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Giving a Voice to Customer Experience

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Why IVR solutions are critical to effective CX

Businesses know that access to technology means there are more players in the game. That means they have to find new ways to differentiate from the competition. Increasingly companies identify customer service and customer experience (CX) as areas that they can control by combining innovation and technology.

“ By 2022, 25% of organizations will be able to show a positive relationship between improving the customer experience and the ROI measured as a financial value,” according to Gartner.

It’s frequently the case that companies spend more time thinking about how to use the newest technologies that are available than how to get better results from the ones they already have. On the one hand, this makes sense: Innovation matters. On the other hand, focusing too much on the future can jeopardize the present.

That’s why it’s valuable to remember that while most people default to the web as their go-to channel to get stuff done when interacting with businesses, it’s by no means the only one they choose. Yes, preference matters, and you definitely want to cater to your customers’ preferences whenever you can. But at the same time, preference doesn’t also mean exclusivity.

This is the reason that multi- and omni-channel solutions exist. These approaches come with their own challenges though. It’s one thing to optimize a single channel for great customer experience, but nowadays customers expect that things will be uniform regardless of which channel they use.

Yet, despite this knowledge, Gartner suggests that “through 2022, 50% of large organizations will have failed to unify engagement channels, resulting in the continuation of a disjointed and siloed customer experience that lacks context.”

Voice Is Here to Stay

Over a century of sustainability as a means of real-time communication is pretty convincing in its own right. But there are other reasons why voice continues to be an important piece of the business communications puzzle. Voice also has a number of advantages in terms of reliability and accessibility. When it comes to communications, businesses need reliable solutions and voice offers them that.

At a time when most channels require end users to have internet access, voice doesn’t. This provides businesses with a critical safety net for customers in situations that require fast service, but lack internet access.

An effective voice channel replicates a web experience over the phone. The right tools simplify the processes of automating and translating a visual web interface into an audio voice interface. And precisely because it’s possible to emulate the web experience over the phone, voice remains a critical communications and customer service channel.

Interactive voice response (IVR) helps ensure that your voice channel is cost effective, while at the same time delivering a great customer experience through automation and self-service.

As you think about IVR, automation, and self-service, this blog will help you to understand many of the ideas and strategies that underpin a successful voice strategy. The areas covered here include:

  • General principles of voice self-service
  • How customization adds value to your IVR design
  • Why personalization is critical for customer experience
  • The kinds of security you can expect for IVR applications and how those effect CX

Why voice and IVR make sense as starting points for omni- and multi-channel communications projects

Principles of Voice Self-Service Apps

When thinking about ways to improve customer experiences embracing self-service is a no brainer. For most tasks, customers know exactly what they want, and they appreciate the freedom and control that they receive from self-service. The added bonus with the voice channel is that real-time help is usually available at the press of a button.

But using IVR to automate common tasks over the phone cuts to the heart of customer service and customer experience. This is because the primary thing customers want is to resolve their issues quickly. Using IVR to collect and deliver information to customers accelerates customer interactions. If self-service can’t do that, then it doesn’t matter. Plain and simple.

Simply put, self-service gives customers exactly what they want: the ability to control their interactions with a company. This sense of empowerment and the ability to get stuff done quickly helps improve first contact resolution, which leads to happier customers.

Customization Is Key

So, while it’s clear that IVR and voice self-service are valuable to companies and customers alike, ensuring that your IVR provides the experience your customers expect has been a challenge over the years. It’s true, there is no shortage of IVR horror stories. After all, people notice bad IVR more than good IVR. But this is more often due to design, rather than the technology itself.

Happy, delighted customers are always the end goal. But with IVR’s track record, how can companies achieve that goal? Every company is different and a one-size-fits-all approach to customer service just doesn’t pass muster. That’s why custom IVR applications are so beneficial.

A custom IVR application lets companies focus on the customer journey and how to optimize that in relation to customer experience. Doing so lets them develop a call-flow that maximizes customer happiness.

