Before the explosion of the Internet and social media, voice was the dominant customer service channel for any inquiry – simple or complex – because there was simply no alternative. Now, with the advent of digital channels, a common misconception is that voice has been rendered obsolete.
In reality, the purpose of the voice channel has shifted. Instead of fielding every inquiry, call center agents now handle the most complex and valuable interactions between businesses and their customers.
Digital Channels Alone Cannot Deliver
Digital customer service channels are a convenient, cost-effective option for both businesses and their customers. 73% of customers report that they prefer to handle their simple problems through self-service channels, finding quick answers to their questions while avoiding the hassle of navigating IVRs and waiting to speak to an agent.
However, digital channels today are falling short. Only 21% of customers rate digital channels as “excellent.”
This is because digital channels are the most effective at handling relatively simple and repetitive tasks. For instance, How-To guides or a chatbot are great tools if the customer has an easy to answer question such as resetting a password. But, what happens when the customer has a more complicated inquiry? No matter how extensive a knowledge portal can be, there will always be instances when the customer is unable to find the answer he/she is looking for.
When digital channels fail to address customer questions, the interaction must be escalated to a conversation with an agent before the relationship is damaged. A study by Qualtrics revealed that around one-third of customer service inquiries that start over a digital channel end up as a phone call with an agent.
The Resurgence of Voice
Voice remains a leading customer service channel for a wide range of users. 74% of customers surveyed globally called a contact center in 2019. Of those callers, the largest group represented is millennials – people from 25 to 34 years old.
This reflects the resilience of voice technology as a means of communication.
Furthermore, on the home front, smart voice assistants like Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have penetrated households at rapid rates over the past few years. From 2014 to 2018, Amazon sold 100 million Alexa-powered devices. By the end of 2019, Amazon had sold over 200 million.
The voice channel has become even more essential since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Verizon currently reports an average of 800 million wireless calls daily on weekdays, almost double the volume of the traditional pick, Mother’s Day. AT&T says Wi-Fi calling minutes on March 23rd were 78% higher than a normal Monday call volume.
The Value of Voice in Customer Retention
Historically, businesses have categorized their call centers as “cost centers,” measuring their contact center agents’ effectiveness in quantitative terms such as volume of calls handled, average duration of calls and overall productivity.
Viewing the management of customer inquiries as an unfortunate business necessity lead to cost-cutting initiatives such as the offshoring of call centers in foreign locations. The outsourcing of operations resulted in a poor customer experience and contributed to giving call centers a bad reputation with the general public.
This perspective failed to consider the tremendous value of customer retention to a business. In most industries, acquiring new customers is 5 to 10 times costlier than retaining existing ones. Focusing solely on the bottom line of a contact center prevents a business from delivering an experience that prioritizes the customer, and at the end of the day, hurts the business.
78% of customers report permanently changing how they feel about a company based on an interaction with the call center. Using the voice channel is one of the few opportunities customers have to actually interface with a representative of the organization and the quality of this interaction will greatly influence the customer’s ongoing loyalty to the business.
Incorporating Voice into Your Business
It’s not enough to provide a voice channel option to your customers. To drive meaningful customer engagement, it’s important to ensure that your call center agents are able to access the right information at the time of the call.
Solve for these problems before they occur by routing the calls to the most skilled agent. A custom IVR design lowers operational costs and optimizes the call by collecting customer details upfront, verifying their inquiry, and automatically directing the caller to the most qualified representative. Integrating your voice channel with your platform of record (CRM or CSM) provides call center agents with access to all of the relevant customer data and enables them to resolve issues efficiently.
Deliver additional value to the customer and to the business with features like automated priority queuing of VIP customers and virtual call-backs to reduce waits and related call abandonment.
Today, customers are in the driving seat and will engage with a company on their own terms, using the communication channel they prefer. As customer demand for voice technology grows, the best customer service experience can only come from the right balance between digital channels and voice channels. Optimizing the voice channel will produce higher customer satisfaction scores and substantial gains in corporate image and customer retention.