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Reimagining Customer Experience Beyond the Contact Center

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

by Laura Bassett Customers today increasingly try to resolve their needs through self-service first before connecting with customer service or inside sales teams. However, most organizations, still view the contact center and digital CX as separate operations and flows. This can create unsustainable customer friction.

“With 2021 firmly in the rear-view mirror, the opportunity for 2022 lies in creating seamless, frictionless customer experiences across digital, self-service and agent-assisted interactions,” says Laura Bassett, vice president of product marketing at NICE CXone. A great place to start is to focus on five key transformational areas where you can leverage the newest tools and technologies to help you reimagine CX beyond the contact center:

1. Move away from the traditional inbound CX focus

“How people engage with companies continues to evolve over time, and there’s an increasing realization that the customer service experience is really part of a larger experience that we as consumers have—even potentially before we become a customer of a business,” Bassett says. “The behavior we previously thought was generation-driven is generation-less.”

People have shifted to more of a digital mindset, and the customer journey for consumers of all ages now begins with search or a mobile app more often than with a call to a contact center. That makes how your organization responds and provides service to customers at that initial point of engagement critically important.

“As an industry, we’ve spent the past few decades getting really good at optimizing the traditional inbound service flow, where the customer reaches out to the contact center for help,” Bassett says. “And while this is still very important, the reality is that less than 20% of consumers today start by picking up the phone—nowadays, it’s no longer the customer service channel of choice.”

That’s not to say that many customers don’t end up speaking to an agent, but 81% of people prefer to resolve their own issues via a self-service channel.[1] They’re using their smartphones not to call your business but rather as a portal to all of those other channels of communication—social media, texting, messaging apps and more.

The true entry point for customer journeys, increasingly, lies outside of contact center channels and in reality, precedes any company-owned properties; as a result, the traditional service approach “misses the full journey and set of needs,” Bassett says.

The new standard of CX is meeting the customer at their Google search and directing them to the right resource, whether that’s intelligent self-service or an appropriately guided and prepared agent to guide them through that journey and ultimately to resolution.

2. Eliminate friction from the customer journey

Customers today expect instant gratification: Once a customer engages with a brand, it’s all about how quickly the brand can solve their problems and forge an emotional connection. Companies like Amazon, Uber and Netflix have set the bar for consumers who now expect instant gratification from companies across industries.

How do you know whether you are delivering instant gratification? Consider looking at customer effort score, which is actually a better predictor for customer satisfaction, retention, and the lifetime value of the consumer than many other metrics traditionally used in the contact center.

“Customers aren't calling us make a new friend,” Bassett says. “So, it's not just about agents being friendly. It's about solving a problem, quickly.”

If they can do so with self-service that’s easy to use or with an agent who is empathetic, friendly and adequately prepared, that’s even better, but it’s primarily about eliminating friction.

3. Empower customers with smarter self-service

The reality is that most self-service today is basic or worse, which means it potentially causes more friction than resolution. That’s largely because many organizations are just starting to leverage self-service channels beyond the IVR and are using them mainly as a way to deflect customer needs or answer the most basic questions. Then, they’re developing and improving those self-service channels largely based on guesswork, gut feel and anecdotal feedback on how they think customers will use them.

The good news is that there are some very quick, easy ways to up-level your clunky self-service. The ability to understand how, when, and why customer requests flow through to an agent as well as the language customers are using—everything from words they’re typing in on a website while looking for information to what they’re asking your IVR, bots and agents – has never been easier. AI-powered self-service needs data, and you also can use that data to build feedback loops that help you prepare agents, guide agents in real time, enable proactive outreach to customers and build smarter, more frictionless self-service.

4. Consider the context of customer experience—what comes before and after

There are different flows through a journey, with highs and lows, and brands need to understand how people react to the experiences being delivered across that journey. To drive the best outcomes, you need to understand what matters in that journey, what customers remember, and how they relate to you as a company and to your agents. By amplifying the positive moments—the high points of a customer’s journey—brands can influence the customer’s relationship with and perception of the experience.

Improving those high points isn’t about upskilling or adding more agents. Instead, it’s about giving agents the right tools—in this case, leveraging AI to give them real-time assistance and coaching. AI can provide insight into customer and agent behaviors. It can tell you how to influence the conversation—as it’s happening—to drive the right results. And it can drive results long after an individual interaction by showing agents what works—for example, showing empathy or acknowledging loyalty to improve NPS and customer satisfaction.

5. Prepare agents to deliver frictionless experiences

It’s more crucial than ever to take a holistic approach to preparing agents, not just in the moment but when they become an employee. It starts with hiring—finding the right agents in an increasingly competitive hiring environment that’s no longer bound by geography. It extends to giving them the training and tools they need to succeed, including real-time guidance to navigate conversations, automated workflows to eliminate redundant tasks, and follow-up coaching on how to use those tools and self-improve. And it includes providing the flexibility they need to manage hectic schedules and enable work-life balance.

Conclusion: Dissolve the barriers to frictionless customer journeys

“Reimagining the customer experience comes down to eliminating the barriers that impede customer journeys and bridging the gap between consumers and the organization,” Bassett says.

We need to meet customers where their journeys begin—what we're calling digital entry points—to guide them to resolution. When they need to speak to an agent, it’s frictionless, because we are providing agents with the right tools to solve their needs quickly and easily as we continuously assess what’s working and what’s not.

To discover more about how NICE Customer Experience Interactions (CXi) is helping organizations meet their customers throughout their journeys, watch our Digital CX Week event on demand. Learn about optimizing resolution through AI and data-driven self-service, as well as preparing agents to successfully resolve any customer, anywhere.

[1]Kick-Ass Customer Service.” Harvard Business Review, Jan.-Feb. 2017.

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