The Intelligent Customer Front Door

Jun 18, 2008 9:41 PM  By

How a company delivers customer service leaves a lasting impression: A positive experience leads to increased loyalty and sales, while a poor experience leads to frustration and increased churn. That’s why forward-thinking companies now take a proactive approach to customer service.

As a primary touch point for customers, it’s imperative that the contact center adopts a strategic role in order for a business to succeed. Companies are replacing their existing interactive voice response (IVR) systems with speech-enabled, self-service systems.

These systems provide a more personalized customer experience through the intelligent use of blended self- and agent-assisted service, as well as the opportunity to better align the contact center with the business goals and customer service strategies of the organization.

The critical importance of customer service
Frederick Reichheld, in his book “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value,” indicates that it costs five times as much to acquire new customers than it does to nurture existing customers into becoming brand champions. Reichheld also estimates that increasing a company’s brand champions by just 5% would lead to an average profit increase of roughly 25%.

Research has shown that customer service is one of the biggest influencers on loyalty today. Therefore, it is imperative that customer satisfaction be a key consideration when companies evaluate, choose, and implement customer interaction technologies.

First impressions count
Because the contact center is often where a customer first interacts with a company, it has become the de facto “front door” to the corporate brand. Yet, all too often, the experience is less than welcoming. Our research indicates that consumers expressed their greatest dissatisfaction with long contact center hold times, IVR systems with too many or incorrect options, and having to repeat information they’ve already provided.

Traditional IVR systems were designed to reduce costs by force-fitting customers into a self-service menu structure, regardless of the customer’s type of request or their value to the business. The result of this model is that customers often hang up out of sheer frustration. While in the short-term this approach does help to save expenses, the company pays a higher price in the long-term by negatively impacting customer retention. Viewing the contact center as a cost center, rather than as a strategic asset, completely misses the mark.

Companies across industries are starting to move away from proprietary, and expensive voice processing systems in favor of distributed, open, and cost-effective voice platforms. Laying the groundwork for this shift is the emergence of Voice Extensible Mark-up Language, a programming language for voice, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The technology benefits of open voice platforms are extensive, the most important of which is the ability to apply business logic to every interaction. Open voice platforms support intuitive speech-enabled self-service systems that allow companies to present a branded experience that makes customers feel valued and welcome. Older IVR models that relied on rigid categorization of a caller’s issue, often caused misrouted calls or long hold times, leading to frustration and a high proportion of abandoned calls.

The intelligent Customer Front Door (iCFD) concept combines customer data and business rules to manage interactions in sophisticated and unprecedented ways, allowing contact centers to implement well-designed speech applications that can offer significant operational efficiency and revenue opportunities, while delivering excellent customer experiences.

Ultimately, the iCFD helps companies achieve three core business objectives: ensuring an exceptional customer experience; increasing contact center efficiency and productivity; and generating incremental revenue through cross-selling and upselling.

Blended experience for maximum benefit
A blended approach between self- and agent-assisted service optimizes both customer satisfaction and contact center efficiency by ensuring seamless distribution of service types over the entire system, based on critical factors such as customer value, agent availability, and call volumes.

The iCFD system enables companies to make intelligent decisions about the mix of self- and live service required to best serve customer needs. For example, some industries, such as financial services, typically have customers who know how to easily navigate through self-service systems to find the information they need. Technical support organizations, on the other hand, often have customers who require a more personal interaction to satisfy their needs. And, there are many types of organizations that fall somewhere in between, with customer bases that require a customized blend of self- and agent-assisted service.

Customers experience the iCFD in other innovative ways — through notifications, alerts, surveys, and other services that help further personalize and improve the experience, including two important capabilities — automatic callback and proactive contact.

Companies that aim to elevate their contact center from a mere cost center to a more strategic, customer-centric role in the organization will not only enjoy a competitive advantage, they’ll increase their agility to adapt to changing business conditions, and position themselves for future growth and innovation.

Brian Bischoff is global vice president for Genesys Telecommunications Labs.