Forget customer service, meet next-generation customer experiences

Customer expectations are sky-rocketing, necessitating higher quality customer service. Unfortunately, companies tend to shy away from investing in cost-driving departments. But easily implemented next-gen solutions can turn your costly customer care into a value driver that will lead to cost reductions as well as increased retention by offering a complete customer experience.
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Customer service: what’s happening?

Traditionally, customer service departments are set up to revolve around KPIs. Agents are assessed based on the number of calls taken, call handling time and customer satisfaction. However, these KPIs do not reflect the actual function of an organization’s customer service both from the perspective of the customer as well as from the agent. 

Here’s an example of a situation that may occur as a result of that traditional set-up:

A customer is facing connectivity issues while streaming a movie. The customer needs help and calls the provider’s customer service. The customer service agent is very quick to send over a mechanic to solve the issue. The call has an excellent handling time and enables the agent to take a large quantity of calls. In addition, the customer is satisfied because he is offered a solution, even though it may take days before the mechanic visits and the connection is restored. 

The issue in these situations is that the actual problem is not solved efficiently. Although the customer service agent had a short handling time for this call (which is seemingly great), the customer is forced to wait days for optimal connectivity. The organization incurs unnecessary costs by sending over a mechanic – which ends up being even more costly than an increase in handling time. Finally, the agent feels he's a mere puppet in the grand scheme of things, meeting KPIs that do not reflect an actual solution for the customer at that specific moment. 

The importance of high-quality customer experience

So why does this problem need our attention so badly? Companies with the traditional kind of customer service are missing out on large value creation through successful customer retention and even cross-selling and upselling opportunities. These companies focus on attracting new customers through marketing and sales, even though customer retention is a lot cheaper than attracting new customers.

Ensuring your customers are happy with the service your offering is worth your while, because at least 39 percent of customers decide to leave a company following a bad experience. On the other hand, if a company manages to take immediate action when a customer is unhappy, 77 percent of customers feel that a brand has earned their loyalty. These figures show that it’s not just marketing or sales, but high-quality customer service that drives value creation.

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Failure to break old habits

In spite of the positive impact that rebranding customer service can have, management often remains reluctant to break old habits. Call centers are still often seen as cost drivers. As a result, these departments keep working the way they are—even though customer expectations and attitudes have shifted dramatically. Today’s customers want to be able to turn to a contact center that will not only provide an immediate solution, but also has complete insight into who they are, what they want at that precise point in time and the journey they have been on so far. 

While customers are using different channels anytime anywhere, many businesses struggle to integrate various channels due to their siloed organization structure, which limits communications between departments. Organizations’ current approach, skill-set and tools are outdated—and customer service centers can't keep up with increasingly demanding customer expectations. 

So what’s next?

To maintain, and ultimately improve your company’s financial health, creating awareness of the relative ease in which changes can be implemented within customer service is key. First of all, agents are eager to develop their skills and apply new ways of working. Secondly, customers are more than willing to use self-service solutions, provided that they maintain the possibility to contact the company directly in case they get stuck. 

Off-the-shelf solutions enable you to take the first step into turning a cost center into a value driver.

Lastly, even though investing in next-generation customer experiences might sound complex and costly, there are many off-the-shelf solutions that are relatively easy to implement and integrate into your customer service. These will have a significantly positive effect on your organization's overall customer experience, enabling you to take the first step into turning a cost center into a value driver.

The four types of next-generation customer experiences

Thanks to continuously evolving technologies and subsequent opportunities, the possibility to integrate artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)ꟷalso known as Extended Reality (XR)ꟷinto your company has become a reality. These omnichannel solutions will change your costly customer care to a true value enabler. 

We have identified four successful off-the-shelf solutions that will open the door to next-generation customer experience.

1. Prevention of customer experience – AR 

The first type of AR next-generation customer experiences is preventive in nature. Simply put, if you prevent a problem from happening, you prevent a customer from calling; a decrease in calls and thus a cost reduction. This video shows how to install a modem with the help of AR. We expect that preventive applications such as this will become the norm in the coming years. 

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Offering these applications enables a true customer experience; customers will no longer have to contact a customer service when they face issues or have questions and the five-day (or sometimes even longer) waiting time for a mechanic to come over, all whilst not having a connection, is no longer applicable. The true customer experience lies in enabling your customers to help themselves whenever and wherever they require.

