“The sell it and forget it kind of relationship with customers just doesn’t add to a full brand experience,” says Art Schoeller, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. “We want to drive enrichment, we want to drive retention, and we want to drive loyalty.”
Companies like Airbnb, Amazon, and Lyft have trained consumers to expect seamless, reliable service experiences with omni-channel support communications. Those positive experiences “aren’t just a feel-good kind of thing,” Scholar says. They have a material impact on lifetime customer value.
Whether it’s issuing recalls, scheduling service visits, or handling payment or leasing and purchase inquiries, customers are increasingly using many different communication platforms to interact with their chosen brands. That can include chat, email, phone, social media, text, even video chatting.
Automakers and dealerships are increasingly looking to anticipate customer needs throughout the ownership lifecycle and have solutions ready to respond to them with the right message at the right time on the customer’s preferred communication channel.
Ford redesigned how its large contact centers operate in 2019 as part of a plan for improving customer loyalty. “When experiences are good, we're rewarded with higher loyalty," Elena Ford, the automaker's chief customer experience officer said at the time. That means more service visits, more purchases, and happier customers.
Auto Retailers are also automating conversational lead capture and nurturing as well as supporting outbound business development center efforts.
The mechanics of customer service and contact centers are changing, says Schoeller, and at the heart of that change is cloud technology. Cloud contact center solutions aren’t new, but the more powerful the machine learning and the bigger the IT infrastructure, the more effective they become. “Artificial intelligence is not just for chat bots or reducing costs, though it can do those things,” he says. “AI cuts across many areas of customer support.”
Robotic process automation can help assist agents. Prescriptive AI can help route customer concerns expediently. Machine learning algorithms can decipher trends within calls and even intake data from devices, and they can put that information onto live agents’ screens. That leads to quicker and more accurate resolutions of customer concerns.
“The technology that’s at the core of having a contact center as a service is the routing, the filtering, and the matching of the right agent with the right customer at the right time,” Schoeller says. “It also informs the agent’s workspace itself. What’s presented on the agent’s desktop has to be useful and relevant.”
Cloud technology, he says, empowers agents to be researchers and problem solvers rather than people who look something up that could be found elsewhere via self-service.
Recently Amazon Web Services (AWS), CRM provider Salesforce and IT consultancy Slalom teamed up to create a call center for an electric car startup. Functionally the team was able to deliver chat, email-to-case, knowledge base, and telephony (including personally identifiable information redaction) in a relatively short amount of time while integrating with many other systems.
Cloud-based contact center solutions make it easier to integrate customer service with other systems such as account management, customer profile data platforms, metadata and order management, and retail platforms.
Cloud systems like this also make it much easier to communicate with customers across different channels, Schoeller says. Email and the phone may be the most popular, but customers are used to being able to make contact through SMS, social media, even through video chat. It can be hard to integrate lots of different platforms into a single tool, but ignoring those channels isn’t wise.
“When I talk to Forrester customers who say they want to force customers onto their website so they can reduce live calls, that’s a red flag,” Schoeller says. “Customers will go where they go. Brands that really want retention, enrichment, and loyalty need to meet customers on their channel of choice.”