We’ve all watched high-performance athletes lose a race by mere fractions of a second. Whether the athlete is running on a track, racing down a ski hill or skimming across a swimming pool, it’s compelling to watch. It’s also heartbreaking, because that margin, no matter how small, meant the difference between winning the race and being left behind.
The business world isn’t much different. Competition is extremely tight in almost every industry. It’s all-too-easy to be left behind by competitors who are faster to market, work more efficiently and do more to keep their customers happy.
Your business systems are key to increasing your competitive edge and winning the race, no matter what industries or markets you serve. Every system you rely on must reliably operate at peak performance levels at all times. Especially your business communications system.
Your business communications system is at the heart of every strategy and tactic you employ to stay ahead of the competition. It is the lifeblood of your organization. And if you don’t keep this vital business system in peak condition, you’re far more likely to fall behind.
There are many reasons you can’t afford to let your communications system fall behind, but here are three important ones.
Seamless Communications Accelerates Time To Market
It takes unconstrained teamwork across every area of your organization to get new offerings to market faster. Every member of every team needs the ability to quickly and easily connect, collaborate and share information, from anywhere, at any time.
If your communications system isn’t up-to-date, your teams can’t leverage the latest features and functions available in the web, mobile and desktop applications they rely on to stay connected. Like high-performance athletes, your teams need every advantage they can get. No matter how seemingly small that advantage is, it makes a difference — especially if you multiply the effects across your entire organization.
Keeping your communications system up to date means your teams always have the most recent voice, messaging, video conferencing, screen sharing and file sharing capabilities at their fingertips.
Depending on how long your communications system has languished without updates, getting current could bring you entirely new capabilities that will jumpstart collaboration initiatives across your teams.
Lost Productivity Is More Expensive Than You Think
In a 2019 survey of 2,500 business professionals across five countries, respondents said they spend half of the average workday communicating and collaborating. They also said about 13 percent of their day is wasted due to communications inefficiencies. When you add up the lost time, those inefficiencies cost more than $10,000 per employee, per year.
But productivity losses aren’t only measured in dollars. Almost half of the survey respondents also said that inefficient communications and collaboration had created friction with co-workers and with other departments. While these types of losses are more difficult to quantify, no business can afford them.
Communications technologies and the systems that deliver them are constantly evolving to deliver more features and functionality that are key to making communications and collaboration more efficient. The capabilities that were cutting-edge just a short while ago are no longer at the forefront of what’s available. Your staff knows this, and they’re looking for you to provide more efficient solutions.
Of the 2,500 survey respondents, only 15 percent of respondents felt their current communications technology had poor features. But 80 percent felt productivity would increase with better communications tools.
If you look at these statistics in another way, it seems employees are saying “we like what we have, but it needs to be enhanced.” The easiest way to deliver on this requirement is to keep your communications system fully up to date with the latest enhancements all the time.
A Great Customer Experience Depends On Great Communications
We’ve already shared a few statistics in this article, but we could fill pages with the statistics that confirm a better customer experience leads to increased business revenues.
The communications that customers have with your organization are central to their experience, and those revenue increases. The key is to ensure your customers have a great experience at every touchpoint across your organization. To do this, you need to look beyond your contact center technology and the service delivered by your contact center agents, and take a holistic approach to the customer journey.
According to customer experience consultants, Temkin Group, “every single person in a company plays a direct or indirect role in determining whether it provides consistently good or consistently bad human or digital interactions.”
Your business communications system plays a major role in those human and digital interactions. When evaluating the current state of your communications system, think about how:
Customers interact with your sales team and employees located at remote sites
Your internal teams connect and collaborate to deliver on customer requirements, especially when customized solutions are required, delivery dates change or supply chain issues slow down processes
If your communications system doesn’t provide the capabilities needed to ensure customers have the best possible experience, they can become disillusioned with your organization. They might assume the outdated communications system they encountered when they called your sales team reflects the overall state of your organization. And they might assume the challenges they’re experiencing with their order or inquiry is due to lack of effort or care, rather than internal disconnects caused by out-of-date communications technology.
Don’t Let Your Communications System Slow You Down
With these few examples, it’s easy to see that if your communications system falls behind, your business can also fall behind.
If you’re using Mitel MiVoice Business for communications and collaboration, there’s an easy way to reduce the risk of falling behind. Simply renew or reactivate your Mitel Software Assurance subscription.
Mitel Software Assurance ensures your MiVoice Business system always has the best, most up-to-date software and features for voice, data, and video communications and collaboration. Your software is also protected with the latest security fixes to reduce security vulnerabilities.
In addition, you can choose to receive proactive fault reporting and performance analytics so any system issues can be dealt with before they impact your business. And, if you run into issues that can’t be resolved by your Mitel certified partner, they can contact our technical experts for added support.
If high-performance athletes could easily access new capabilities that would help them edge-out the competition, they surely would. High-performance companies need to do the same.
The well-known saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” was popularized in the mid-1970s by Bert Lance, director of the Office of Management and Budget in U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s government. In many situations, the saying makes sense. We can all think of examples where the risk factors associated with trying to improve a perfectly functioning system would very likely outweigh the rewards.
This is not the case with your business communications system. In fact, the opposite is true, and the risks associated with maintaining the status quo are extremely high.
You Can’t Afford To Stand Still
It’s easy enough to be lulled into complacency. The best communications systems are virtually invisible in your organization. Your teams, customers and partners rely on the integrated voice, data and video capabilities these systems provide to stay connected, collaborate and work more efficiently. But the system itself fades into the background, a silent business enabler that can perform for years without issue.
Unfortunately, even the most reliable communications systems become vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks if they’re not regularly updated with the latest system software and security patches.
Cybercriminals also work silently and invisibly, but they’re always improving their tactics. These bad actors are constantly introducing new attack vectors, unleashing more sophisticated threats and looking for systems with older, more vulnerable software they can target. The longer the software has been neglected, the more likely it is that someone can find a way to exploit its vulnerabilities.
We’ve seen what can happen when businesses and business systems aren’t ready for unexpected events. When millions of workplaces around the world suddenly found themselves shifting to virtual operations and remote working in 2020, cybercriminals saw an opportunity they couldn’t resist. And they struck with a vengeance. According to cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, cybersecurity intrusions around the world grew 400 percent in 2019 and 2020 combined. The term “cyber pandemic” was used in numerous online articles focused on the dramatic increase.
Proactive Software Updates And Security Fixes Protect Communications Systems
Maybe your communications system hasn’t been hacked, but why continue to take the risk? No business can afford for its vital communications system to be compromised or shut down by cyberattacks. Internal teams lose productivity. Partners lose touch with your business. And perhaps worst of all, customers lose trust in your business.
A proactive service, such as Mitel Software Assurance, helps ensure your business is ready to smoothly handle unexpected events and cyberattacks on your communications system. Your Mitel MiVoice communications platform is always up-to-date with the latest software and features, and it’s protected with fixes that address security flaws and close security holes that could be exploited.
Protecting your MiVoice communications platform helps protect your business. It also allows you to take advantage of the latest features to ensure the system delivers maximum value to your organization over the long term.