2. Deflection of calls – AI

In addition to preventing calls, you can consider deflecting calls because other channels may be more effective in solving the customer’s problem. You have a couple of solutions to do this; one of which is to deflect calls to your website, where customers are served by a virtual customer service agent or an AI chatbot. These bots can replace a human call center agent, applying AI and natural language processing to answer any query, regardless of how it is formulated. 

This means that whether a customer types in ‘change of address’ or ‘I have moved’, the bot will respond by providing the form needed to change the client’s personal details.  If the AI chatbot is not able solve the problem, human agents can step in and take over, ensuring high quality customer service at all times. 

A large US telecom provider uses another deflection method. They apply an Intelligent IVR (Interactive Voice Response) menu, directing callers to information online, proactively informing them about temporary malfunctions or connecting them to call centers with more available agents, for instance.

Chatbot - Next-generation customer experiences - Accenture

3. Reduction of calls and technician visits – AR 

The aim is not only to maintain customer satisfaction while reducing calls, but also to eventually increase customer satisfaction by offering support in the shortest time frame possible. One example of how to do this is by offering visual customer support. For example, whenever a caller is experiencing an issue with a modem, a VodafoneZiggo call center agent can establish a live connection to use your camera and see the situation. VodafoneZiggo actually established a reduction in the number of technician visits to customers' homes by 26 percent for specific use cases.

He can offer advice, even using AR to pinpoint the issue. While on-site technicians would traditionally handle these issues, agents behind desks can now solve them. This leads to impressive cost reductions, but more importantly, this leads to an efficient way to increase customer satisfaction by decreasing lead times without compromising (and even improving) service quality. 

4. Improvement of agent skills: 'remote technician' and 'next best action'

Visual customer support also provides a great opportunity for customer service agents to expand their skill set and deliver an excellent experience to the customer. Traditionally, agents mostly provide first line support and often rely on experienced second or third-line colleagues to solve more complex customer requests, which require visual on-site inspection. Now, however, the first line agent can tune into the home situation within seconds with all technician workflows at hand and guide the customer at any time step by step through an issue that a second or third-line colleague would encounter. 

A second opportunity is in the domain of ‘next best action’ (NBA). With the rise of digitization of workflows and customer (interaction) data AI, the opportunity arises to push real-time recommendations to agents during their interactions with the customer. Several renowned CRM and BPM providers already offer advanced ‘agent-assist/NBA’ functionalities and we expect these to become the norm in the transition from data-driven organizations to 100% digital.

Online customer interaction - Next-gen customer experiences - Accenture

How to implement next-generation customer experiences

Where to start

Now that we are familiar with a few specific next-gen customer experiences, it is crucial to understand how to implement these in a customer service organization. We recommend the implementation of these solutions in three separate stages as explained in the following chapters.

Service design

Firstly, investigate the issues you wish to solve and, more importantly, what it is that your customer wants. To collect qualitative data, map your customer journeys and interview customers to be able to identify the key issues within the journey. For the collection of quantitative data, inquire website use, call centers and shop visits. Combining qualitative and quantitative insights will provide a clear overview of the areas that require improvement.

Design sprints

Secondly, focus on possible solutions, which enable the required improvements. Conduct a thorough research into the next-gen customer Experiences, which best applies to your company’s customer service. Develop this experience through an iterative process and determine its feasibility within your customer service, while keeping your customer in mind at all times.

Implementation

Finally, when the solution reaches the stage of a minimum lovable product (MLP), it can be scaled and implemented throughout the entire organization in small, iterative steps (in other words agile). During this final stage, it is vital that both human and technical margins of error are considered. Customers tend to accept possible errors under the condition that they are informed about the circumstances and are compensated for inconveniences caused. 

Let’s kickstart the trip to your customers’ heart! 

By giving you an overview of four types of next-generation customer experiences and a three-stage process to successfully introduce these into your company, we trust that we have created awareness and highlighted the significant improvements that you can make in customer service. Offering next-gen customer experiences enables you to directly yield significant value for your customers and company by decreasing costs and increasing customer satisfaction. In addition, creating a next-gen customer experience will positively affect retention, increase cross- and upselling and even attract new customers. 

Breaking old habits isn’t easy. However, if you start making these changes, we guarantee that you will not only change your customer service into a significant value driver, but also become a pioneer in a rapidly changing technological environment. 

Authors: Jan van Dam Zienat Hussainali