Is your automated technology a threat to customer relationships?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Neil Hammerton, CEO of Natterbox looks at the pros and cons of increased automation when it comes to customer service.

We’ve all been there: trying to call our bank, GP, or local job centre, and having to press an infinite number of keys to get through to an automated voice that will make us wait on the line while letting us know that we’re number 20 in the queue. Companies claim that automating communication with the customer is making their journey much more efficient and streamlined. But is that really the case or are companies just putting a barrier between them and their customers?

It seems almost impossible nowadays for customers to get through to anyone on the phone when calling a company. Bearing in mind customers are likely to only pick up the phone when they want to sort something out quickly or they have a problem, this poor experience is probably going to have a damaging effect on brand perception and loyalty.

A Times investigation for instance recently found that Britain’s Big Six energy suppliers were taking more than 20 minutes to answer customer phone calls in some instances, prompting many to switch suppliers. In today’s competitive market, businesses cannot risk losing customers because of poor service. They need to develop good relationships rather than relying on technology to do it for them. They need to stop hiding behind automated processes and chatbots and distancing themselves from their customers.

Forcing customers to communicate with robots through several layers of filtering and recorded voices can make them more frustrated and their lives more difficult than a quick conversation with a customer service agent. For customers, there is nothing worse than feeling like the organisation they’re trying to reach isn’t prioritising their needs. Avoiding unpleasant conversations by hiding behind technology only makes it harder for customers to trust the brand and build a positive relationship.

Fortunately, we live now in an age of unprecedented technological advancement; which means that for every pain point that an organisation has, there’s usually some technology available to solve it. Advancements in telephony technology mean that businesses have the resources to make the phone experience much more enjoyable and insightful for both their customers and their staff. Businesses no longer need to see the phone as the conduit for difficult conversations, but as one for insights that benefit the business.

The first thing organisations need to keep in mind, when it comes to their customers, is that they want to have the company’s whole and undivided attention. This means a personalised experience, which entails knowing your customers well enough to provide that experience. When customers know they’re being cared for, they start thinking positively about brands, and might be inclined to expand their conversations beyond complaints or issues. When conversations become more pleasant, this is an opportunity for brands to build positive relationships with their customers and gain more insights.

Technology can also help businesses provide greater job satisfaction to customer service agents by ensuring their skills are properly used and they get the training they need. Skills-based routing can for instance allow customers to be automatically directed to an agent equipped with the skills needed for that particular customer’s profile; this is made possible thanks to artificial intelligence collecting and analysing data from previous interactions between the customer and the brand.

But AI can also be used to determine good calls from bad calls, allowing companies to then provide the necessary training for agents to best perform their job. This, ultimately, means less time wasted trying to redirect or inadequately answer a customer’s query, and more time available to work on building relationships – which an automated phone system cannot do by itself.

The automation of phone services does have benefits – if companies use it properly. Technology must be used in ways that will enhance the performance of contact agents, freeing them up to do their job: be the first point of contact in an organisation and build positive, lasting relationships with customers.

 

Neil Hammerton (08.18)Neil Hammerton, CEO and co-founder of Natterbox, and has been in IT for most of his working life. A serial entrepreneur, Neil began his career as a research laboratory apprentice with British Telecoms where he obtained an HND in electronics. The idea that became Natterbox occurred to him when he realised how poorly a big company he was working for dealt with incoming phone calls. Working with two co-founders, Neil launched Natterbox in 2010. Neil is passionate about the telecoms industry, technology and what Natterbox is helping its customers to achieve. He considers Natterbox the biggest success of his entrepreneurial career to date.