The Cloud Is Ideal To Support Remote And Hybrid Workforces
In addition to ensuring your MiVoice Business system is fully up-to-date, you also need to start thinking about your next move.
Some of the changes you implemented to deal with the pandemic will likely remain in place as you and your teams take advantage of convenient and cost-effective new ways of working. That means it’s time to take a closer look at cloud-based communications solutions.
A purpose-built cloud solution makes it easy to provide unified and scalable communications to anyone, anywhere, on any device. Your entire organization benefits from increased mobility, richer team collaboration and better ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences. And you no longer have to worry about managing, scaling or securing a premises-based system. Outdated technologies, obsolete systems and invisible vulnerabilities are no longer a costly IT issue or a risk to your business.
When planning your migration to the cloud, there are a number of factors to consider. Public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds each have their own benefits. And new cloud technologies are emerging all the time. You’ll also need to consider which communications systems, programs and applications it makes sense to access from the cloud.
Your learning curve is faster and easier when you choose Mitel cloud solutions because you already know us, and you know what our solutions bring to your organization. The only difference is those critical capabilities are now hosted in the cloud.
For example, you can take full advantage of our partnerships with global technology leaders to benefit from systems such as MiCloud Flex or MiCloud Connect and leverage the cloud to integrate voice, chat, video, collaboration and customer experience in one, easy to use system.
It’s a lot to navigate, but a Mitel certified partner can help you make the right decisions for your current requirements, long-term goals and budget. With their experience and understanding of cloud-based communications, and our solutions, you’ll have everything needed to smoothly transition to the cloud in the way that makes the most sense for your organization. And as new technologies become mainstream, our certified partners will help you integrate those technologies in innovative ways so you can unlock all the capabilities cloud communications has to offer.
Whatever Path You Choose, It’s Time To Get Going
Whether your next steps are to immediately start planning your migration to the cloud, or to simply get current and stay current with software assurance services, now is the time to make your move.
As we all know from bitter experience, making decisions in advance is far easier, and far more cost-effective, than making panic-based decisions after an emergency has struck. Or, to quote another old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While this statement was first made by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s, it definitely applies to today’s communications systems.
And yet, they also have concerns. Two-thirds of employees worry they’ll miss out on career opportunities if they continue working remotely, McKinsey research shows, while almost half (49%) say they feel burned-out after the pandemic.
Leaders can use these desires and concerns as starting points for reimagining the workplace and company culture. Cultivating a happy and highly productive workforce will require both new policies and a new approach to management. Here are three tips to help you get it right.
This doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the 9-to-5 paradigm altogether. In fact, 68% of employees who worked remotely during the pandemic say they favor returning to a hybrid workplace, compared to 26% who say they prefer permanent remote work.
Instead, flexible work conditions and giving employees more control over when and where they work can make organizations more attractive to workers. Options such as flexible hours, no-meeting days and training resources that focus on improving communications skills in digital media are likely to be viewed positively by potential job candidates. However, to make such changes stick, managers will need to instil new company values and let go of long-held attitudes that performance and advancement are contingent on being in the office.
Emotional Intelligence: Be Attuned To Stress Points
In America and Canada, 57% of workers reported higher stress levels in 2020 than their colleagues in Western Europe, where stress actually declined. Yet other research shows one-third of professionals say their overall performance and quality of work improved. Indeed, employees reported having more time to focus on professional growth by reading more (35%), taking online courses (34%) and continuing their education (29%).
Managers should lean into what worked. Providing opportunities for growth and learning have been known to improve performance. But the leaders of tomorrow will also need to be attuned to the causes of stress, anxiety and burn-out.
Leaders with high emotional intelligence will be quick to identify when an employee is showing signs of distress. They can take steps to alleviate stressors or improve the situation. For instance, they can lend an empathetic ear to a troubled employee. Other steps, like setting rules so that everyone has a chance to talk in team meetings or establishing “no video” days to reduce fatigue can also improve employee happiness. IT can play a role too by ensuring the right communications and collaboration tools are in place so everyone is on the same page and no one feels left behind or out of the loop.
Collaboration: Rethink The Workday
The hybrid workforce will be comprised of several types of employees. The fully remote worker is one who rarely or perhaps never comes into the office. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the 100% in-the-office employee. Then there’s the hybrid worker, who follows a 3-2-2 schedule: three days in the office, two days remote and two days off. Other models are also likely to emerge. Some employees may spend three consecutive weeks working remotely and only week in the office for the last week of every month.
This diversity of schedules has the potential to make it very difficult for managers to foster higher productivity. Cohesiveness is a vital element of a high-performing team. But when members are rarely together in the same room, this quality may feel elusive. Managers may be tempted to turn to a traditional solution: the team meeting.
Meetings can be productive and help achieve cohesion, but they can also have the opposite effect. During the pandemic, employees faced schedules of back-to-back meetings, contributing to both fatigue and stress. It’s tiring to be on-camera for several hours at a time, and overscheduling often doesn’t leave enough time for actual work to get done.
That’s why managers need to rethink the workday. Gartner suggests rebalancing the workload between synchronous (working together) and asynchronous (working alone) approaches. The analyst firm points out there has been an overreliance on synchronous modes, leading to a negative effect on health.
Although companies have invested in virtual technologies during the pandemic, there’s clearly room for improvement. When it comes to policies that will improve productivity and employee well-being, 34% of employees ranked setting clear hours for collaboration and when to be online as the top policy, according to McKinsey’s findings. At number two was “robust standardized and integrated virtual collaboration tools,” according to 29% of employees. Shared workspaces and the ability to seamlessly switch between video, voice and chat, for example, make it easy for employees to work with teammates or plug away at a solo task while still having access to project notes and other pertinent information.
Leaders and managers may be facing significant workplace change, but these tips can help them navigate a more complicated environment and even gain a competitive edge in attracting high-performing talent to their organization.
HIPAA at a high level mandates that organizations:
• Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of e-PHI created, received, maintained or transmitted
• Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information
• Protect against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures
• Ensure compliance by the workforce
Unfortunately, there are no crisply defined rules on achieving compliance for web chat. HIPAA specifies the outcomes, but not exactly how to achieve them.
This means that the onus is on you as an organization to do your own due diligence in coming up with a HIPAA compliant chat, set of systems and processes to safeguard your PHI.
Do I need a HIPAA compliant chat solution?
If you are a CE (Covered Entity), then yes! CEs include, but are not limited to:
Covered healthcare providers (hospitals, clinics, regional health services, individual medical practitioners) that carry out transactions in electronic formats
Healthcare clearing houses
Health plan providers, including: insurers, HMOs, Medicaid, Medicare prescription drug card sponsors, flexible spending accounts, public health authority, in addition to employers, schools or universities that collect, store or transmit EPHI (Electronic Protected Health Information), to enroll employees or students in health plans.
Now we have have the basics out of the way, let’s dive into the checklist.
Is live web chat HIPAA compliant? A handy checklist
What must be in place to ensure a live web chat system is HIPAA compliant? Simply put – some chat systems are not HIPAA compliant, but some can be with configuration.
Here’s a checklist of things to look for to see if a chat solution is HIPAA compliant (or not).
