Customers today have myriad ways to contact a business, enabled by the digital explosion that has taken businesses online. Despite that, many people still like to – or need to – communicate with customer service the old fashioned way: talking to a representative on the phone.
By setting up an IVR, businesses have found an efficient way to resolve simple requests, but often fall well short of what the customers – and the businesses themselves – need. According to a Vonage study, 51% of customers have abandoned a call because of the IVR, which in turn costs the businesses $262 per customer every year. For businesses that deal with high-end products, this cost could be exponentially higher.
So knowing that customers dislike IVRs and that almost every major company uses an IVR, what are the top priorities for enterprise contact center leaders as they look to improve their telephony experience? These are the main focuses we have heard from leaders across a range of job titles, departments, and industries.
An enhanced customer experience
It sounds obvious after the above findings from Vonage, but it holds true when you talk to contact center leaders: businesses want to improve the customer experience for the large number of people that call with issues or questions.
Traditional IVRs have a raft of problems because of how limiting they are. Right from the start, the set menu can be confusing in its attempts to make everything black and white to the customer. If they have a specific question – and they often do, which is why they call the business rather than talking to a chatbot on the business’s website or social media platforms – then they want to get a personalized experience. A menu that leaves no room for questions and perhaps doesn’t even have a category that seems appropriate for that inquiry brings only frustration.
There can be further friction points even when the caller moves beyond the IVR. Information the IVR has already requested, such as personal identifiers, typically have to be repeated. There are also many instances where the IVR places the customer with an agent in the wrong department, meaning that agent then has to reroute the caller and the caller has to wait on hold for longer.
While this is obviously a concern for everyone, executives in the areas of customer service and customer experience, as well as those generally in charge of the contact center, are often most concerned with overcoming these issues. The multiple friction points of the IVR system lead to high abandonment rates in calls, leading to the types of customer dissatisfaction and lost dollars highlighted in the Vonage study. Those lost dollars are adding up too: the average call center abandonment rate has hit 12%, according to Talkdesk – well above the 5-8% mark that is considered widely acceptable, depending on the industry. General sentiment around the company also drops and is reflected in reduced CSAT and NetPromoter scores.
Greater revenue opportunities
The example from Vonage’s study highlights how the customer experience leads to lost revenue from existing customers, but your contact center can also be a generator of net-new revenue if harnessed correctly.
Hospital systems are a prominent example of this. These systems need to book appointments with patients in order to generate revenue. Furthermore, hospitals have patients – especially new patients – constantly calling in order to set up appointments. However, most hospital systems’ telephony platforms are not set up to make booking appointments easy.
In most cases, a potential patient currently has to listen to the IVR menu options, select the one most closely resembling bookings and appointments, and then wait on hold for a live agent to be available. This wait time can cause abandonment, while the limitations of the live agent to only be talking to one person at one time restricts the number of potential patients that can be served, especially because hospital systems generally have relatively fewer agents than other organizations. Patients can just find a place where an appointment is easier to book.
It’s not just hospital systems that have revenue opportunities. Customer service and contact center leaders from other industries, including travel, entertainment, and insurance, have the opportunity to use virtual agents to intelligently reach new customers and open up new revenue streams. Travel and entertainment companies, for instance, have people calling to make appointments or arrangements much like hospital systems, while insurance companies field a range of inquiries that need to be addressed.
It’s no secret that running a contact center is very expensive, especially for large enterprises with high call volumes and a large number of agents. Although traditional IVRs can answer some basic questions, self-service and call deflection rates are generally quite low, and most callers want to speak to an agent to answer their specific questions.
As such, call center leaders are constantly making staffing decisions balancing cost versus service levels and hold times based on predicted call volumes, which is often based on nothing more than historical trends. Normal variability in volumes often lead to higher than desired hold times and abandonment rates when call volumes are higher than predicted or conversely higher than necessary staffing and expenses when there are fewer calls than predicted. Costs are compounded because of the high agent turnover that call centers often suffer from – the average rate of turnover for a call center was 30-45% before the pandemic. This high turnover means you’re paying to onboard and train new agents constantly, while even experienced agents have questions they don’t know how to answer.
Contact center executives across all industries are looking for ways to reduce costs by enabling self-service where possible. This in turn will free live agents up to learn and deal with higher level and more complex issues, and help the customers themselves have a smoother, simpler experience. Airlines are leading the charge here, allowing customers to get information about their flights directly from the virtual agent, while more complex issues progress on to live agents.
How leaders are achieving contact center transformation
At 1904labs, along with researching what contact center leaders need, we have also been working with clients to help solve these issues. We have recently been working with a leading managed care company to transform their contact center and provide an integrated, customer-first experience on their new cloud-based telephony platform centered on Amazon Connect. In addition to serving as the voice platform of the future, they will see cost and flexibility benefits from the consolidation of legacy platforms acquired through recent M&A activity. Using our HCDAgile methodology, we are helping the managed care leader best structure the initiative to provide a transformative experience for their customers, build architecture that’s easily repeatable and cost-effective, and realize business value with our measurement framework providing key business metrics.
If you need assistance achieving your contact center priorities or would just like to discuss to know more about what is happening in the space, we would love to hear from you.