unicycle balancing on a wall
PHOTO: NeONBRAND

“I’d really like to work harder to get the same end results,” said no one ever.

We live in an efficiency-driven world. What is the fastest route to my final destination? How can I grocery shop without entering the store? Can I skip the line by pre-ordering tickets?

We are all striving to make the most of every moment but often encounter obstacles along the way. Our standards for efficiency are no different when we interact with brands, and yet, the customer service journey is commonly a minefield of friction. This customer service friction is often felt by both the customer and business as they strive to resolve an issue. Both kinds of friction are painful and both cost time and money.

Friction on the Customer's Side

Justifiably, much of the conversation on eliminating friction from the service experience has focused on the customer. Today’s customer demands you clear the way, eliminate speed bumps and accelerate their path to resolution.

Despite this expectation, however, many businesses are struggling to keep up. Consider if any of the following statements would sound familiar to your customers (or even you) when interacting with brands:

  1. Why does this take so long?
  2. Why don’t you already know who I am?
  3. Why do I have to repeat myself?

These are just some of the many frustrations experienced by customers when engaging with service touch points. According to a recent survey from my firm, Pega, only 11% of consumers say contacting customer service is an enjoyable experience. Of those who are dissatisfied, 63% would rather clean the toilet than contact a customer service team.

Yikes.

Case in point: A customer enters their 16-digit account number and reason for calling on an interactive voice response system, only to be transferred to an agent who ... asks for the very same information. To the customer, it is one single phone call. To the business, it's two separate worlds.

This creates a point of friction for your customer, while dramatically increasing the average handle time (AHT) and bottom-line cost of servicing each customer — all while driving down trust in the brand. And this can have an impact. Seventy-five percent of surveyed customers say they have previously stopped doing business with an organization because of poor customer service.

Related Article: Customer Service Has a Data Problem

Friction on the Business's Side

The key to improving your customer service digital transformation effort? Resolving friction on the other side of the equation: for your employees. Unfortunately, customer service friction is not only felt by the customer — reps also experience resistance along the path to resolution.

Nearly half of surveyed customer-facing employees said they face barriers to providing good service. This friction often takes the form of complex manual processes, dealing with many non-integrated applications, screens and disconnected systems.

Some of the top bottom-line-draining employee frustrations from customer service friction include:

  • Why do I need to log into all these systems manually, just to start my day?
  • Why do I have to deal with so many screens and applications?
  • Why can’t I get access to the information customers already gave to another agent or channel?

Related Article: Is Messaging the Final Frontier in Customer Service?

How to Minimize Customer Service Friction for Everyone

So how can brands minimize the friction and effort for both customers and employees alike? Here are three principles businesses must adopt — along with a new sense of urgency — to make the customer service experience more enjoyable for all:

  1. Deliver a 1:1 customer experience: Consumers expect businesses to know who they are and the journey they are on. And yet, just 23% of surveyed consumers said businesses understand them as a person and their customer service preferences “extremely well.” When they are bombarded with questions during a service interaction, they feel misunderstood and like their time is not valued. Businesses need to evaluate their web, email, and mobile apps to ensure they are presenting only the offers and content that are important to each person.
  2. Eliminate barriers and hurdles in the process: Too often, businesses have thought about what they need to do to conduct business but neglect to consider what customers — and employees — need to best derive value. It doesn’t have to be this way. Businesses must rethink their customer engagement tools and ensure they are doing everything possible to make the customer and employee experience simple, fast and clear of any unnecessary hurdles.
  3. Be everywhere your customers are: Customers now move from channel to channel, and to make matters worse, they are often using several channels simultaneously. If they cross from one channel to another, they expect their journey to continue without interruption. Think of it as the “Netflix-ification” of experience expectations — where customers can consume their experience via different channels, without losing context. And the impact is being felt across all industries. You need to deliver the same continuous, engaging experience, everywhere.

To dig down into the digital transformation of your agent experience, business processes must simultaneously be rethought around the actual outcomes customers seek — not just the tasks along the way. Businesses need to take an end-to-end approach to their service processes by designing journeys that get customers the outcomes they want in a way that is both easy for the customer and efficient for the business.

To make this a reality, a business can take a twofold approach that offers both a digital “brain” to make the right decisions at scale, and the digital “muscle” to actually get the work done:

  1. The brain: Real-time omnichannel AI can work across every customer channel and touchpoint to recommend the right actions to take and conversations to have, while continuously allowing a business to learn and optimize each customer interaction.
  2. The muscle: End-to-end automation, with robotic automation, can reimagine and simplify existing processes. To drive efficiency and ease — and make service journeys available on all digital channels — customer service teams need automation that is powerful enough to cut across existing systems and silos to drive work to completion.

Today’s customer has different expectations — and they don’t stand still.

Related Article: Why You Should Care About the Customer Effort Score

A Long-Term Plan to Reduce Friction

The modern customer expects businesses to keep pace and provide a frictionless experience. As you devise your future digital strategy, you must implement a long-term plan with incremental, yet impactful changes, backed by an AI-fueled portfolio that puts the customer at the center of all decisions. By taking a more holistic approach to customer service, businesses can wrap customers and employees with the new digital, friction-free experiences they demand (and deserve).