1. BAA contract
No matter which web chat system you might ultimately decide to use to meet your HIPAA compliant chat needs, you need to enter into a contract known as a BAA (Business Associate Agreement).
The BAA is a contract that states your supplier adheres to the same procedures, policies, and obligations to protect and secure your data. There is a good chance you might have multiple BAAs with various suppliers depending on what services those suppliers provide.
Most off-the-shelf chat systems will not include a BAA, so be sure to check with the chat vendor that they will be willing to spend a bit of time with you to ensure the BAA is in place.
2. Employee access controls
HIPAA specifies that each employee at your organization should only see the “minimum necessary” information to do their job. This means your HIPPA compliant chat solution should have the ability to have separate permissions for different user roles. For example, agents should not be able to see chat transcripts from other agents. However, admins or “supervisors” may have a requirement to see all the chat transcripts.
Ideally, you should also have strong authentication controls to restrict access to the chat system. Solutions to this may include 2FA (2 or multi-factor authentication), IP whitelisting, SSO (Single Sign On), system-enforced password policies, or ideally a combination of all of these.
3. Data availability
HIPAA requires that organizations ensure patient data is available, including data that might be contained in a chat transcript. This means you need a HIPAA compliant live chat that is stable with consistent uptime (look for a minimum 99.95% uptime SLA) and that backs up your data.
You should make sure to thoroughly understand the availability of the chat system, not only does this mean understanding the data centre provider (public, private, hybrid or on-premise) but also the resilience of the application, database and other components that make up a chat system.
Where possible, ask for a report on historical uptime and any instances of lost or compromised data – both of which are obviously big red flags.
A great benefit of having chat transcripts and PHI data in the cloud is that even in the event of a disaster at your physical location (assuming you were storing chat records there), and everything was destroyed, you could still retrieve your records.
Storing data in the cloud is not without potential HIPAA-related drawbacks of course. You should be clear about where your data is stored, and the more third party providers that have access to PHI, the more stringent you will need to be with maintaining BAAs and compliance adherence.
4. Data security & integrity controls
HIPAA mandates secure data, so you need a solution with strong encryption. A HIPPA compliant chat solution should encrypt all messages – both while in transit and at rest.
Be careful to check that live chat providers encrypt all data at rest on their servers, in addition to encryption in transit). Most chat solutions will visibly show to the end user if they are served over HTTPS or HTTP, but encryption at rest is something you will need to verify.
Data storage must have a “high level of physical security”. Data centers should have policies for reviewing controls and should regularly oversee risk assessment procedures. Most major cloud providers such as AWS, Azure and GCP meet HIPAA compliance guidelines, but you should be careful to check for other cloud providers and be very clear about the risks of on-premise deployments.
5. Data sovereignty
HIPAA requires that your patients’ PHI data will not leave the United States territory. This is a simple one but easy to overlook – make sure that you are using a chat system with US-based data centers!
6. Audit controls
A core requirement that HIPAA mandates is to keep an audit log of user actions in the chat service. You need to be able to track who accessed which chat, when they did, and what they did.
Your HIPAA compliant chat software should be capable of creating and recording an audit trail of all interactions containing ePHI. Any chat service that archives conversations and provides transcripts of all chats will probably meet this requirement.
7. Recipient authentication
Any messages that contain PHI should go to the intended recipient and the intended recipient only. If those communications end up in someone else’s hands that represents a HIPAA violation!
As most web chat is “inbound”, you might think this is a straightforward one. Alas. Most chat systems will have a “chat transcript” option – this should be disabled for HIPAA compliance as it could send the entire chat transcript, inclusive PHI, to the wrong recipient with an accidentally mistyped email.
It’s worth underscoring the fact that having a HIPAA compliant live chat does not necessarily make you HIPAA compliant, it can at best only support your organization in its ongoing efforts to achieve compliance and maximize data security.
Is SMS HIPAA compliant?
Definitely not! SMS messages are not encrypted and therefore should not be used for sending or receiving PHI under any circumstances.
Is video chat compliant?
Video chat software, from a HIPAA compliance perspective, is actually very similar to live chat in terms of access, audit controls and encryption. WebRTC, a browser protocol that powers most video chat solutions, mandates encryption by default.
Assuming you have the same controls in place as mentioned for live chat, then video chat can definitely support a HIPAA compliant strategy.
Talkative will work with you to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) and our legal team can accommodate any changes to our BAA that you may require.
2. Employee access controls
Talkative can implement a number of agent access to control to ensure a HIPAA compliant chat service, such as:
Users have roles/permissions to ensure they only see the minimum required info
Agents can only see interaction logs that they have interacted with
IP addresses can be whitelisted for additional security
SSO is available
Our password policy mandates general info sec best practices
Agents are automatically logged out after pre-defined time intervals
3. Data availability
Talkative leverages regional AWS data centers with a fully resilient server architecture. The system is imaged and backed up at regular intervals to ensure data integrity in the event of any potential downtime.
We provide you with an SLA with guaranteed uptime and can share historical uptime details with you. Single tenant deployments are also available, and admins are able to search logs and find and delete PHI where necessary.
While typically chat transcripts and interaction data is stored in the Talkative database in the cloud, you can configure a variable data retention policy, whereby data will be permanently and thoroughly purged from the Talkative system. In this instance, we typically integrate into your preferred CRM or on-premise database, where we send all the data, transcripts and PHI. The benefit of this is that no PHI resides on Talkative servers, limiting your exposure for having a third party (Talkative) storing PHI.
4. Data security & integrity controls
The Talkative solution encrypts all data in transit and at rest, and we use HIPAA-compliant data centers (in this case the USA, but other regions can be selected).
Encryption – TLS 1.2 or higher and HTTPS/WSS connections for data in transit and at rest.
We use AWS for hosting the Talkative solution. Any of the AWS infrastructure locations can be used for the Talkative solution.
Physical Security includes locking down and logging all physical access to the data centre.
Data centre access is limited to only authorised personnel.
Badges and biometric scanning for controlled data centre access.
Security camera monitoring at all data centre locations.
Access and video surveillance log retention.
24×7 onsite staff provides additional protection against unauthorised entry.
Unmarked facilities to help maintain low profile.
Physical security annually audited by independent firms.
Operational security includes creating business processes and policies that follow security best practices, in order to limit access to confidential information and maintain tight security.
Business continuity plan focused on availability of infrastructure.
Independent reviews performed by third parties.
Continuous monitoring and improvement of security program.
5. Data sovereignty
As mentioned, Talkative uses US-based AWS data centers.
6. Audit controls
In line with a HIPAA compliant chat, the Talkative solution had a log of agent actions in chat conversations. We can audit the log to make sure that you meet this requirement.
7. Recipient authentication
By default, Talkative lets website visitors have the possibility to send the transcript of their conversation to any email address that they input. To make your chat HIPAA compliant, you should configure this option to be disabled. This is really easy to do, and if you do encounter any problems, we are always available to lend a helping hand.
Virtual agents are becoming an increasingly popular tool in contact centres. In this blog we take a look at what a virtual agent is, how it works, the benefits it can bring to a business, and finally, we offer advice on what aspects to look out for when looking to buy virtual agent software. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
What is a virtual agent?
