The Gist

  • Evolving expectations. Customer expectations for company interactions and service levels have significantly risen in recent years, leading to decreased tolerance for subpar experiences.
  • Self-serve support. Many customers and service leaders prefer self-serve methods to address issues efficiently and reduce constraints, improving overall satisfaction.
  • Harnessing AI. Contact centers should leverage AI technologies to automate mundane tasks, understand customer sentiment and improve agent training, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.

Customer expectations regarding their experiences with a company or brand and the level of customer service received have significantly increased over the last few years. Customers are becoming less tolerant of long wait times, confusing communication channel navigation and the inability to find information or resolve issues themselves.

Many customers and customer service leaders alike prefer self-serve support methods to solve problems and reduce constraints. When those types of channels or methods aren’t readily available or are not easy to use, customers can become frustrated with the amount of effort they have to exert to communicate with a company.

According to Gartner research, high-effort experiences have a 96% negative correlation with customer loyalty, consequently increasing an organization's cost to serve.

Demonstrating True Empathy

Wynn White, senior director analyst in the Gartner customer service and support practice, said the first step to keeping customers cool is to sincerely demonstrate empathy, whether expressed by a live agent or in a written interaction.

"Listening, acknowledging and fully understanding what the customer is going through, from their point of view, helps agents and leaders stay customer-centric and customer focused," she said.

She recommended contact center leaders look through their customer’s lens as they refine and enhance their CX strategy and customer service workstreams.

"By identifying frustration flashpoints, leaders can evaluate whether those dissatisfying moments are related to people, processes or technology," White said. 

Murali Nemani, CMO at Aisera, said contact centers should be more than the "last line of defense" and instead act as a hub and nerve center of the customer experience.

"To better meet customer expectations, leaders should consider ways to streamline operations by automating mundane tasks and repetitive requests so agents can accelerate resolution times, deliver deeper customer insights and provide higher-quality interactions," he explained. 

This means contact center leadership should consider technologies like conversational and generative AI to make the contact center a highly efficient operation with near human-level communication resources.

"Contact centers have progressed from functioning merely as a handoff point between the caller and a live agent to actually being able to understand abstract context and sentiment, which will significantly amplify resolution capabilities," Nemani says.

Technologies including AI can enable contact centers to reach new levels of quality by empowering agents through better training and an increased focus on workforce development to accelerate resolution times.

White explained conversational AI and chatbot technology are often powered by natural language processing (NLP) that can detect frustration and other negative emotions or word choices.

Once detected, AI chatbots can be programmed to offer specific responses or protocols, for example, to get to an agent immediately.

"Similarly, speech analytics technology can be used in agent assist tools, helping reps identify customer emotional cues in real-time, prompting them to adjust their response, offer empathy and build better rapport with the customer," she said. 

In addition, AI chatbots can also be made available for the customer to use 24/7 and do not need to be constrained to human working hours or coverage availability.

"This provides convenience to the customer and a helping hand to the contact center," White noted. 

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Understanding Emotions, Building Immersive Experiences 

Cristina Fonseca, vice president of product and lead of AI at Zendesk, said by understanding what customers need and where customers are emotionally, businesses can adapt the conversation and gain satisfied customers, which eventually translates into increased revenue. 

Learning Opportunities

"You can train AI to redirect any conversation back to support needs but also to escalate when certain topics come up, like there’s a high-priority, emergency support need that a human should get involved in instead," she said. 

She added customers want an immersive experience where they are treated as highly valued customers instead of a support ticket.

"Being able to start one interaction on one channel and seamlessly switch to another makes them feel seen and heard," Fonseca explained.

Additionally, every generation has their preferred channel and their own way of interacting with technology and asking for support. "Being available in that preferred channel is the start of a great relationship that brands want to build with its customers," she noted. 

Fonseca added that besides chatbots, AI powered intent detection and sentiment analysis can also help routing, prioritizing and not only increasing efficiency but making sure revenue drivers or time-sensitive requests are handled first.

"For example, if you make an order but make a mistake in the shipping address, being able to quickly get support to change the address is key," she said. "If knowledge is power, then predicting what a customer wants and its sentiment is the key to unlocking that power." 

Related Article: Level AI Debuts Generative AI Tech for Contact Centers: AgentGPT

Empowering Consumers, Recognizing Frustration 

Nemani agrees multichannel contact centers can improve the customer experience by enabling a customer to communicate with a contact center in the channel they desire.

"This also empowers agents to better serve customers proactively aligned with their preferences which helps avoid flare-ups and further discontent," he added.

The standard for CX is evolving past simply delivering rich and powerful experiences but to strike a balance between intelligence with emotion. These advanced experiences are powered by a mix of AI, rich data, connected workflows, advanced analytics and most importantly empathy.

White also recommended training customer service agents on the art of recognizing signs of customer frustration and how to best respond to those cues. Customer service agents should receive training on de-escalation techniques and learn when and how to effectively convey empathy to customers.

"Analyze customer feedback and complaints to identify areas that are causing the most frustration for the customer," she said. "Customer surveys, recorded calls and chat transcripts can provide valuable insights into customer pain points."