Today’s companies are challenged to meet everyday customer service pressures while also building for the future. They must provide optimized customer service across various digital channels while also using new tools to better understand customer demographics and preferences, to deliver more personalized service. The ability to simultaneously achieve these goals is really a differentiator in a world where many products and services are commoditized. HfS Research is one of the expert analyst firms HGS works with to validate our digital innovation direction and sharpen our solutions approach. With this HGS Expert Perspectives interview, Wendy Shlensky, Vice President, Analyst and Advisor Relations, HGS, delves into the challenges and opportunities of today’s CX landscape with Melissa O’Brien, Research Director, Contact Center, Omnichannel Operations and BPO at HfS Research. Melissa’s research coverage includes customer experience management services, exploring ties with marketing operations and developing thought leadership around intelligent automation for contact center and vertically-specific customer engagement business processes.
Wendy: Can you share the trends you’ve seen in customer service?
Melissa: Today’s customer service trends are being driven by customer expectations for really simple and straightforward communication. In many cases, this means self-service tools, although customers also sometimes need to pick up the phone and speak with a person. Depending on objectives and available channels, customers will use various ways to communicate with companies to ask a question or give feedback. Balancing self-service and digital—including human assistance, when needed—is a significant customer service focus area. Customer service solutions that pre-empt and solve customer inquiries—before requiring agent assistance—are driving self-service as a solution to decrease customer effort. Improving self-service is frequently put forward as a cost savings mechanism, but often has the most immediate impact on service quality and consistency. Most importantly, weaving all of the potential touchpoints to support an omnichannel customer experience is a design challenge for most organizations to undertake.
Wendy: How essential are digital CX tools in today’s marketplace?
Melissa: These digital tools are critical. At HfS, we have been working on the concept of a digitally enabled contact center. We have produced a competitive assessment of service providers in this space. Essentially, this means that a contact center is equipped to service today’s digital customer, who, as we all know, has increasing expectations in terms of communication channels. At the most basic level, the start of the digitally enabled contact center means embracing “digital” channels: social media; web self-service, including mobile apps and visual IVR; video kiosks; and chat. Also important is seeking to use automation to create efficiencies; and the really smart contact center operators are trying to figure out how to involve increasingly intelligent automation into the mix. However, it’s more than just implementing these channels, it’s the design of how each channel fits into the overall customer journey, and the understanding of how talent fits into the equation. This talent should not only be able to handle communication on varied channels that demand different styles (yet be consistent), but can also take contextual information from multiple sources and use that in a way that benefits the customer. From an analytics perspective, it’s all about using the data to better understand customers, enable personalization, and be more predictive.
Wendy: How is this changing BPO services engagements?
Melissa: Digital channels and the underlying technology will fundamentally change the way that service providers and buyers of BPO services engage. We have learned from our recent Intelligent Operations that almost half of senior leadership buyers are using a “customer first” strategy to drive their sourcing models. This means embracing the change and solution ideals of “As-a-Service,” including design thinking. We see opportunity for service providers to use design thinking to help their clients develop better processes, especially around “customer journey maps.” Rethinking customer journey design is absolutely essential to the digital customer experience. For example, HfS recently spoke with a retailer that was struggling with efficient scheduling processes for an in-store service. The service provider took the approach of interviewing the staff members fulfilling the services to understand the areas where they saw inefficiencies and problems. The results included a scheduling process redesign that blended the digital self-service channels and those that were human assisted. Often, design thinking projects will involve an employee-centric approach—recognizing that employees are customers, too, who often hold the key to improving customer experience. The service provider-buyer relationship is also affected by buyers’ expectations of greater flexibility and value. Some service providers are looking to their BPOs to be really nimble, and scale, as needed. Additionally, they want their service providers to be thought leaders and help them figure out this puzzle of digital customer interactions.
Wendy: What do you see as the future of digital BPO?
Melissa: In a customer-first digital economy, BPOs will strive to find the right balance of technology and talent, and deliver that as effortlessly as possible to clients. Contact center service providers’ strategies must be multi-fold—they must provide something more valuable in conjunction with traditional operations that addresses automation and self-service, built in with exceptional support (with a great talent strategy) to address the changing contact center model to derive more value out of clients’ investments. What’s one of the biggest wild cards, with the biggest impact? It’s artificial intelligence, or the development of “intelligent” virtual assistants. While right now most contact center automation is augmenting agent talent, we are seeing virtual agent pilots and POCs that can replace some contact center talent. Regardless of how quickly this evolves, eventually artificial intelligence will have a material impact on contact centers. Service providers, together with their clients, will need to figure out how to blend the best of human and artificial intelligence, and most importantly have a greater sense of urgency to understand how this will impact the customer experience.