A virtual agent is an artificial intelligence (AI) based system that provides automated customer service. It is employed by many contact centres to provide fast responses to customer queries and/or field initial questions before directing the customer to a human customer support agent.
What’s the difference between a virtual agent and a chatbot?
The difference between a virtual agent and a chatbot is not always clear, and we find that many people use the terms interchangeably.
The easiest way to differentiate between the two is to look at their capabilities; virtual agents are typically more advanced than chatbots.
Chatbot – a chatbot is designed to handle basic communication tasks. It is programmed to respond to questions with pre-approved answers using scripted decision trees. When a customer enters a query, the chatbot picks up keywords and responds with the most suitable scripted response from its knowledge base. In a lot of cases, chatbots require customers to choose responses from set phrases (e.g. to start the conversation the customer chooses between ‘account’, ‘order’ or ‘billing’), which limits the scope of user input and therefore the questions the chatbot can be asked.
Virtual agent – a virtual agent is designed to interact with a customer. Rather than relying purely on scripted answers, a virtual agent uses machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to understand a customer’s intent and respond in a more personalised, ‘human-like’ manner. An advanced virtual agent can also ‘remember’ previous interactions, which means it can learn to handle more and more customer queries.
The table below provides a brief summary of the capabilities of each system, showing clearly how they differ.
Natural Language Processing
Virtual agents use NLP to analyse text and make sense of it, whereas chatbots need exact keyword matches in order to respond.
Understand customer intent
Chatbots typically require an answer from a predefined list of suggestions, which means they rely on keywords and don’t pick up intent like virtual agents.
As virtual agents analyse text, they can pick up sentiment (as well as intent) and adjust responses accordingly.
Virtual agents can learn over time by ‘remembering’ past interactions. This offers huge potential for dealing with organisation-specific conversations.
Decision tree routing
Decisions trees are typically associated with chatbots, but virtual agents can also use decision tree segmentation to simplify a user’s journey.
While virtual agents draw information from a knowledge base and can only provide answers they’re ‘trained’ to answer, their responses are not scripted word for word like chatbots.
Draw information from knowledge base
Virtual agents are more advanced as they can grow their knowledge base by ‘remembering’ past interactions.
Both systems are best used to answer repeated queries, such as FAQs.
Answer complex queries
Virtual agents can answer more unusual and complicated requests than chatbots, but they’re still best at dealing with repeat queries. Both systems will need to hand over to human agents when complicated questions are asked.
Offer personalised interaction
Virtual agents don’t use scripted answers meaning they can personalise responses. They generally sound more ‘human-like’ than chatbots.
How does it work?
A virtual agent draws on its knowledge base, machine learning and NLP to answer customer requests in the most appropriate and accurate way it can.
When a customer sends a message, the virtual agent will analyse the words to determine sentiment and intent. Based on this, it will use the information in its knowledge base and experience from past interactions to respond.
In this way, a virtual agent needs to be ‘trained’ to respond how you want it to. Do you want it to simply direct a customer to the right department? Do you want it to handle FAQs from start to finish, minimising human input wherever possible? Do you want it to gather initial details to save time and then handover to a human agent? There is no right or wrong; you determine how you want it to function to best serve your business.
If you do want it to handle complete customer requests, bear in mind that the quality and amount of information you provide it with will affect the quality and range of answers it can provide, and even then it will have limitations. Virtual agents are great for dealing with routine queries, such as FAQs, but can get thrown by complex issues, which is why a human agent should never be too far away.
Key benefits for organisations
A virtual agent has many use cases and can bring plenty of benefits to a business. To help you determine whether your contact centre needs to invest in a virtual agent, let’s take a look at the benefits in more detail.
Improve customer experience – A virtual agent can help to improve customer experience and satisfaction in a number of ways:
Fast responses: one of the most important factors in determining a good customer experience is a fast response to queries. Virtual agents can answer customers instantly, making them a reliable way to provide fast responses.
Reduce contact centre queues: both phone and live chat queues are a big turn off for customers. In fact, 60% of customers aren’t even willing to wait on hold for just one minute! One of the best ways to reduce contact centre queues is to provide a virtual agent. As the virtual agent deals with FAQs and simple queries, it puts less demand on other channels and significantly reduces, if not eliminates, queues.
Gather customer insights: virtual agents are a good way to gather information and data on customer behaviour and journeys. What are the most frequent questions it answers? What webpages trigger the greatest number of interactions? Insights such as this can show you where in the customer journey your customers encounter problems. You can then work to improve these areas and offer pre-emptive customer support.
Reduce demand on agents – as a virtual agent can handle many customer requests, it is a great tool for reducing the demand on human agents in a busy contact centre. This will give agents more time to deal with complex customer problems and improve employee morale. (We do not suggest a virtual agent replaces human agents, but it can be a very useful complement to human-powered customer support).
Round the clock support – being able to offer 24/7 customer support with a virtual agent is a clear benefit for your contact centre. An automated virtual agent can operate without human input, which means it can take over all customer support during your closing hours, and is also a great option if you have customers in different time zones.
Generate leads – virtual agents can collect customer information, either via pre-chat forms or through the conversation itself. This information can then be used to retarget customers in the future with nurture marketing campaigns, updates and product promotions.
Virtual agent best practices
If you’ve invested in a virtual agent, how do you ensure you get the most out of it? The following tips are essential to making sure your virtual agent does its job and helps you deliver excellent customer service:
Build a decent knowledge base – even though a virtual agent doesn’t completely rely on scripted messages, its responses are still drawn from its knowledge base. This means you need to provide it with the necessary information. If its knowledge base doesn’t contain the right information, the virtual agent cannot provide the best answers to customers.
Integrate with existing applications – like any new software you introduce to your contact centre, it’s a good idea to make sure your virtual agent is integrated with your CRM and other customer service tools. This makes sure information is easily shared across tools (which adds to the virtual agent’s knowledge base) and makes it easier for live agents to take over from the virtual agent if needed.
Enable escalation to other channels(e.g. video and cobrowse)– a virtual agent is not capable of dealing with all customer queries, which is why it should be programmed to hand over to a human agent when it cannot deal with a certain request. There are different ways you can trigger a hand over (e.g. keywords, time passed etc.), but the key is to make sure the escalation is seamless and fast. Key channels for escalation are video chat and cobrowse. These offer customers a personal experience and ensure swift resolution to problems, which is essential if a virtual agent has not been able to resolve the issue.
Go omnichannel – offer your virtual agent where your customers want it! Virtual agents aren’t just for your website, implement it across the different customer contact channels you offer, such as a mobile app or other messaging platforms.
Proactive interactions – virtual agents are a good way to initiate a conversation with a customer. For example, if a customer has been inactive on a web page for a couple of minutes, a virtual agent can pop up to ask if they need any assistance. This proactive engagement is a good way to generate leads and guide customers to the next stage of your sales funnel. Set up rules to determine when your virtual agent is triggered (remember not to overdo it, virtual agents popping up as soon as you enter a web page can be very annoying and turn customers away!).