This begs the question: What does a bad call-flow look like? Too many menus and unintuitive navigation, long prompts that callers can’t skip, too many prompts or confirmations that add time to each call, failure to give callers an easy way to transfer out of the application if needs be, are all examples of things that grate on callers.

What, then, should companies focus on when creating an IVR call-flow? When thinking about the customer’s self-service journey it’s helpful not to just think about what information callers want, but also how and when to present that information to them for maximum efficiency.

Intuitive IVR visual builders facilitate customization. Some even offer templates or pre-built applications that drastically accelerate application development. This enables you to spend less time worrying about how to build an effective IVR. Instead, you can focus your resources on managing that system and further optimizing it for better customer experiences.

Personalization and Customer Service

One of the most important things to realize when doing business is that people don’t buy from companies – they buy from other people. When you sit back and think about this it makes sense. It’s easier for someone to connect with another human than it is to connect with a machine.

The main issue with this from a customer service perspective is that humans are expensive. That’s not to say companies shouldn’t hire people to handle customer service inquiries, but rather that there’s a balance to strike between human intervention and machine automation.

When given the option, people often prefer self-service. But this creates a bit of a contradiction: do customers want to talk to humans, or do they want to take care of things themselves? What’s interesting is the more human-like you can make your automated support channels, the better customers respond to them.

One of the best ways to humanize your automated customer service channels is through personalization. Not only does this help customers feel as though they’re being treated like the individuals they are, but it makes for a fast, efficient user experience.

What Personalization Looks Like

When we talk about personalization there’s no single cure-all. A lot depends on the kind of service and information that customers expect. IVR personalization can range from the simple to the complex. Here are a few examples of what personalization looks when it comes to your voice channel.

  • Language Preferences: It’s great to offer multiple language options with your IVR. But once your customers select a language they’re not likely to change it. Therefore, it makes sense to remember their language preference and automatically apply it when they call, thereby skipping the language prompt all together and saving time on the call.
  • Personal Details: Simple things like using a customer’s name in a prompt, or auto-populating their contact information (e.g. address, phone, email) so they only need to verify it is another type of personalization. It’s a lot faster to simply choose yes/no than it is to manually enter information.
  • History: Let’s say that a particular customer has been using email to try to get an issue resolved. When they call for further assistance, instead of going through the standard prompts and menus, the IVR gives them specific options tied directly to their most recent interaction. For example, if a customer was using a banking app and looking up auto loan information and they call the bank within an hour of their last activity on the app, the IVR can ask if they want to speak to someone about auto loans before providing any other options. Not only does this present that customer with the most relevant information right away, but it also eliminates a significant amount of time spent wading through menus.

Implementation

All of this sounds well and good, but it begs the question of how to go about implementing solutions like this. When thinking about your voice channel the first thing you need is a flexible, customizable IVR. In addition to an end-user interface you need good customer data. Typically, this data resides in a company’s CRM solution.

Depending on what you want your user experience to be like, it may be necessary to begin collecting new, additional data from customers. It’s important to remember that customers don’t just give away information for free. There’s an expectation that providing personal data will benefit them in some way. Keep this implicit social contract in mind when designing your personalization efforts.

Once you have an interface (IVR) and customer data (CRM), you need a way for them to communicate. Cloud-based solutions make this part easy by leveraging APIs to connect the different software components. APIs eliminate the need for deep integration and save time and money, which is a major benefit when getting a project like this off the ground.

There are two main takeaways when it comes to personalization.

  • It’s no longer optional. Customers know it’s possible because they see it everywhere and they’ve come to expect it.
  • It’s not difficult. With cloud communications technology and APIs building a custom interface that offers personalization is easier to accomplish than ever before.

Pay-by-Phone & Customer Experience

Paying bills can be a hassle. The whole rigmarole of paying bills means people avoid doing it. This means more late payments and more resources spent on collecting outstanding debts. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Big companies with lots of customers need to be able to cater to all their customers’ preferences. Picking one or two channels means longer remittance times and having less cashflow available. If the goal is to process more payments, faster, then limiting payment options runs counter to that goal.

