In Customer Support, Every Minute Matters

This article first appeared on KMWorld (gated).  

Recently, we spoke with a head of customer service at a US-based manufacturing company. He relayed how he periodically reviews recordings of support calls, to understand where coaching is needed or improvements can be made in the process. He shared how incredibly frustrated he was that in most cases, 80% of the call time is actually silence. Silence, while the agent searches for the right answer to solve the problem, and the customer waits.  

What shocked us was the estimated cost of that silence – thousands of dollars per day; millions of dollars per year.  

Imagine if that answer could be found 1 minute faster – or even 10? The savings for a team of 100 agents in 1 year could amount to over a million dollars.  

The Need for Speed

Cost-saving alone isn’t the only reason customer support organizations strive to resolve issues faster. Customers are more demanding than ever when it comes to swift resolution of issues. In fact, Forrester found that 77% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing companies can do to provide them with good customer service.

However, many customers start first by searching the web for an answer, with the expectation another user has encountered the problem and has shared the solution. Barring success there, they’ll turn to self-service on the vendor’s site, such as a knowledge base, FAQ, or forum. 90% of users expect a vendor to offer a self-service portal, and more and more companies are offering automated virtual assistants, or chatbots, to help resolve issues without the aid of a live agent.  

However, only 48% of self-service attempts are successful, so the user then must engage with an agent, through one or more of a variety of channels such as email, live chat, or social media. And the stakes for speed go up, since the customer has already invested time trying to solve the problem. 

Brand Reputation

The internet and smartphones have set a high bar for getting answers to questions and give customers a forum for sharing any less-than-acceptable experiences. One only needs to google “bad customer support experience” to find millions of postings about poor customer service. In fact, in one report, one-third of survey respondents said they’d rather “clean a toilet” than speak with customer service. 

And in a separate survey, 54% of Millennials said they stopped doing business because of poor customer service; 50% of Gen Xers and 52% of Baby Boomers felt the same way.

That’s business that goes to a competitor. And with the commoditization of so many products and services, the customer service experience is one of the last frontiers upon which companies can differentiate.  

What if there was a better way? 

So, if delivering a great customer support experience comes down to delivering the right answer as quickly as possible, wouldn’t you want to find ways to do that? 

The challenges facing the customer support teams we speak to include having information scattered across the organization – the “right” answer may be in the support knowledge base, or in a chat log, an email, in product documentation or a parts catalog, and so on. It might be in the form of structured information that’s easy to search through, or live amid the vast stores of unstructured data that reside in so many businesses today. Wherever the answer lies, for most customer support teams, it takes time – lots of time – to put their finger on the right answer. Time that the customer considers so valuable. 

But there is a way to claw back that time, to get to the answer faster, and give your customer their time back. Intelligent Search makes that possible. 

Key Principles of Intelligent Search 

Intelligent Search, at the highest level, includes the following four components: 

  • Data Sources – Intelligent Search breaks down information silos within organizations and integrates all data sources – including structured and unstructured data – into one centralized experience. 
  • Artificial Intelligence – Intelligent Search incorporates AI-capabilities such as machine learning, natural language processing, and text analytics, to ensure the system understands the intent of a user’s query and can deliver the most relevant answer. It also makes sure security & permissions are honored.  
  • A Flexible UI – Intelligent Search integrates search experiences seamlessly into agent workflows, and goes beyond just text inputs to accept voice, image, documents, and so onto provide the most natural experience possible. 
  • Insights and Answers – Intelligent Search not only delivers the most relevant answer, but also presents it in a way that’s most natural for the consumption of that answer. For example, if the question is: “Who’s the expert on machine learning?”, the user expects to get back a result that points to a person, not a document.  

Intelligent Search can be employed to assist the agent and can be incorporated into the self-service experiences that a company offers. And according to Gartner, “Improved delivery of contextual knowledge to an employee or customer reduces a provider's response time by 20%-80%, raising competency and satisfaction.” 

Coming Full Circle

So back to the scenario we opened with. Using Intelligent Support, instead of hearing dead air, the customer support manager would be hearing answers being delivered in a shorter period of time. Customers would have their time and satisfaction back, and the company would be saving time, saving money, and saving their brand reputation. The equation – and the solution – is pretty simple. 

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