is a no-brainer, and most companies have FAQs and help centers to do this. Unfortunately, despite the evolution of search technology, users with questions sometimes can’t find what they are seeking. Other times, they don’t feel like making an effort to search and contact support for simple questions available in existing help center articles or FAQs. This is where AI can really help; when a customer asks a question, AI can detect the intent and recommend the best self-service articles accordingly.
The other problem is that self-service content is typically managed on a manual basis. Required updates or revisions are usually flagged by team members, or—worse—by customers complaining about outdated information. When looking for a self-service solution, make sure the platform:
- Helps you review articles that might be outdated
- Flags where new articles should be created to address knowledge gaps
- Ensures as much information as possible can be collected up front when it is not possible to answer customer questions via existing help center articles
If the self-service solution is implemented properly—with the right technology and relevant content—customers can see anywhere from 10-60% deflection rates using a good self-service solution.
If Ritz Carlton has exceptional customer service, it is because their agents have the time and authority to think creatively. If you want to take your customer service to the next level, the process starts with freeing up agents to focus on applying the right judgment and solving problems resourcefully.
To accomplish this, companies must do two things: First, you must improve at collecting customer and agent interaction data to understand where and how to support, augment or eliminate steps. Second, you have to marry human and machine intelligence where possible to manage spikes in customer volume, case complexity and the reality of a remote work environment. The 5-step K-TAAS framework provides a roadmap for achieving this at scale. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, companies that get this right will be able to provide a personalized customer service experience and carve out a strong competitive advantage in their industry.
For more information on the framework and to learn how you can take your customer service operations to the next level, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the full solution, contact email@example.com