Automation – make sure your virtual agent is programmed to respond to customer requests and search its knowledge base without human input. Automation is key to reducing human involvement: without it, a virtual interaction will still need to be manually triggered by a human agent.
Multilingual support – if you serve customers in different languages, ensure your virtual agent can offer multilingual support. This can be achieved through real-time translation technology or by adding scripted FAQ answers in different languages to its knowledge base.
Compliance – like a live web chat interaction, virtual agent exchanges need to follow the necessary rules to be compliant with your industry. For example, if it gathers data, it needs to be GDPR compliant, and virtual agents for healthcare providers need to be hipaa compliant. Make sure it ticks all the compliance boxes before it goes live.
Remember when masks were for Halloween and “social distancing” meant ignoring phone calls? A lot can change in a year.
When 2020 threw business as usual out the window, we were all forced to make quick and sometimes major changes to the way we work, play and live. As we continue to move towards a post-pandemic reality, we have an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate how we do business, how we connect with coworkers and customers, and how we can improve the safety of our industries. The new normal doesn’t have to—in fact, shouldn’t—be an exact replica of the old normal.
Review, Revise And Reimagine
There’s nothing like an unforeseen disaster to highlight pain points, outdated processes, and inefficiencies. While under pressure, many businesses found that they could be more agile and innovative than they previously imagined.
As the trend towards remote and hybrid workforces continues, long-standing business practices must be reworked to support new realities for employees and customers. It is also time to evaluate what changes to keep and what should be rolled back to pre-COVID practices.
Laurie McCabe, Co-founder and Partner of SMB Group, Inc. suggests formulating a strategy for the hybrid future of work. To do this, you need to identify the tools, spaces and technologies needed to keep your workforce on track and scalable.
McCabe asks three questions:
For what purposes is it important for employees to be in the office?
How can office space be designed to accommodate these activities?
What do employees and managers need to work collaboratively and productively, and to track progress and performance?
Some employees are more productive and engaged at home, while others can’t wait to get back to their desks. For certain roles, the solution may be flexible, hybrid work. Companies can make informed and successful decisions by starting with a clear picture of the support needed for all scenarios.
No matter where your workforce is in the future, business has to be able to go anywhere at any time. Cloud services, for example, link employees and customers from wherever they are. As Frank Thelen, Founder & CEO at Freigeist Capital puts it, “Now more than ever, I suggest getting used to the idea of digitizing processes. Regardless of the current situation, the future of any industry is digital.”
Thelen adds that successful transitions to digital processes now will yield competitive advantages in the future.
Nurture Employees & Customers
Changing the way we socialize while working has been one of the biggest remote work challenges we’ve faced. It’s easy to become isolated from potentially productive collaboration if the only time you interact with coworkers is during scheduled, structured meetings. Impromptu huddles in the halls used to give people time to brainstorm, discuss customer needs and catch up with other aspects of the business. One big downside of remote or hybrid working is that employees can lose the ability to communicate spontaneously.
It is possible to foster human interaction in a virtual workplace, however. Scott Dawson, Author of The Art of Working Remotely, explains: “Communication and collaboration don’t happen by accident. You have to provide the tools and guidance for discourse. For tools, make sure you have platforms that encourage asynchronous communications. It’s key that communications persist so participants can jump in when it makes sense for them.”
Creating spaces for spontaneous collaboration and casual communication is just as vital as making sure everyone attends a video conference and doesn’t forget to mute their mic.
Relationships with customers, vendors and partners have changed, too. Customers are able to conduct business virtually, but it is still vital to support the relationships that were built through personal interaction. Michael Krigsman, Industry Analyst and Host of CXOTALK, stresses the importance of training remote workers to provide exceptional virtual customer experiences.
Krigsman suggests, “Offer every customer the opportunity for chat, phone call or a video meeting to ensure that they can connect in their preferred way. Make it easy for your customers to connect and be sure to make them feel comfortable and supported. Simplicity is essential.”
Workplace safety and security is about more than not using “1234” as your login password. New technologies that allow access anywhere, anytime are vulnerable to cyber threats. People with varying degrees of tech savvy are now tasked with maintaining security while working remotely.
Employees need to be trained on why cybersecurity matters and how to be cautious consumers of virtual services. This may take the form of test phishing emails, tech support for multi-factor authentication or open-ended conversations about which cloud services and apps are safe and necessary.
Shelly Kramer, Founding Partner & Senior Analyst at Futurum Research + Analysis, stresses that going forward, “…data security and compliance must be at the forefront of solution (and vendor) consideration.”
It’s crucial to give employees the tools they need to maintain scalability and flexibility while also keeping an eye towards cyber security: “Technology alone is never the answer—technology solutions that check all the right boxes when it comes to solving business challenges and which employees love using— that’s what personifies today’s best-in-class solutions,” Kramer says.
As we collectively start to think about what our post-crisis lives will look like, we may find that some emergency measures are worth keeping for the long term. Many workforces will continue to be remote or hybrid, while others will return to the office with new skills. It’s important to be aware of the tools and practices your business needs to keep employees and customers engaged, connected and safe.
How successful is your chatbot? Like all contact channels, you need to track certain metrics to measure the performance of your bot. These chatbot analytics will show you what your bot is doing well and the areas where it can be improved.
In this article we look at the top seven metrics you should be tracking in your chatbot analytics. How do we know these are the most important? We’re speaking from experience! These are the metrics we measure for our own successful chatbot. We also recommend all our customers track these too.
As well as performance metrics, this list also includes two cost-related metrics that are vital to consider when developing and deploying your bot.
Let’s start with performance metrics. To measure the success of your chatbot, you need to track five key performance related metrics.
Success means different things for different companies. To get the most out of your chatbot analytics and determine if your bot is ‘successful’, make sure you set clear goals and KPIs to compare your monthly data against.
This metric refers to the percentage of customer queries that are handled by your chatbot without any human intervention. It’s a clear indication of how well your bot is doing its job.
In most customer service scenarios, the role of a chatbot is to reduce the demand on live agents. The bot handles FAQs from start to finish, only handing over to an agent if it can’t deal with the customer request.
If your chatbot analytics show a low level of deflection, it means your bot is not adequately handling a good portion of customer queries. This could mean it’s actually creating more work for agents, rather than helping them.
Firstly, as chatbots act as an additional contact channel for customers, they tend to increase the number of interactions. This is great for customer engagement, but if your chatbot isn’t handling a lot of these additional interactions, it’s just more queries for your agents to deal with.
Secondly, if your bot can’t answer simple questions, customers will grow frustrated. When they are transferred to a live agent, the agent has to deal with their frustration as well as their initial query. This makes it a lot harder to ensure the customer enjoys a good customer experience.
Of course, your chatbot analytics won’t show a 100% deflection rate, and this should never be the aim. Bots are not designed to replace human-driven customer service – they’re just another tool to help improve the overall customer experience.
A good level of deflection will depend on your company and the type of customer queries you receive. Studies have shown that aiming to deflect anywhere between 40% to 80% of queries is a realistic goal.
