Brands must communicate like customers or lose them

By VHT

In 2019, businesses and governments spent over $1.5 trillion dollars to answer inbound phone calls in contact centers, which are staffed by over a million trained agents. The technology these agents use reflects a world that no longer exists; our phones no longer have cords and don’t rely on number pads. Today, over 200 million US consumers carry smartphones; exposing compelling opportunities to both delight consumers, improve ROI and transform the brand experience.

In a moment of levity, the CEO of one of the nation’s largest wireless operators quipped that “most people would rather clean a toilet than navigate our IVR”. While it’s true that navigating the IVR is a pain point, the real issue is how often the experience results in a failed outcome for both the brand and the consumer. The design of the voice channel continues to decrease in value. The infrastructure the brand has put in place is now disconnected from the technology and expectations of the consumer.

Today’s consumer communicates in ways not accounted for, nor compatible with, the design of the legacy contact center.

Messaging continues to move toward eclipsing voice as the major mode of communication. Consumers (and that includes all of us) have established a new pattern of preceding phone calls with text messages to avoid impolite interruptions and missed calls. Calls from unknown numbers are rarely from friends. It’s no wonder that business call answer rates are poor and getting worse. It’s the new normal. Systems designed in the times of kitchen phones could not have perceived this fundamental way communications would change.

This essential dichotomy between business and personal communications strikes at the heart of the relationship between brands and their customers. Their customers communicate in one way with their friends, and in an entirely different way with the brands. If today’s corporations want to be friends with their customers, they will have to communicate like every other friend. To do otherwise is simply to advertise that this conversation is not with a friend, hardly the relationship most brands want with their fans.

An Existing Solution: The Smartphone

A migration strategy is required to connect today’s smartphones to the existing landline designed call center. Imagine the financial impact of diverting even 10% of calls to a SMS text mode? Even if the consumer’s first interaction is through the voice channel, a return visit via messaging provides the ability for the consumer to interact with the brand in a manner consistent with how they interact with friends. More so, customer satisfaction will rise as hold times are eliminated, missed calls become rare, and live help will be available over both voice and messaging. The business case for modernizing to include text messaging is unavoidable.

How Incorporating Messaging Works

Offers to transition between voice and messaging can be driven by existing behaviors of both businesses and consumers. For example, consumers are already well acquainted with IVR as their entry point into a brand’s voice channel. The first step into the world of complete conversations is a simple extension into the top level IVR navigation flow that offers the consumer the opportunity to transition to a messaging session. WIth a keypad number choice the consumer receives an inbound message from the phone number they contacted with an invitation to continue the call as a messaging session. The consumer can then optionally hang up the phone and continue the session as an SMS conversation.

VHT’s approach to Complete Conversations takes this scenario one step further. If at any point in time the consumer wishes to engage with a live agent – they simply ask to speak with an agent. Through intelligent call monitoring the consumer’s request to speak to an agent automatically triggers a request for either the next available agent or provides the option to schedule the call. The consumer will then receive an inbound call from the brand so the conversation with the agent can continue.

Enabling consumers to easily transition, in context, between a voice and messaging interaction requires more than simple IVR prompts or AI bot deployment. Any viable solution must offer brands the ability to improve service levels and lower costs while simultaneously increasing the consumer’s choice. For example, VHT’s Mindful platform accomplishes this by constantly monitoring queue conditions so that the demand for agent services is aligned with available agent capacity and specialization.

A Practical Approach

Allowing customers to seamlessly transition between messaging and voice does not interfere with other communications efforts currently underway. As longer term plans for enterprise messaging are considered, these simple fixes have the potential to offer significant improvements in customer satisfaction with much lower cost and faster implementation times.

The only viable way forward is to meet consumers where they are: on their smartphones, where keypad access is cumbersome, and in the text messaging channel, which is second nature to them. Text messaging will no longer merely be a supplementary approach moving forward. It’s the other side of the Complete Conversation coin.