Providing practical, easy-to-use payment options helps engage customers with the payments process and reduces the frustration associated with it. This also means covering your bases. In order to deliver a truly exceptional customer experience companies have to offer payment options through every channel.

Advantages of Voice

For this reason, adding or upgrading your voice payment channel warrants serious consideration. One of the benefits that voice offers is familiarity; the telephone is a trusted and reliable communications medium. That counts for something, especially when it comes to ease of use.

Customers may not want to have to create an account or remember yet another login and password, but everyone knows how to work a phone. Or they may need to pay a bill quick- ly and not have all that information at hand. Plus, not everyone is able to easily access the internet, but virtually everyone has access to a phone.

Another thing to remember when offering a pay-by-phone payment is that the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is all digital anyway, which means no one channel is inherently ‘easier’ to use than another one when it comes to backend processes.

Furthermore, automating that payment process with IVR has additional benefits:

  • First, removing humans from payment transactions reduces the risk of fraud. That’s not an indictment of anyone’s employees. But eliminating even the temptation makes voice a better alternative to having agents manually process payments.
  • Second, using an IVR payment processing platform that has a robust security profile ensures that customer data remains safe. For processing payments, look for PCI and SOC2 certifications. If you work with healthcare at all, it’s probably a good idea to have HIPAA compliance as well.
  • Third, an IVR is a whole lot cheaper than using agents. Agent costs can be $5 or more per call. An IVR costs pennies on the dollar. For rote processes like payments, use an IVR so your agents can focus on handling more complex issues that require human intervention.

As companies seek to create a better, simpler customer experience when it comes to bill collections, it pays–literally–to provide customers with bill pay options that fit their needs. Adding an over-the-phone payment option is a cost-effective way to process payments quickly while giving customers a reliable, familiar communications medium.

Seamless Customer Experiences with Omni-Channel Communications

Omni-channel communications appeal to a lot of companies. And it makes sense that they do. Having that type of power at your disposal allows businesses to meet customers on their turf. While this means there are more channels to manage, when done right, the bene- fit is that omni-channel communications create a better customer experience.

Omni-Channel vs. Multi-Channel

Now, omni-channel is different from multi-channel. Omni-channel centralizes information  so that different communications channels can work in concert to create a seamless experience. Omni-channel work-flows create a path to task completion that constantly moves forward. This isn’t always the case with multi-channel. Multi-channel is simply the existence of different channels, e.g. phone, web, mobile app, etc. But in a multi-channel situation these different channels don’t intersect.

When customers have an issue and have to explain their situation every time they contact a company they get frustrated. The goal of omni-channel communications is to reduce that frustration by always moving toward a solution regardless of what channel(s) a customer uses or the order they use them.

Start with Voice

Even if you know all about omni-channel and want to utilize it with your company, with so many potential communications channels available it can be challenging to figure out just where to start.

When implementing self-service options, the telephone is a great place to start for a number of reasons. First, virtually everyone has a phone or access to one. That speaks to reach. Second, incorporating interactive voice response (IVR) is cost effective. Your ROI with IVR is about as close to immediate as things get. Third, a number of other channels build off of, or incorporate voice so it’s logical to get that channel up and running first to save time down the line.

Expanding with APIs

Mobile apps, web, email, chat, social media, and live agents are all areas ripe for expansion once you’ve got your feet wet with IVR.

Getting all of these technologies to play nicely together is achieved using APIs. Because APIs make the integration process easier, companies don’t need to settle for a product suite that does one or two things really well and several additional things ‘just ok.’ APIs enable you to seek out and utilize best-in-breed technology.

The reality of the situation is that customers don’t just opt for one channel or another. Oscillating between voice, mobile, web, social media, and email, for example, is very realistic depending on a customer’s preferences and the particular situation they want to resolve. APIs allow you to account for all of these possibilities.