In general, you should train your chatbot to handle common customer requests by building pre-defined conversation paths. When set up correctly, your chatbot will be able to handle these specific queries from start to finish, automating your FAQ customer service. If a customer has a complicated or unusual issue, your chatbot should be programmed to hand over to a live agent.
2. Unrecognised customer queries
Another important metric to keep an eye on in your chatbot analytics is the percentage of customer inputs that fall outside your chatbot’s prescribed workflow. In layman terms: what percentage of customer questions does your chatbot not understand?
This metric is only relevant if you use a ‘free input’ chatbot, i.e. you let customers freely type in their questions rather than clicking predefined options with a rule-based bot.
When you build a chatbot, the aim is to design complete, human-like conversations. Let’s look at an example. One of your most common customer queries is: ‘I can’t log into my account’, so you build an appropriate conversation path for your bot.
As long as the customer follows one of your pre-built conversation paths, the chatbot can handle the customer request.
If a customer asks a question you have not trained your chatbot to answer, it won’t understand the query and won’t be able to answer it. In this case, it will need to transfer the customer to a live agent.
You will never be able to predict every single question a customer can ask you, but the more questions you prepare your chatbot for, the better. Try to map out all likely customer conversations and cover as many eventualities as possible.
Combined with the deflection metric we discussed above, these two chatbot analytics will help you understand how in-sync your bot is with your customers. The aim should be to get it efficiently answering all of your FAQs.
3. Average handling time (AHT)
A good chatbot should help your agents’ workflows and provide efficient customer service. This means it should reduce your average interaction handling time.
One of the driving factors for companies adopting chatbots is the speed in which they can answer customer questions. Today, a timely response is one of the most valued aspects of customer service. Chatbots answer this demand.
When it comes to FAQs, bots will always be faster than agents. They can handle multiple requests at once, meaning no chat queues and, without the need to type or ‘think’, they can provide immediate responses.
Even your most efficient agent will be slower than a chatbot in an FAQ scenario. This is why your average handling time should be reduced after introducing a chatbot.
A reduction in AHT is another chatbot analytic that shows your bot is doing its job well. It’s taking care of common queries quickly and efficiently, while also freeing up agents to deal with more complex issues.
Average handling time is a metric that any good chat and chatbot analytics system will track automatically. You can track bot handling times and live chat handling times separately, but to truly know if your bot is making a difference, we recommend tracking an overall chat enquiries AHT too.
4. Customer satisfaction (CSAT)
Like all contact channels, customer satisfaction is a key metric to keep track of in your chatbot analytics. After all, every business wants satisfied and loyal customers.
The easiest way to measure customer satisfaction with your chatbot is to get feedback. This can be as simple as asking customers to click a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ button after an interaction, or to rate the experience out of 10.
For more detailed feedback you can give customers a short post-conversation questionnaire. By asking a few simple questions, you can find out what customers like and dislike about their experience with the bot, giving you a clearer picture of where you can improve.
That said, it’s all well and good measuring overall customer satisfaction with your chatbot, but it’s more useful if you have other data to compare it with. As a result, we recommend tracking two customer satisfaction related metrics in your chatbot analytics.
First, you should track chatbot customer satisfaction vs agent customer satisfaction. If CSAT scores are a lot lower for your bot compared to live agents, your bot needs improving. If it’s a lot higher, encourage more engagement with your bot (and maybe consider retraining your agents!).
Secondly, you should also track your customer satisfaction levels from before and after introducing your chatbot. Chatbots are supposed to improve overall customer satisfaction – if your satisfaction rates are lower after introducing your bot, it is not serving its purpose.
5. Lead generation
Is your chatbot generating leads? To know this you need to include lead generation in your chatbot analytics.
For sales and ecommerce chatbots, this is one of the most important metrics to track as these bots should be capturing high quality leads for your business. If they’re not, it probably means your bot is not adequately engaging customers.
If your bot is principally for customer support rather than sales, lead generation might be less important for you. However, customer data collection (such as names, contact details, and personal preferences) is always useful for targeted marketing campaigns, meaning lead generation can still be worth keeping an eye on.
What constitutes a lead can be defined by your business. Is it simply collecting a customer’s name and contact details? Or do you want a bit more information to qualify the lead, such as age range, product interest, company and role (for B2B)?
When you have defined what makes a lead, you can set up tagging in your chatbot analytics. With this in place, when a chatbot interaction fulfils the parameters of a lead, it will be tagged as an inbound lead.
To really know if your chatbot is succeeding at generating more leads, compare the number of inbound leads generated month by month before and after you introduced the bot. Ideally, you want to see a significant increase in leads after the chatbot has been put in place.
When researching the right bot for you, there are important cost-related chatbot analytics you should take into account. Price is always a factor when introducing new tech and features to your company, but time-related costs are equally important.
6. Development and configuration cost
Unless you have the expertise in-house to build your own chatbot, you will need to look to a third-party to both develop and set up a bot on your website. In this case, pricing always needs to be carefully considered.
Price will vary largely based on the complexity of the chatbot. For example, a rule-based bot that caters for a handful of FAQs will cost a lot less than a free text input AI chatbot.
The easiest way to ensure you are getting the best deal for you is to compare like for like. Know what you want your bot to do and request pricing quotes from multiple companies. Remember to get the cost for:
Developing the bot
Configuring bot on website e.g. customising the UX and chat widget (if required)
Integrating bot into existing workflows e.g. CRMs and chat systems
It’s also good to know how much support you’ll get with the price. Are you on your own after configuration or will you get continued expert support?
7. Time to go live
Another important factor to consider when choosing a chatbot company is the time it will take to develop your bot and get it up and running.
Much like price, this will be influenced by the complexity of your chatbot, but ideally you want a quick turn around.
A standard FAQ chatbot shouldn’t take long to develop and configure. With Talkative, for example, we can build the bot and get it live within a few days.
Consider how long you’re prepared to wait for your new chatbot and ask companies for an accurate timescale of development through to deployment.
The quicker your bot is up and running, the sooner it can start helping agents, improving the customer experience, and generating leads.
Chatbot analytics round up
To sum up, the most important chatbot analytics to track are:
Unrecognised customer queries
Average handling time
Deployment and configuration cost
Time to go live (development to deployment timescale)
Do you use any other metrics to measure the success of your chatbot?
Over the last year, the pandemic has dramatically changed our lives. Most importantly for businesses, it’s changed the way consumers shop – across all sectors, remote sales have become the norm.
With everything closed, the shift to digital sales wasn’t surprising. But even as shops, restaurants, and offices are starting to reopen, the preference for online shopping is sticking around.
American retailer Target saw a 141% increase in its digital sales in the first quarter of 2020. In response to the ongoing demand for online shopping, it’s continuing to expand its online grocery efforts.
How can your business adapt to this change in consumer behaviour? You need to improve your digital presence with a digital transformation that will boost your remote selling.
What is remote selling?
Remote selling, or virtual selling, involves the sales agent and the customer being in different physical locations during the sales process. Sales discussions and meetings take place remotely, i.e. over the phone, email, or video chat (the tool that is becoming increasingly popular).
This has been a common selling technique in B2B sales for a long time, but we are now seeing an increase in demand for remote sales across several sectors – including retail, travel, and the food industry. Customers are enjoying shopping from the comfort of their own homes.
