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In 2018, poor customer service reportedly cost US companies $75 billion, up from $62 billion in 2016.
Understandably, customer experience has been a top priority for many marketers — a huge shift in process that offers enormous business impact. Customer experience gets hyped at conferences, in board rooms, and by snazzy experience cloud vendors selling “omnichannel, full-funnel, personalized, AI-driven, etc. etc.” experiences.
But in all this hype, some marketers might be missing a less glamorous (though no less essential) piece of the CX puzzle: the contact center.
Contact centers hold a trove of information around the customer experience:
- Which products are returned and which aren’t?
- What do customers complain about?
- What parts of the customer experience consistently don’t live up to expectations?
- Which customers are at risk of leaving your brand?
- What language do customers tend to use when they talk about your products?
Contact centers also offer a volume of customer data that’s hard to match with surveys or market research. Real people calling with real experiences. And yet, oftentimes contact center management gets shrugged off to third-party companies, and much of this information gets lost.
To learn more about the point of view of customer experience from the contact center, we talked with Rebecca Martin, CMO at Calabrio. Rebecca has spent her career in enterprise cloud software and tech marketing.
Now, at Calabrio, she focuses on what they call “customer experience intelligence.” They layer their analytics product on top of chats, customer interactions, and voice recordings. With those analytics insights, companies can gain a better understanding of what’s happening in their contact centers and make improvements accordingly.
Calabrio caters to “all industries — anyone with contact centers.” Think retail, hospitality, banking, financial services, insurance, government, schools — really anyone with a 1-800 number. They work not just via phone calls but rather any support interactions happening via email, chat, text, web, etc.
As you can imagine, many of these contact centers have significant room for improvement. And from Calabrio’s point of view, the “before and after” transformations can be quite dramatic.
How are automation, AI, and analytics helping companies deliver richer human interactions?
While contact centers have been undergoing automation, in many ways those automations are still lacking when not combined with actual humans. Many of us know all too well the feeling of listening through litanies of “for X, press 3” while desperately repeating “representative” into the speaker hoping we’ll be connected with a real person who can just answer our question. At the same time, not using any automation or analytics results in missed opportunities.
“For us, it’s using what’s happening in the contact center to drive marketing decisions. That can be so powerful and has been a missing link for a lot of marketers in the past. We’re trying to bring it to the forefront.”
What’s an example of how brands layer AI on human interaction?
Rebecca gave the example of a product they have at Calabrio that provides a predictive net promoter score (NPS) automatically generated after every call that comes in. In cases where that NPS is negative, their product would pause any promotional campaigns going to those particular customers via their integrations with a brand’s marketing automation platform. Once that person’s issue is resolved and they become a happy customer again, the software would resume other campaigns.
“There’s nothing worse than getting promo stuff from a brand when you’re mad at them,” says Rebecca.
In another example, Rebecca mentioned a predictive product they offer that allows brands to immediately see which customers are most likely to leave, again based on data from interactions they’ve had in the contact center.
The key takeaway for Rebecca is that if as a marketer, you’re not looking at your contact center for customer data, you’re missing out.
“We’re finding that marketers are starting to sit up and take note of what’s happening in the contact center. And that hasn’t always been the case.”
What kind of business impact can come from using contact center data?
Calabrio worked with one client, a luxury jewelry retailer, in understanding customer experience around their various products.
This particular company was receiving lots of returns for one specific necklace chain they sold. By layering an analytics tool onto their customer interactions, the company was able to pick up trends in what customers were saying about the product.
The unifying message? “It’s just too short,” people kept saying. As it turns out, the chain length was just one inch too short — something you wouldn’t necessarily think to notice or check, but a real issue that customers repeatedly had in their experience. The company then went back to product development, changed the chain length, and reduced its return rate by an exorbitant amount.
In another example, Rebecca described a business process outsourcer (BPO) client who served as an outsourced contact center for multiple large enterprises. They took in hundreds and thousands of calls per day for various clients. And overall, they felt they had a handle on how their agents were doing.
Upon implementing a sentiment analysis product on their customer interactions, however, they were able to learn that a lot of their conversations had either neutral or negative sentiment. They then went in and analyzed the words their agents were using. For example, by starting with the phrase, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” an agent might incidentally steer a conversation in an almost negative fashion.
By changing how agents worded certain sentences and responses, Calabrio’s customer saw positive sentiment jump from 17% to 93% in just one week, which is a percentage change of 447%.
A lot of this goes to show how many improvements can be made via very small changes — and how often people forget to look in the most obvious place for their answers.
Rebecca also emphasized how by helping contact center agents have the most accurate information about whatever trends might be happening around customer experiences, brands can address questions quickly and more effectively.
What’s the current state of the use of analytics in contact centers?
These days, analytics use and capacity varies greatly from company to company.
Small or mid-sized companies might not be using an analytics tool at all. And W=while larger enterprises will likely use some analytics tool already, it’s probably not unique to the contact center nor specific to customer interactions. Rebecca says that “when they find out that there’s a solution that sits inside the contact center, on the solution they’re already using, and that it’s combined in a suite, they love that.”
“Looking specifically at customer interactions in the contact center, this is something a lot of people aren’t fully analyzing or getting as much insight as they could be,” says Rebecca. For example, a company might have a general analytics tool, or a team who can run certain analyses — but to refer back to the previous example, they wouldn’t be able to get to the root issue of why people returned the necklace.
Which customers or agents are most likely to leave?
When new customers start using Calabrio, Rebecca says, they are often interested in two pressing questions:
- Which customers are most likely to leave?
- Which agents are most likely to leave?
Retention is a top priority for many brands. As we’ve explored before, it can cost five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.
And for contact centers, attrition presents a huge issue as well. “So if brands can use AI-enabled tools to equip and engage their agents, they’ll be more likely to stick around,” says Rebecca.
What should be top of mind for marketers in the near future?
Rebecca pointed out that customer experience is obviously a hot topic, and that “many boards and CEOs are pointing to the customer, customer retention, customer experience, etc. as more important than profits and revenue.”
What should be more top of mind though, she says, is the role that contact centers play in informing marketers, boards, and CEOs about that experience:
“A lot of marketers spend a lot of money on experience clouds and on understanding what’s happening in their website and marketing systems. And that’s great. But they’re not closing that loop with the contact center. It’s the missing link when you look at the whole customer lifecycle. Marketers can do wonders if they just look at what’s going on under their own nose in their organization.
Technology has come so far. With AI and machine learning, our ability to predict human behavior of our customers and prospects is incredible.
We have the ability to not only understand what’s happening in the contact center, but to predict people’s next action. That’s the holy grail for a marketer. Then they start being able to market to that next action.”