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Traditionally, customer engagement wasn’t about “engaging” with customers at all. Instead, it was about deflecting and containing them, with contact center agents trained to spend as little time as possible with customers in the queue. But as customer expectations change, this approach is no longer cutting it.

A staggering 96% of consumers consider customer service a key factor in determining brand loyalty, and more than half of customers have taken their business elsewhere because a competitor offered a superior experience. To retain valuable repeat customers, brands need to prioritize exceptional customer experiences. And this starts with the way they talk about customer engagement.

Working at a company that creates technology for the customer experience allows me to keep a close eye on the evolving terminology used by industry professionals. Recently, I’ve found that many popular words and phrases perpetuate an outdated view of customer engagement. To bring the industry’s vocabulary into the modern era, below are four common phrases that forward-thinking companies should be weeding out.

Voice Response

Anyone who’s called a company’s customer service line knows the struggle of restrictive dial menus — time-consuming phone trees with options that don’t really address their needs. Voice response menus are considered a step up, but in reality, they aren’t much better. Customers who are forced to repeatedly shout commands into systems that don’t fully understand them typically won’t come back for more.

The bottom line is: neither dial menus nor voice response systems get customer relationships off on the right foot. In the past, companies could get away with these rudimentary solutions because advanced voice technology didn’t exist. But conversational artificial intelligence (AI) has flipped the script. Customers now expect to be able to express themselves on their terms and in their own words, meaning voice response systems should become a thing of the past. 

Related Article: Why Your Approach to Chabot and IVR Projects Is All Wrong

Average Handle Time

Average handle time (AHT) is a core contact center metric — but it’s become increasingly outdated for two primary reasons. First, it’s a skewed measurement of efficiency. With the introduction of AI in the customer experience, technology can now handle routine tasks and leave the complex, time-consuming jobs for humans. This increases the amount of time contact center workers are “handling” customers, but for good reason. Second, at its core, AHT is designed to reward minimal contact with customers — a goal largely at odds with today’s view of customer engagement.

This isn’t to say brands should waste time keeping customers on the line. According to Forrester, two-thirds of adults think that companies that value their time deliver the most exceptional service. But there are ways to promote efficiency without rushing customers off the phone.

Monitoring first call resolution (FCR) and average response time offers alternatives for companies looking to encourage productivity without compromising the customer experience. For example, for every 1% increase in FCR, there’s a simultaneous 1% increase in customer satisfaction. Further, only 3% of customers are at risk of switching to a competitor if their problem is resolved on the first call, while 38% are at risk if it isn’t.

Related Article: Elevate the Customer Experience Through Timing and Context

Deflection

Deflection is a particularly tricky term because, by definition, to deflect a customer means to turn them away. Further, it’s widely believed that deflecting customers to less expensive digital channels is the best way to cut costs.

That said, when deflection is carefully designed and properly executed, it’s not about rebuffing customers, it’s about helping them optimize their time with the right channel. Referring customers to alternative mediums can be highly effective and result in a faster resolution. For example, a recent survey by my firm found that half of customers are frustrated by long phone queues. Meanwhile, a Comm100 report, "Live Chat Benchmark Report 2017," found customers on chat can get a response within 45 seconds. By appropriately recommending alternative channels for the customer’s own benefit, brands can optimize the customer experience without making them feel slighted.

Related Article: Customer Service Friction: A Double-Edged Sword

Cutting Costs

No company is oblivious to the bottom line, but cutting costs by limiting contact center staff or investing in rudimentary, inexpensive technology is no way to build a loyal customer base. 

The proof is in the numbers. A short-sighted, cost-slashing approach won’t yield the long-term results brands are looking for. NewVoiceMedia reports poor customer service costs brands $75 billion annually. On the flip side, many customers are willing to pay more for companies that deliver excellent customer service, which in turn boosts loyalty and referrals. Investing in the customer experience up front, both in people and technology, allows brands to reap the lasting benefits of contented customers.

How brands talk about their customers can trickle down to how they treat them. Many traditional terms aren’t aligned with how modern companies do business. Building a loyal and lasting customer base begins with rethinking the outdated phrases of customer engagement, and developing a new lexicon that emphasizes the value of customer interaction.