When done well, remote selling can significantly boost overall sales.
How to increase remote sales
To increase remote sales you need to engage and convert more digital customers. Let’s break down the top seven ways to achieve this.
1. Engage more customers online
If you’re not talking to online customers, then you can’t convert online customers. That’s why the first step in increasing remote sales is increasing customer engagement and communication.
In other words, you want to encourage customers to connect with your sales agents. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Live chat, for example, is a great way to initiate customer communication. Chat pop-ups can appear at key moments during the digital journey, such as on the checkout or certain product pages, or after a period of inactivity. These can proactively encourage customers to seek help and advice from your sales agents.
Chatbots are also a great engagement tool. They’re an effective way of capturing a customer’s attention, starting a conversation, and gathering customer information for targeted marketing and remotes sales processes.
There are a ton of different tools available that can really help you boost your online customer engagement.
Whether you’re a customer facing organisation in retail or travel, or a B2B company selling software, live video chat is the best way to engage with potential customers and, importantly, convert them into paying customers.
Video lets you speak to customers face-to-face. It makes it easier for the seller to pick up on non-verbal queues and tailor pitches accordingly.
It also makes it easier to show the customer your product, whether that’s through a software demo or physically showing them items. Customers can ask questions and the seller can answer and immediately address concerns.
Ultimately, video chat creates a more personal customer experience that vastly increases conversion rates. In fact, customers that engage with a company on video chat are 4 times more likely to make a purchase than those who don’t.
It may sound like a big investment, but in reality video chat software is quick and easy to set up, and doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Plus, the money you do spend on software and equipment will be rewarded with a boost in remote sales.
3. Establish a rapport
Like in-person sales, establishing a good rapport with the customer is key to increasing remote sales.
Why is rapport so important? It’s connected to trust, and building trust is vital in making any sale.
Most customers don’t automatically trust a company – only 50% of millennials and 42% of Gen Z say they trust businesses. This isn’t really surprising. Afterall, very few people will trust someone they don’t know.
This is why it’s important to build a connection with customers. The more a customer connects with you, the more likely they are to trust you, and the more likely they are to make a purchase.
Building rapport is key to establishing that initial all-important connection for remote sales. To do this, try engaging the customer on common ground.
For example, start the call by discussing topical news, trending TV shows or favourite sports. If you’re using video chat, maybe bring up something interesting you can see in the customer’s background. All this can help you get the ball rolling and start creating a sincere connection.
4. Be attentive
There’s nothing worse than trying to talk to someone who isn’t giving you their full focus. A must for any successful remote sale is to give the customer your full, undivided attention.
There are two aspects to this. Firstly, you can’t pay attention to someone if you are distracted, so you need to eliminate all distractions before starting a sales call.
For agents working from home, this can be achieved by having a designated work space with limited visual distractions.
In a contact centre setting, this can be a bit trickier – they’re busy places with lots of calls going on at once.
One way managers can help tackle the problem is by limiting distractions by establishing clear traffic flows around the workspace (i.e. avoid large volumes of people walking directly behind/in front of agents’ desks), spacing agents out wherever possible, and supplying agents with noise-cancelling headphones.
When using video chat, this becomes even more important. As customers can see you, video chats need to be treated like in-person conversations. Make eye contact and stay focused on the customer.
The other aspect of being attentive relies on how well you listen to the customer during a remote sales call. Be interested in what they’re saying and be alert.
For example, make sure you make a note of their name and use it throughout the exchange. This makes the interaction more personal for the customer, helping to build that rapport and trust we mentioned earlier.
5. Set a clear goal
How can your solution/product help the customer? What problem does the customer have that your solution/product can solve?
This type of remote selling is known as needs-based selling or consultative selling. Rather than focussing on all the benefits and features of a product/solution, you focus on the customer’s needs and how your product/solution can specifically help those needs.
In retail, for example, is the customer looking for a cheap product? A high-quality product? A sustainable product? Establishing what matters to the customer as early on in the call as possible will help you personalise your sales technique and increase the chances of converting the remote sale.
A lot of B2B remote sales calls are scheduled ahead of time, so it can be useful to determine these goals before the call starts. When potential customers book the call, ask them why they are interested in your solution/product. Additionally, do some research into the company ahead of time to gain a better understanding of what they offer and value.
These will help you form an idea of the goals before the call, but it’s still good to confirm them at the start of the interaction. This will make sure you address the correct needs and focus on the best aspects of your product/solution.
After the goals are established, get the key messages across to the customer as quickly as possible. This is a golden rule of any remote sales call. It will immediately get their attention and, if there are any technical issues that cut the interaction short, it ensures the customer hears the most important points.
6. Let the customer ask questions
Remote sales interactions shouldn’t be one-sided presentations – they should be conversations.
While the seller is likely to do more of the talking, it’s important the customer feels comfortable to ask questions.
This is particularly key if you’re giving a demo. Let the customer know it’s fine to interrupt you with questions, or to dig deeper into a certain feature. Don’t save all the questions to the end! It can be harder to address things out of context so real-time questions are always best.
Not only will this two-way conversation style help the customer get all their questions answered, it will also give you more insight into what matters to them the most.
Do they ask a lot of questions about a particular feature/product? Do they ask a lot of questions about cost? This can help you know what key aspects to focus on and play to.
7. Follow up
Not all remote sales happen there and then. Sometimes customers need to think about the purchase before they make it.
This is especially true for luxury purchases and B2B sales. When spending a large amount of money, a lot of customers will require time to make their decision. For B2B remote sales, conversations within the company will need to take place before any decisions are made.
In these cases, it’s really important to follow up on the meeting. A great thing about using video chat is that you can easily record the interaction and send this to the customer after the call, along with any additional notes and information. This ensures they have all the information they need to review the potential purchase.
We highly recommend recording all remote sales interactions, whether they are video calls or inbound phone calls. Not only can it assist with compliance regulations, the recording can also be a point of reference in future sales meetings with the customer. Recordings are also great training tools for new agents.
It’s also a good idea to make sure the customer has the right contact details to get in touch with any questions. Rather than a general company email address, a good practice is to provide the contact details of the agent who carried out the call. This makes it more personal and ensures a consistent interaction with your business, creating a seamless customer experience that will boost remote sales.
If you don’t hear back from the customer, don’t hesitate to contact them. It might be good to establish a timeline within the call itself, i.e. “If I don’t hear back from you by X, I’ll get in touch to see how you’re doing”. This helps create a post-call plan for both parties to work towards.
Top tips for increasing remote sales
Mastering the art of remote selling is important for nearly all businesses going forward. Customers want to continue to shop online and businesses need to adjust in order to accommodate this demand.
To help your business and contact centre further adapt to online sales, our seven tops tips for increasing remote sales are:
Engage more customer online with effective engagement tools
Use video chat to connect with customers
Establish rapport with customers to create a connection and build trust
Be attentive during interactions
Quickly establish clear goals and get the key messages across
Let customers ask questions
Follow up after the call (if needed)
Do you have any more great tips to increase remote sales? Let us know in the comments below.
