Contact centres are often deployed as mere cost cutting measures. They are so much more than that, writes Peter Tetlow
Do we really understand what the modern day customer experience is and how to improve it? Forrester defines Customer Experience as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.” This is correct in as far as it goes, but only tells half the story. As with most things, we tend to look internally as an industry and assume that the customer experience is all about us and the type of interaction a customer has when contacting the company.
However, ask any customer: the experience starts long before they pick up the phone or begin a chat session. For a FMCG retailer or manufacturer, the experience starts at the discovery and education stage through to point of sale. It continues through to post-purchase engagement which includes quality, which makes up the majority of exchanges, through to inquiries and providing feedback. Customers may need support at any point; sometimes individuals can go months or years consuming a particular product before the need for additional support beyond purchase. Only then, when they need help, will they contact the company. Their experience at this stage can make or break the relationship because the customer won’t necessarily remember the fact that something has gone wrong. They will, however, remember how the problem was dealt with.
Advisors understand customer issues because they are in the privileged position of speaking with customers
The critical part missing from the Forrester definition is an understanding that the customer experience starts long before they try and make contact with a contact centre. As customer experience professionals, we need to be able to influence the full end to end experience, not just when a customer contacts us. In many ways, that is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Advisors understand customer issues because they are in the privileged position of speaking with, and chatting to, customers. The majority of the issues identified will be outside the contact centre’s direct span of control, but this knowledge is a source of invaluable information and insight. For example, if customers call in because the instructions to use the service are not clear, only the contact centre will know this within the organisation. If customers talk about multiple and confusing correspondence received, again, the contact centre is probably the only team aware of this and the impact it has on the customer.
Contact centres and retail stores if appropriate, need to be at the centre of the organisation and become the insight and analytics hub, collating and analysing insight gained, to drive improvements. Why? Because this insight flows direct from customers, capitalising on it is the optimal way to improve the customer experience, leading to higher satisfaction, more loyalty, reduced contacts, reduced costs and product insight.
This will require a change of mindset for many organisations who may see the contact centre as a necessary evil, within which to minimise spending as much as possible, rather than a business critical function that helps to inform and drive product development, product management and marketing amongst many other teams. Ultimately, the contact centre is a strategic asset rather than a simple cost centre but to use it as such requires a deep understanding of the end to end customer experience.