Not only do APIs link your various communications channels together, but they also allow those channels to connect with customer data by tapping into CRM databases. This helps to keep track of customer preferences and to personalize communications.

What Does a Seamless Omni-Channel Experience Look Like?

Let’s look at a hypothetical example to demonstrate how a business might leverage omni-channel capabilities.

Pete keeps his money at Bank of the USA. He calls up the bank because he wants to check his transaction history. The Bank’s IVR software picks up the call and he navigates to the right menu option. The phone system recognizes that Pete is calling from his mobile phone based on his customer profile.

Once Pete makes his choice, the self-service system, knowing that he’s on his mobile phone, asks him if he would rather view his most recent transactions in the Bank of the USA mobile app. Pete decides that that would be preferable, so the system sends him a link via SMS.

Pete hangs up the phone call, opens his text messages, and clicks on the link. This triggers the bank’s mobile app, and after Pete authenticates, he’s taken directly to a page that displays his most recent transactions.

While looking over his account information, Pete notices something unexpected. There’s a link within the app to call customer service so Pete clicks on that link, placing another call to the bank. With access to Pete’s customer profile the bank’s agent sees his recent activity and surmises that he is calling about his recent transactions. Pete explains the issue and they are able to resolve the issue.

In this scenario, Pete started with IVR, shifted to text messaging, which fed into the mobile app, before going back to the voice channel and speaking with an agent. That’s a total of four different communications channels and three transitions between them. By centralizing customer data and providing equal access to that information using APIs each transition in this scenario moved the process further along in a manner that was most convenient for Pete. Forward progress was constant and nowhere along the way did he have to restart from the beginning.

Furthermore, of the four different channel experiences we can identify here, three of them were self-service or driven by automation: IVR, SMS, and the mobile app. Therefore, 75% of Pete’s transaction was contained within Bank of the USA’s self-service workflow.

Not only did this process show Pete that Bank of the USA knew him and catered to his preferences, but it also enabled him to get the information he needed. For Bank of the USA, this transaction was a win because their costliest channel, the live agent, only came into play at the very end. The fact that the agent was prepped to help Pete when he called meant that the agent didn’t need to spend precious time re-hashing the situation. The result is a shorter, more efficient conversation for the agent, which makes the Bank’s agents more cost-effective because they can field more calls.

Let IVR Software Lead the Way

Let’s return to the suggestion above that voice is a great place to start when creating omni-channel solutions. In our example, a robust voice communications platform had a hand in every step. From the IVR, to the text message notifications, to voice calling integrated into the mobile app, to directing callers to a live agent, the common denominator throughout this example was the prevalence and utility of phone-based channels. This common thread is what makes voice the ideal place to start when implementing omni-channel customer service.

Conclusion

Businesses are constantly looking for ways to improve their customer service offerings and, by extension, customer experiences.

The emergence of digital communications channels often relegated voice to the backburner. But as companies focus on improving customer service and customer experiences, they need to optimize every channel.

There are many ways to optimize your voice channel for better customer experiences. This includes customizing your IVR solutions so that they directly address customer needs, leverage personalization to increase engagement, cater to customer needs and expectations, and provide critical information to help propel omni-channel solutions forward.

The desire for self-service through the voice channel by both customers and businesses alike is one that cannot be ignored. But most companies struggle to achieve a 50% call containment rate. Yet, 71% of companies surveyed saw improved call containment rates after implementing Plum Voice. Furthermore, 43% saw their containment rate climb into the 75–100% range and another 32% of customers reached the 50–75% containment range.

When it comes to the voice channel, 41% of surveyed companies said that they partnered with Plum Voice specifically to improve customer experience. After deploying Plum IVR solutions, 68% of companies said their IVR actually did improve customer experiences.

Update your IVR and voice channel to meet the needs of customers in the 21st century, where customer service and customer experience are often the primary differentiators. Plum Voice helps you optimize your IVR to ensure your customers get the service they want and expect, every time.

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