The following is a guest post from Mike McCarron, VP of Customer Success at Gladly.
Imagine a future where your top salesperson isn’t from your store on prime Rodeo Drive, but Judy, a customer service agent working out of your Denver contact center. Unlike the flying cars promised to us in Back to the Future, the idea that your contact center can be a main contributor to your company’s revenue isn’t a distant reality—it’s something companies can realistically achieve with the right people, a modern technology platform, and a focused effort on building strong, lasting relationships with customers.
The State of the Cost Contact Center
In today’s contact centers, much of the conversation revolves around cost and efficiency.
How do you reduce the time an agent spends helping a customer so they can move on to the next person in line? Are the projected cost-savings enough to justify the investment in your next IT or customer service project? Resources in the contact center today are becoming increasingly squeezed, with contact center managers being expected to hit ever-expanding goals with less.
But when companies focus their efforts strictly on reducing costs and average handle times, there is a danger that their service can become too transactional, which isn’t the most conducive to building close, lasting relationships with customers. That means companies stand to lose out on the incredibly valuable ROI of cultivating a loyal band of customers truly engaged with their brand.
Show Me the Money: The ROI of the Engaged Customer
The aim for any customer service team is to ensure the satisfaction of their customers—that any questions that were asked are answered, and any issues resolved. But the returns from not just meeting their expectations, but truly engaging with your customer can far outweigh the results of just ensuring that your customer is satisfied.
According to studies by the Harvard Business Review, a fully engaged customer spends twice as much annually as a customer that is ‘highly satisfied’. They also account for 37% of a company’s revenue despite making up just 22% of their consumer base.
An engaged customer is also more likely to evangelize on behalf of a brand. And since 92% of consumers are more likely to rely on reviews from friends, family, and the Internet rather than company-sponsored advertising, that’s free publicity that companies cannot afford to ignore.
While many factors can contribute to a customer’s engagement with a brand, people are powerful, and the human connection can be one of the most impactful and, often underestimated, tools in a company’s toolbelt. To help facilitate that connection, it’s important that companies arm their customer service agents with the context, technology, and the freedom to focus on the customer and build the rapport and connection that keeps customers loyal.
Transforming Your Contact Center
Hiring: The agents you hire today may be very different from the type of agent you need to support a revenue-generating contact center. For the latter, an agent needs to have both issue resolution skills (with the necessary empathy and people skills to understand and connect with your customers) as well as sales skills (to be able to recommend items or services in a way that is helpful to the customer, and not a hard sell).
Training: The way you train your agents will also have to change to adapt to the new revenue-driven strategy of support. Instead of just knowing how to answer questions, an agent should also have a keen understanding of the breadth of products and services you offer, and understand when to offer which to a customer. And while contact center agents are typically trained in areas like problem resolution, escalation management, and customer empathy, they’re usually not as well-versed on the ‘sales’ soft skills, which involves being able to put themselves in the shoes of the customer and predict what they may like or be interested in that they haven’t even asked for.
Metrics and KPIs: Over the past 20+ years, contact centers have relied on the age-old metrics of Average Handle Time (AHT) to measure performance. And while AHT is a useful metric to understand agent efficiency, it isn’t enough on its own to give you the full picture when your focus shifts towards revenue generation. An agent may, for example, have to spend longer on the phone when trying to connect with or sell to a customer. If judged purely on AHT, that extra time would be viewed as inefficient. But when you overlay the revenue gain from that added time taken—for example, if it generates an increase in revenue of 20% because the agent is spending more time with those customers to understand them, know them, and recommend them products—then it doesn’t make sense to judge the agent on AHT alone.
Incentives: As you reconsider the metrics and KPIs with which you measure your contact center, the way you incentivize agents should change with it. For example, while the traditional approach is to incentivize agents based on low AHT, a revenue-focused model should prioritize ‘conversion’ over the time taken to handle a customer. Agents should also be given sales quotas to hit, so they understand their goal and the part they play in generating revenue for the company.
Accounting for Outreach: How you determine the staffing needs for your contact center will also change under a revenue-generating model. While you’d traditionally base your forecasting on the volume of inbound customer interactions, a revenue-generating model needs to account for the added man-hours (and manpower) required to conduct proactive outreach to those customers. For example, you might currently forecast that each of your agents can handle around 45-50 customer interactions per day. But to allow your agents the capacity to interact with your customers and turn them into engaged customers—whether that’s through proactive outreach, or simply spending more time to understand their needs—your forecasting needs to expand to account for the extra time and resources required to do that.
Empower agents: Moving towards this model of forming deeper, more personalized relationships with customers requires agents to have a better understanding of who the customer is—and that means arming your team with up to date, modern tools necessary to facilitate that. The customer service platform that your agents use should provide them with the necessary customer context for them to build upon when speaking to a customer—for example, are they a high-value shopper? Are they more likely to buy full-price or on sale? Do they prefer a window or aisle seat? If agents don’t have visibility into a customer’s past transactions, or their individual preferences, they’ll essentially be flying blind when it comes to recommending products or services.
Having the past interactions between the customer and the company readily available also gives agents a history to work off of, so customers feel as if they’re having one continuous conversation with your company, instead of several, piecemeal interactions—and that’s far more conducive to building a trusted connection than a purely transactional, one-off approach.
Company-Wide Investment: Customers provide the companies they buy from with a considerable amount of information about themselves: their personal contact information, spending habits, purchase preferences. Yet most companies will admit that they still don’t have a full picture of who their customers are, not to mention the most valuable ones that may be accounting for a majority of their top line revenue. And that’s because unfortunately for many companies, all that valuable insight about their customers is usually siloed across multiple systems in multiple places, without a single way to bring all that contextual information into one view for the heroes on the front line-your customer service agents.
The best brands realize that customer service isn’t just the responsibility of the customer service team. That every single person in the company has a part to play to service the customer. As one of our favorite brands, JetBlue, likes to say, they consider themselves a customer service company that just happens to fly planes. When companies bring in the technology and tools to marry all those siloed points of information into a single source of truth for your teams to leverage, they are wildly more productive, happier and then can deliver a happier experience to your customers – one that often times leads to repeat business and repeat revenue.
We’re sharing more stories and experiences of brands transforming their customer service strategies on Feb 5th at the Execs In the Know Customer Response Summit, Customer Shop Talk session. I’d be happy to continue the conversation.
Mike McCarron is the VP of Customer Success at Gladly, a customer service platform that enables companies to focus on people talking to people throughout a lifetime of naturally productive conversations. Meet us at the Innovation Lab to see how Gladly can help put your customer back at the center of service to build the kind of long-lasting, personal relationships that lead to loyalty and revenue.