With the UK on its third national lockdown, consumer trends have shifted, behaviours have ingrained and businesses are having to adapt. The push for emotionally intuitive interaction across industries has become stronger, with 69% of business leaders agree that humanising customer experience will become a key differentiator for brands in 2021 (Digital Trends Report 2021).
Organisations today face a paradox: customers demand efficiency and speed, but they also want to be understood with empathy and a human touch. As we move into an increasingly digital world, technology will drive change. Members gathered on Zoom to discuss the challenges around humanising customer experience and how to leverage cloud, automation and AI to deliver efficient and emotionally intuitive customer experiences.
EMOTIONAL, EFFICIENT CX
First, we heard from Stu Dorman, Chief Innovation Officer at Sabio, who outlined how the world of customer experience has changed after the global pandemic. With a huge digital acceleration over the last year and a mass shift to home working, Stu explained how all of our interactions are becoming increasingly screen-first.
When it comes to customers, we’ve seen a shift in channels: where the phone and the store were the primary points of contact before, organisations now need to think about how to integrate screens and video more profoundly into the customer experience. Stu outlined three core questions that organisations must keep in mind when transforming their customer channels:
- How do we maintain relationships and deliver a personalised experience when customers reach out through a screen or digital channels?
- How do we ensure that digital and human experiences aren’t mutually exclusive, but joined up together to create a seamless end-to-end experience?
- How can we use digital technology (specifically AI) to support human agents to deliver better CX?
Our next speaker, Eugene Neale, Director of CX Engineering and Business IT at loveholidays, answered these questions in the context of how loveholidays responded to the ripple effects of the pandemic. He outlined the journey that the organisation had been on, from constant change to a new age of adaptability.
As the UK’s 4th largest travel agent, the first lockdown in March was a turbulent time for loveholidays. Customer queries skyrocketed with up to 25k voice calls a day and more live chats than could be measured. Response rate was limited by both people capacity and technology, exacerbated by the sudden shift to remote working. So, the loveholidays IT team took the bold leap to scrap their existing technology and switch to Twilio, a programmable contact centre. It was deployed in days, 200 agents were added in weeks and an automated data integration meant that the average customer handling time went down to 3 minutes.
With the summer of 2020 bringing in daily changes to the rules on international travel, developing the ability to adapt and flex was vital for the new contact centre. To accommodate the increased customer need for reassurance, the team deployed natural language processing (NLP) bots with simple data connections. 23% of all customer interactions were handled by bots and the organisation saw huge benefits both on the customer side (reduced queueing time, faster and more efficient experience) and on the business side.
The benefits of NLP, as Eugene shared, are substantial: not only do they free up human agents to focus on the more value-adding tasks and complex queries, but they can also assist the agent in contextualising the single experience within the rest of the contact history. The result is increased customer contacts, more data available, more informed and better-trained agents, improved personalisation and customer experience, and increased sales driven by loyalty.
SOLVING THE HUMAN-MACHINE PARADOX
In a live poll, 38% of members said that internal silos were the biggest barriers to meaningful interaction with customers. This was followed by badly designed digital experiences and legacy technology (both at 21%). All three of these areas came up repeatedly in discussion groups.
Firstly, members discussed the cultural barriers, of which internal silos is one. Several members discussed the importance of letting the IT team to work directly with the customer teams. In Eugene’s loveholidays example, the IT team built the contact centre directly with the agents and there was a huge amount of leadership focus on it as well. This ensures that the agents are at the centre of the business, and motivated to blend their work with the new technology. This also encourages user adoption from the outset: synthesising machine and agent is vital to ensuring that the resultant customer interaction is both as human and as efficient as possible.
When it comes to the technology barriers, legacy technology, integration and capability in the cloud were the main areas covered. One member highlighted the importance of interoperability across the organisation. With contact centres being migrated to the cloud, it’s vital to understand how the technology is working together and building new capabilities. Another member highlighted how an opportunity mindset can help this process: rather than letting legacy systems be a barrier, it helps to tackle specific challenges that people have and take those challenges as an opportunity to reinvent the process. In the case of loveholidays, it was a matter of scrapping the existing technology and starting again; and, as Eugene highlighted, this was actually a cost saving to the company rather than a massive investment.
Finally, it all must come back to prioritising the customer. Understanding the journey that they go on, and then identifying the pain points within that process, helps you to understand what needs to be prioritised based on the impact. Teams can then incrementally improve and learn from it. In addition to this, it is vital to actually listen to how your customers would like to interact with you - and to focus on that!
For organisations setting out to deliver emotionally intuitive and efficient CX, the message from the morning was clear: look for opportunities and be ready to experiment.
This event was in partnership with Sabio, a solution provider for seamless customer experiences.