29 July 2016

Voice for Value, Not for Cost: 5 Ways to Leverage Voice in the Digital Age

Traditionally, the voice channel is viewed by organizations as a higher cost channel, and recently, digital channels are viewed by customers as lower effort channels. Therefore, the accelerating trend over the last decade has been for organizations to move their focus from the voice channel, live agent interactions, to digital channels, or automated interactions. Compound this with the preference for self-service amongst the rising Millennial Generation and organizational initiatives to reduce the cost per interaction across channels, and it’s easy to see why many think that voice is dying.

Voice and digital channels However, as one view of voice dies, another takes its place.  The voice channel will never die, because it’s how we form relationships, gain trust, and deal with complex issues most efficiently. Done right, it holds the potential to gain loyalty, expand sales, reduce cost per interaction and increase customer lifetime value.

Voice has a place in the multi-channel marketing, sales and service environments. It will continue to live so long as organizations innovate and leverage the voice channel strategically, for added value. Voice is dead, long live voice!

Below are 5 ways that organizations can leverage voice for value and not for cost.

1. Use Voice at the most Complex Parts of the Customer Journey

Insurance companies have few interactions with customers when all is going well. Instead, they interact every few years when the customer has an insurance claim or coverage question, often at a particularly low point for the customer after an accident or home repair. The customer is dealing with a lot: they have to hire someone to fix their car or home, are trying to navigate the fine print of what their insurance covers and at the same time struggling to figure out how best to submit the claim.

This is a high touch customer interaction point for an organization because the organization has very few chances to engage with their customers and handling this interaction well can make or break the relationship. From the customer’s perspective, this is the most complex part of interacting with an organization, and they are filled with anxiety because they are unaware of the outcome and unsure about the process.

Speaking with someone, being able to hear the emotion and have that immediate back and forth resolution builds trust and security. It also enables a customer to build a personal relationship with your organization, which is a differentiating factor in the customer’s journey.

A customer also gets to solve their issue in just one interaction, which increases first contact resolution and decreases the cost per interaction. When complexity is involved, a customer often has to use several smaller, low cost interaction channels that fail to resolve their issue. While not all voice interactions are at the peak of complexity – for instance a health insurance claim might only need a live agent or in-person interaction if there is an escalation – every organization has a point of peak complexity in the customer journey when a customer just needs to talk to someone.

2. Promote Voice through Digital, but Offer Outbound Voice, instead of Inbound Voice

Voice is a double-edged sword. An organization publishes telephone numbers because customers sometimes require the voice channel for assisted service needs. But then the organization gets an influx of calls that can be easily answered via self-service or in low-cost digital channels.

A large video game publisher solved this challenge by promoting the voice channel via their web channel, but having customers open cases first, so the company can choose which channel to handle the interaction in based on the customer’s issue type and customer segmentation. When a customer submits a case, they receive an estimated call back time.

When you control the transition to voice and how quickly you respond – you have control over when interactions need to occur, agent utilization, and staffing, which positively affects WFM and WFO.

By providing an estimated call back time, you don’t keep people waiting on hold and instead let them live their life with full visibility into estimated time to case resolution. Meanwhile, you can smooth out staffing levels to better meet the demand for better agent utilization.

3. Smoothly Transition Customers from Digital Channels to the Voice Channel

Don’t make your customers repeat themselves – it’s sure to add to frustration, leading to a poor customer experience.

OmnichannelYou should know if they have been self-serving on a given webpage, if they are coming from a chat conversation, if they have previously emailed or opened a case and especially if they are being transferred from another agent or have authenticated through an IVR. Since the trend is for customers to first try and answer their issue outside of the live voice – it is important for agents to have a full view into the customer before they answer the call.

Also, by transferring customers from another lower cost channel to voice – you gain the ability to identify, authenticate and segment customers to the right agent for their issue type. When an agent knows who the customer is and what they are calling about, it enables faster, more efficient service and lower call handling times. You are thus able to use the voice channel in a way that brings value to the customer.

This is more than just having connected channels and a clear view of the customer. You should have a click-to-call button on web self-service pages and mobile applications when a customer is researching a complex issue type, in case the customer struggles. You want to avoid the customer getting frustrated that he can’t solve his issue, spending several minutes searching for the long-lost 1-800 number and then calling in upset, with an agent that has no visibility into why. You also want to be able to track where a web page or mobile application is unable to handle customer interactions to better improve it.

4. Transform the Customer Service Representative

We make it easy. Customers want to speak with the right person, right away, anywhere, anytime. In bank branches, this means having video kiosks where a person can speak with an expert in a particular loan type at any bank location and online. The “agent” is the loan expert and helps customers using video chat.

This is the new type of Customer Service Representative (CSR). The CSR understands how to interact across channels, and has the expertise to advise and the power to solve any customer issue.  From the front-office to the back-office, potentially everyone is a CSR.

At a retail organization, a customer who’s browsing online and has a question about a product, or wants to see a product in person, can be connected to an associate via voice in a nearby retail location and an appointment can be scheduled. When the customer arrives at the retail location, the associate is prepared, personalizes the experience, offers related products and services and furthers the relationship to drive an increase in customer lifetime value.

5. Provide Voice Service for Sales

You must establish trust with a customer in order to gain increased sales and loyalty.

When a customer calls in, and you are there to help them solve their problem – you establish that trust. If it were a customer calling an internet provider about the inability to video chat, the internet provider could take the customer through ways to test upload and download speeds, thus establishing trust. They would then be able to discuss business level packages that increase upload speed and enable better video chat and screen sharing.

Because the customer service agent educated and aided a customer, the customer is going to trust that upgrading their internet is the right course of action. The customer will look to the agent as a product expert. Upselling and cross selling is always more effective after services have been rendered.

No longer does the customer journey move from marketing to sales to service but instead jumps around. With a service team educated to recognize points in the customer journey when it helps a customer to increase spend with an organization – you are sure to increase customer loyalty and lifetime value.

How can you innovate the voice channel?

If you leverage voice for value and innovate voice to play a role in digital channels and technology, it will benefit your customers, your employees and your business.

Customers value fast, efficient and transparent service. Educated representatives, transparent case management, video as a way to speak with an expert and first interaction resolution leads customers to trust and value an organization. It also increases customer engagement rates.

Additionally, employees are more engaged when they are providing value to customers and are equipped with the knowledge and power to make decisions that positively affect a customer. They feel rewarded when they make a difference, leading to decreased employee churn rates.

A business with engaged customers and employees, due to a positive experience, will continue to flourish. When a service organization evolves to keep up with what customers want, technology advancements and channel growth – you don’t throw out what you already have. Instead, you find a way to leverage it and innovate to grow your business.

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Andy Middleton

Andy is a consultant with over 16 years of experience in professional services and systems integration who specializes in planning and implementing customer-centric, multi-channel solutions that increase customer satisfaction, decrease cost, and increase revenue throughout the customer journey. He’s an expert in customer experience and contact center strategies, processes, and technologies.


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