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The increasing importance of intelligent customer service

Heidi Wettach,
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We’ve heard it many times before – today’s digital customer demands more than ever. But just because everyone knows it doesn’t mean that every organization is delivering what customers demand. In fact, in many cases, customers are still feeling frustrated by the level of service they receive. According to our 2019 global customer service insights report, customers rank only 10% of service experiences as excellent, and 82% of customers are frustrated by how long it takes to receive service. That frustration can lead to bigger issues too. Failing to deliver the experience that customers expect can have serious consequences – three of four customers have stopped using an organization’s services because of a poor service experience.

Intelligent service is the key to meeting – or even exceeding – customer expectations.

The benefits of intelligent customer service

Intelligent customer service helps organizations create frictionless customer experiences. It enables them to scale. It enables them to deliver superior customer service at any point on every channel.

With intelligent capabilities, agents can achieve greater productivity and customers can receive more timely resolutions to their inquiries. With the ability to base decisions on up-to-the-second information, intelligent customer service enables a customer to get the most relevant solution as quickly as possible, no matter if they use self-service, a chatbot, or an agent-assisted channel. Regardless of the channel or the agent they connect through, the customer will receive the continuity of experience and can consistently receive the right resolutions to their challenges.

And when customers are using agent-assisted channels, intelligent capabilities make for a more positive employee experience as well. Customers aren’t the only ones who feel frustrated with the current customer service that most organizations provide. According our eBook, The key to happy customers? Happy employees, 34% of employees do not feel they have the right software, applications, and technology to provide optimal service, and 48% of agents claim to experience many barriers to providing excellent customer service. This underscores the need for intelligent capabilities to improve the agents’ experience, which will, in turn, position them to provide an even better level of service to customers.

A brief history on intelligent customer service

In years past, the “intelligent” part of customer service depended on the intelligence in an agent’s head. The best agents learned the quickest ways to resolve customer issues; they knew how to navigate systems, memorized the steps to solve common queries, and determined best practices. The best way to share that intelligence was through documentation and sharing data. Think binders full of best practices, sticky notes plastering the monitors at the agents’ desks, and placing a customer on hold to feverishly whisper to the agent one seat over for help. Clearly, that will no longer cut it.

In the next phase of intelligent customer service, many organizations rushed to achieve a 360-degree view of its customers. And while this well-intentioned effort had the right idea in mind – to create a centralized, egalitarian chance to equip each agent with the information they needed to be successful – it ultimately led to information overload. Giving agents too much information can create as many challenges as giving them too little.

When intelligence lived only in agents’ brains and then in 360-degree programs, many organizations found similar challenges: it took a long time to train agents, agents experienced a great deal of frustration, and service was still variable, depending on which agent a customer connected to or which channel they chose. There needed to be a better way.

So, intelligent customer service evolved again. Organizations started to realize that it wasn’t enough to offer only information to agents; rather, agents need insight. And it wasn’t enough to offer this insight only on agent-assisted channels. To meet customer expectations, organizations would have to provide real-time guidance of the right thing to do, no matter how the customer chose to engage. Relying on algorithms and predictive analytics (instead of gut feelings or unclear instructions) to determine the right course of action, organizations can determine if it’s the right time to go for a cross-sell, upsell, or retention offer, or if it would be better to simply close out the interaction with a simple “thank you.”

Using this approach, TalkTalk, the fourth largest communications operator in the U.K., was able to transform its customer service experience, adding intelligence to its processes. This intelligence can replicate the decisions of TalkTalk’s best agents during any customer interaction and has led to major savings (£21 million) for the brand through fewer complaints, shorter calls, and lower churn among agents.

Why intelligence is only becoming more important

About a decade ago, customer service expanded beyond just the phone to new channels. With the adoption of these channels, like mobile apps, chatbots, social media, and so on, maintaining consistent interactions became more difficult. As channels continue to proliferate and it becomes more difficult to determine what the new channel du jour will be in two months, let alone two years from now, organizations must figure out how to quickly bring new channels onboard while still providing customers with the impression that they are speaking to one person, in a single ongoing conversation, even if they switch from mobile app to the phone or one agent on email to another agent on chat.

With the unpredictable future of channels and increasing inclination toward self-service, imbuing your customer service with intelligence today can help you keep up with customer expectations and prepare for tomorrow – no matter what it looks like. To keep up with customer demands and a changing landscape, brands like Transavia are taking a centralized approach to service. By moving logic out of siloed channels and creating a single source of truth for passenger data, flight data, and employee data, the low-cost Dutch airline empowers all employees to function as front-office employees focused on creating memorable customer experiences. Shifting the focus to the customer experience, Transavia treats channels as mere modes of execution. No matter how they contact the airline, customers can expect a contextual, consistent experience.

Achieving intelligent customer service

The road to better customer service starts with where you are now and depends on the maturity of your organization’s current model.

So, what does it take to make your customer service intelligent? It comes down to two specific capabilities:

  • Customer insight
  • Consistent quality across channels

Customer insight refers to truly knowing your customers: understanding their history with your organization, the context of their inquiry, and their current mood. If a customer is already feeling aggravated, it’s crucial not to add to their frustration in resolving the issue, and you should probably express some empathy. If a customer is in a good or neutral mood, it may be appropriate to go for a cross-sell or up-sell opportunity. Consistent quality across channels refers to being able to deliver the right response every time, regardless of the channel. That means whether a customer calls on the phone or utilizes whatever the latest, greatest channel is, they receive the same quality of experience in terms of speed, thoroughness, and solution.

Resolving customer issues and challenges quickly involves a series of decisions that lead to the proper outcome. Whether a customer relies on a self-service portal, a chatbot, or an agent, you want to be sure that they are on the appropriate path to resolution. To ensure the path is relevant and personalized to the specific customer’s needs, organizations must rely on the data insight, which surfaces automatically on any channel. With the huge volumes of customer data generated across channels and interactions, artificial intelligence (AI) is typically required to analyze data and synthesize meaning in real time to deliver such insight.

Based on your specific needs, your current investments, and resources – such as budget, timeline, and staff – you will have to determine which path is best to lead to improved customer care. Some questions to consider would be:

  • How well is our existing customer service tool working to fulfill the needs of our customers and agents?
  • How large is the gap between where we are now and where we want to be?
  • Are we able to serve up insight or only information?
  • What is the potential consequence of using our current approach?
  • Can we improve the experience for both our customers and employees?
  • Do we have an existing contract that ties us to a specific product/vendor for a set period of time?
  • Do we have the necessary development resources in-house to build out the new functionality we would need?
  • How might our organization benefit from improving our customer service experience?

As you work through these questions, you may look for some additional guidance. Read our whitepaper to learn more about how intelligent digital service can help you stay one step ahead.

Learn more:

  • Discover how an AI-powered CRM Suite can provide transformative employee and customer experiences.
  • Watch this video to see how intelligent guidance helps every service agent provide the best customer service.
  • See how digital tools are helping organizations deliver seamless customer experiences.
  • Download our recent global customer service insights report.
  • Attend PegaWorld iNspire and learn how leading global brands are using digital tech to deliver world-class customer experiences.

Tags

  • Product Area: Customer Service
  • Topic: Customer Service

About the Author

As a Product Marketing Manager for Pega Customer Service, Heidi Wettach helps the world’s biggest brands transform their CRM systems to deliver smart, personalized customer experiences.