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Digital transformation offers many exciting opportunities to enhance the customer experience. But does this mean that machines should be replacing humans, or is their role better suited to supporting them in customer service roles? This is the debate that many businesses are facing. It’s about finding the balance between what technology can offer in terms of efficiency and what humans can do more effectively.

Positioning for customer value

When approaching the problem a good question to ask is: Where does the value lie both for the business and the customer? Then using a matrix to map different tasks, it can be highlighted to show where digital or human input would be most valuable. Here are a few examples to put this into perspective:

Low Customer Value, Low Business Value

These are the tasks that no one likes to do and usually involve some kind of problem relating to systems or operations, like a billing error for example. To the customer, it’s annoying that they have to waste their time on resolving it, and for the contact centre advisor it’s equally frustrating. If the billing department had just done their job properly, the advisor wouldn’t have to deal with the problem. Where there’s low customer value and low business value, these are issues that need to be eliminated, because they are costing everyone time and money. It may be that the accounting system needs to be updated or better integrated with the CRM system. There’s an opportunity to use technology to do this, but it’s likely the process will still need to be managed by knowledgeable humans.

Low Customer Value, High Business Value

When there are tasks that are important to the business, but seen as being a waste of time by the customer, then these tasks need to be simplified as much as possible. Make it as effortless and easy as possible, and chances are that customers then won’t mind doing them. An example may be that a business updates their company policies or products for the New Year and they require that their customers agree to the changes. Nobody wants to read through pages of terms and conditions, and few people have the time to in any event. A quick solution would be to send out an email or message notifying customers that changes are afoot and highlighting in short and specific terms what these are. Give the customers an option to do a quick accept by clicking on a button or to read more – in which case the detailed document can be provided. Mobile apps are very effective tools for engaging with customers on tasks such as these because they are easy and convenient for customers to use.

High Customer Value, Low Business Value

This is the sector where digital transformation can make a big impact on a business. When tasks are repetitive, such as customers phoning in asking the same type of questions, this is not the best use of human expertise; and it’s therefore an opportunity to use digital and self-service channels to manage the customer contact more efficiently. Customers could be directed to FAQ’s on a website where answers to common questions are provided. Chatbots can tap into an existing knowledge base and provide customers with the answers they’re looking for. Chatbots can also be used effectively by providing a 24/7 service channel, which is far more cost-effective than trying to man a contact centre in shifts.

High Customer Value, High Business Value

Here the blend between human and digital resources can be optimised to create a better customer experience and ensure that the business is operating as effectively as it could be. Analytical data-based tasks can be more efficiently handled by digital technology, such as capturing customer information, but these should be done in a way that it supports a better customer experience. Systems need to work effectively and integrate with one another so that advisors have easy access to the information they need. This may involve merging the CRM system with the operations or accounting system so the customer’s history can be easily referenced. Contact centre advisors should be trained to interact with empathy and creativity, have accurate problem solving skills, and be empowered to find solutions to customer’s problems in the most efficient way.

As much as technology has advanced, it still has a long way to go. Easygoing banter, which is an important part of customer rapport building, will be difficult for machines to emulate. Equally, complex problems cannot easily be solved by adhering to strict policies and procedures, which is how machines would compute a solution. Humans still have the advantage of creative thinking and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The key factor is to have a clear strategy and build on the strengths of what both humans and machines have to offer, because this is ultimately what will help deliver a better customer experience and value to the business.

Carolyn Blunt is Managing Director of Ember Real Results, an organisation within the expert customer management consultancy Ember Group and that works with contact centres to improve performance through world-class training, coaching and learning.

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