In this era of rapid technological transformation, where nothing is as it was a decade ago, two familiar words seem to have only grown in importance over time: customer service. More than an innovative business model, more than the level of market disruption that they can create, it is this aspect of their operations that business leaders are now turning to in order to create greater market differentiation. In today’s increasingly-shrinking, hyper-competitive global business landscape, ensuring a high level of customer service has arguably become more critical than it has ever been before.
Think back to your own behaviour as a consumer of products and services. Should you face a challenge with a particular offering, your first response is to contact the customer helpdesk. This communication could be in the form of a long email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a scathing call to the customer support centre, a negative app review, or a furious social media outburst. An inability to properly handle your discontentment usually leads to a disavowal of its services within your peer groups. In most cases, it hardly matters if that particular organisation has better products or is offering its services at a better price point; once you have a sour experience with the company’s customer service, you are unlikely to want to repeat your business with it.
And nothing, absolutely nothing, leads to a bitterer customer service experience than the long wait before you can get to an agent.
Hold it right there: Why it is important to reduce the average hold time (AHT) of your business
Back in 2013, W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, along with NOVO 1 and Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, conducted a study on customer rage in the United States. With the percentage of consumers satisfied with the problem resolution standing at a measly 44 per cent, the findings highlighted several major problems. What was most surprising, however, was the fact that this figure stood unchanged from the very first such study conducted by the White House – way back in 1976! For almost three decades, the customer satisfaction levels in the US had not improved, despite all the tech-powered solutions that businesses had deployed to improve it.
More recent studies give an indication as to why this might be so. According to a 2015 survey by Consumer Reports National Research Center, almost 75 per cent of consumers is annoyed by their inability to get a live person on the phone. This finding is corroborated by a 2017 study by Arise in its Customer Service Frustration Series, which revealed that customers are no longer willing to stay on hold for long durations; almost two-thirds of the consumers surveyed for the report said that they would only wait for two minutes or less before hanging up, while 13 per cent indicated that they found any kind of hold before reaching a customer service executive unacceptable. These findings marked a stark shift from the consumer behaviour just four years back when American Express revealed that customers were willing to hold for as long as 13 minutes to get their queries resolved.
And customer satisfaction is not the only thing that longer AHTs are impacting. In a recent study, Zendesk estimated that 95 per cent of customers inform of a bad customer service experience to at least one other person, while 54 per cent share it with at least five other people. This not only ends up tarnishing your brand’s perception in the consumer market but also ends up chipping away at your revenue bottom line; businesses in the US alone lose business to the tune of $1.6 trillion due to bad customer service experience. Clearly, customer experience is not something that business can afford to compromise on. This is exactly where new-age AI-powered solutions are stepping into the picture to turn the customer satisfaction tide in favour of the service providers.
How AI-led solutions such as Zero IVR are eliminating the challenges of long hold times
Call centres, today, are veritable data factories. The sheer volume of calls that an average call centre handles on a daily basis gives businesses a highly promising data pool which contains a lot of business-critical information about their customers. This includes contact details, the products and services which consumers have purchased, their issues with specific offerings, and the solutions that they require. What Zero IVR does, essentially, is use this untapped data pool to proactively detect, address, and take ownership of consumer grievances through AI and big data analytics.
Imagine a customer calling about the inability to login to your mobile app, or to access a particular feature or service in-app. Now, this issue could be because some error on the customer’s device, but could just as likely be caused by a server-wide service outage that your agents don’t yet know about. Through big data analytics, AI-led communications tools can identify specific keywords within call flows to ascertain, in real-time, whether the problem is localised or more widespread in nature.
In addition to helping your agents resolve consumer queries satisfactorily, what this approach also does is empower you with the information you need to formulate a more proactive grievance mechanism. Zero IVR can, through AI and the innovative text-to-speech (TTS) technology, analyse the most probable issue that a customer might be calling about and address it without them needing to be redirected to a customer service executive.
For instance, in the above example, deploying Zero IVR can notify callers about a possible server issue causing app login errors and inform them about the current steps being taken to mitigate it, as well as the approximate issue resolution timeline. If the caller confirms that they are calling for the same issue, Zero IVR further gives them an option of talking to a live agent. Most callers don’t exercise that option; the fact that the business knows about the issue they are facing and is working towards actively addressing it is reassurance enough in a majority of cases. The inbound call volumes and the calls in the queue also go down, leaving your customer service executives with more time to address other issues of greater criticality.
On the side: Other benefits of integrating Zero IVR into your customer support operations
Apart from significantly enhancing the customer experience, Zero IVR can unlock several auxiliary benefits for your business. The very same automated systems which identify possible customer issues can simultaneously trigger the most relevant recovery mechanism, thus improving the timeliness of issue resolution and minimising the service downtime. With the bots doing most of the calling, you also need fewer executives to manage your customer support operations, which in turn can help you realise drastic savings on your business’ operational costs. Moreover, since AI-powered bots neither get tired nor are subject to fluctuations in mood or morale, you can ensure better consistency and reliability as far as the end-customer support experience is concerned.
Zero IVR can take the customer service experience of your business to another level with a more proactive approach that identifies any possible end-user issue and convey the information to the customer with a phone call. Imagine how helpful it would be to have the OTA that you booked your holiday from calling you to inform that your early morning flight has been delayed by half an hour. This personalised, contextual usage of AI and text-to-speech (TTS) technologies in Zero IVR helps in addressing customer concerns from the get-go, without having them stay on hold for long durations or dealing with the stress that comes with frenetic calling. Customer satisfaction for the brand improves drastically as a result, as does its market value and perception. And this, more than anything else, is what organisations across the globe need today to survive and thrive.