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PHOTO: Jon Tyson


Some companies, such as T-Mobile, allow callers access to a team of experts to resolve issues, while others have complex IVR trees and long wait times before a caller does. have the opportunity to speak to a human being. The difference between the approaches comes down to price, well-trained human agents cost more, while automated solutions are efficient, less expensive and more scalable.

However, T-Mobile says the cost to serve its customers has decreased by 13% since adopting the team of experts approach.

Other companies may also see value in the “expert” approach. Farm equipment maker Agco is testing its Precision Ag Line to put Acgo precision farming experts directly at the disposal of farmers for technology support for various equipment needs.

The right approach?

There’s no one right approach, said Kate Leggett, vice president and senior analyst at Forrester. “I think it’s a lot more nuanced than automation versus expert resources. It will depend on what type of industry you are in, who the customer is, what value that customer is, what kind of business model is there. that drives your business. ”B2B business customers, for example, tend to spend more than a consumer buying cheaper retail products, so a direct connection to a human agent may make more sense. economic.

For the most part, the customer with a problem doesn’t care whether the problem is resolved through automation or through an agent. What matters most is that the problem is resolved quickly and correctly, according to Leggett, referring to the “3Es” of customer experience: ease, efficiency and empathy.

Agent training is essential

“When it comes to the debate between an ‘expert’ team and a basic service approach, brands should not underestimate the value of investing in the broader training of their team members, sometimes even as universal agents – people trained to handle almost any problem a customer may have on any channel, ”said Chuck Koskovich, COO of Telus International.

Koskovich advised companies to invest in in-depth and continuous training and in the development of team members.

Automating

“Every organization wants to provide efficient and knowledgeable customer support, execution can be difficult,” said David Campbell, vice president of product marketing for SugarCRM, highlighting the difficulty of evolving a human workforce to meet the challenges. demand, especially as interactions with customers increase – although outsourcing may solve part of the volume problem, and repetitive questions (i.e., “what is my card balance?” credit? ”) that are processed more efficiently and quickly through automation.

Automation also lends itself to better and more comprehensive tracking, said Sharel Omar, CEO and co-founder of Affogata. “By relying solely on humans, regardless of their level of expertise, brands will have a hard time discovering models, truly understanding how well a call went, and effectively sharing information between multiple people. teams. There is no possibility to prioritize.

Most customers who drop out never complain directly to the company, which means brands need to be proactive in finding trends, especially tech companies that thrive on an agile system of updates. regular days that can be posted every week, Omar added.

A balanced approach

Whether a business turns to an expert approach or toward automation, both are needed in most cases, agreed Leggett and other experts.

“For example, if there is a charge on my phone bill that I don’t understand and can get an automated response, I’m happy,” Leggett said. However, if the issue is more complex with a phone bill or is emotionally charged, such as needing advice from a healthcare provider, the customer will want to be able to speak to a human. Even so, automation can help calls that are easily handled without human intervention.

Leggett added that if it was an IVR or other automated system in the beginning, any IVR tree would have to be shorter for calls in healthcare or other areas when a client is. likely to be emotionally charged or in need of a quick response. She added that the contact center should use sentiment analysis to help determine when a caller is under stress to bring the customer to an agent faster.

“When we compare automation to personalized human assistance or ‘white glove’ customer support, we often think of one as better than the other,” said David Singer, vice president of product strategy at Verint. . “Organizations are faced with a false choice between maximizing efficiency with automation or improving customer experience or problem solving. Why can’t they choose both? ”

Singer added that companies often take a broad approach to automating the simplest customer requests without the ability to choose to speak with an employee, but this often forces the customer into a frustrating circular loop within the automation system. , where he never gets the answer. they need. Thus, a customer should be able to easily exit the automated system and opt for live support if needed.

Kosivch added that brands should monitor when and why customers seek help and harvest data from those interactions to balance team workloads and maintain minimum wait times for customers.