Creating a seamless customer experience might take time and effort, but with 86% of customers willing to pay more for the best experiences, the rewards are more than worth it.
In this article, we’ll be showing you how to create a consistent customer experience that’s designed to reduce customer tension and eliminate customer pain-points.
In turn you’ll see a whole host of benefits, from increasing customer engagement and loyalty to boosting sales and profits. We’ve a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
What is a seamless customer experience?
The term customer experience refers to the entire journey a customer will take when researching, buying, and using a product or service. It also includes the buyer’s impressions and perceptions of a business and their feelings about the interactions along the way.
With this definition in mind, a seamless customer experience is a customer journey that is devoid of any mistakes, delays, or setbacks.
In other words, this kind of customer experience is efficient, smooth, and enjoyable. It should also be consistent across all channels.
For example, whether the customer is buying in store or online, the business should demonstrate consistent branding and tone, high levels of customer service, and a dedication to fulfilling customer orders.
In essence, with every touchpoint meeting or exceeding expectations, a seamless customer experience is a wholly positive experience in which customers face no obstacles to their purchase.
Why is this approach important?
A seamless customer experience is important as it’s the most effective way to keep customers happy and loyal to your business. For instance, 51% of customers are more likely to stay loyal to businesses that offer timely personalised suggestions and updates as part of their customer experience.
Consistently offering this kind of approach is also proven to attract new customers too: 65% of customers say they find great experiences to be more influential than advertising.
It’s for these reasons that customer experience has now been crowned the key brand differentiator for customers. It’s why offering a seamless customer experience is the best way to set yourself apart from your competitors too.
Seamless customer experience in action
To illustrate how a seamless customer experience can work for both businesses and their customers, let’s take a look at the customer journey – one of the most important aspects of the customer experience.
The perfect experience: a customer journey map
The customer journey is the complete collection of steps a customer takes to purchase a product. As such, it’s a huge part of the customer experience as it compromises the actions a customer takes before, during, and after their purchase.
The duration and length of a customer journey will change depending on your business and customers. Nevertheless, to understand how a seamless customer experience will look, it’s worth developing an understanding of the customer journey’s basic stages.
For this discussion, we’ve broken down the stages into five easy steps. If each step is positively achieved with no setbacks or problems, a business can be assured that they’re offering a seamless customer experience.
Awareness: The customer becomes aware of a need/a particular product.
Consideration: The customer researches and considers one or multiple products.
Purchase: The customer purchases a product.
Retention: The customer finds the product useful or enjoyable and purchases with the business again.
Advocacy: The customer recommends the business/products to others.
Let’s look at these stages in more detail. In the below example, a customer purchases a new t-shirt online. Notice how the business meets or exceeds the customer’s needs and expectations at each step of the journey, leading to a seamless customer experience that results in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
1. The customer browses social media.
2. The customer sees a t-shirt advertised by a company.
3. The customer visits the site and reads the reviews.
4. The customer connects with customer service on live chat to ask a question about sizing.
5. Happy with the answer to their query, the customer is offered the chance to purchase the t-shirt with the agent. They accept.
6. The customer is asked for feedback on customer service. They are happy and give a positive response.
7. The t-shirt arrives on time with some extra goodies, and the customer loves their purchase.
8. The customer receives a free discount voucher via email as a thank you for their order.
9. When they are updated on a new product, the customer explores the site again. They purchase a new item using their discount and receive the same excellent service.
10. The customer leaves a glowing review and recommends the product to others after enjoying such a great experience.
As we can see, there’s several stages in this example where the business has aimed to make it as easy as possible for the customer to discover their products, learn about them, buy them, and enjoy them.
Ultimately, making the customer journey as easy as possible is all about reducing obstacles that create friction or tension. For instance, say the customer in the above example had a question about product sizing. If the company had no customer service contact channels to speak of, this customer obstacle might’ve ended the customer’s journey right there – without a purchase.
There are many obstacles a customer can face during their journey with many different solutions available. Still, if you start to recognise and rectify these obstacles now, your customer journey and the overall customer experience is only going to benefit.
Let’s take a look at a case study to see how a fashion retailer adopted a new contact channel to tackle a very large obstacle for their customers: the temporary closure of stores due to the Covid pandemic.
Case study: Lululemon and video chat
Between 2019 and 2020, Canadian athleisure retailer Lululemon saw a staggering 40% increase in brand value. The secret to their colossal success was making their customers’ purchases as easy as possible, all through offering a seamless customer experience online.
This approach continued even during the Covid pandemic. While other companies failed to adapt, Lululemon quickly realised that their customers were facing a new obstacle: with stores and shopping centres being closed the world over, customers who wanted a personal customer service experience were being failed online. It was an obstacle that could’ve undoubtedly damaged the company’s bottom line – like it has with so many other businesses worldwide.
However, Lululemon decided to address this customer obstacle head on. To make sure their online customers were getting the same service that they used to receive in person, the company took the opportunity to expand their omnichannel presence. Their biggest innovation was the use of video chat for customer service.
By offering virtual personal stylist appointments via video chat, Lululemon are able to provide their online customers with the same stellar customer experience that they’re used to receiving in store. Customers can even engage with the company’s contact agents over live chat, before escalating seamlessly to a video call whenever it suits them.
Lululemon has always offered their customers the best experiences possible, from prioritizing their social media customer service to offering yoga classes in-store.
Nevertheless, thanks to their adoption of on demand video chat, they’ve been able to offer amazing customer service online, even when they were unable to in store. It’s a prime example of removing an obstacle to offer a completely seamless customer experience.
How to provide a seamless customer experience
Whatever your business or industry, the best way to start offering a seamless customer experience is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
By recognising the pain-points they face, you can then lower the barriers and hurdles that are stopping them from converting. The following tips will help you take those all important first steps to delivering a seamless experience.
1. Create buyer personas
65% of companies that update their buyer personas exceed their goals for revenue. The reason why is simple: creating buyer personas helps you understand your true target audience.
When striving to deliver a seamless customer experience, understanding your target audience is essential. If you don’t really know who you are selling to, you are at risk of designing your customer experience around the wrong people.
For example, do you know which demographic currently buys from you the most? Is it the Baby boomers, Millennials, or Gen Z? What about their spending habits? Why do they seek out your products in the first place?
To develop buyer personas, start by speaking with your previous customers and gather actionable data. This could include their age, income, interests, previous purchases, and a whole host of other examples.
Whatever data you decide to gather, for larger organisations, full-blown interviews with hundreds of respondents may be required to create useful buyer personas. For smaller businesses, a few key insights can prove incredibly helpful.
Either way, you should also take the time to speak to your team. Sales staff will be able to identify your most common kinds of customers and their problems. Marketing staff will be able to identify which pieces of content have performed best with which audience.
However you conduct your research, it’s insights like these that will help you truly understand your customers – the first step to building a seamless customer experience.
2. Analyse the customer journey
Positive changes to the customer journey have been proven to lift customer satisfaction by 20%. So, whether your business is primarily online, offline, or a mix between the two, analysing the customer journey is a great step towards keeping your customers smiling.
What’s more, while the goals of analysing the customer journey are to reduce friction and create a seamless customer experience, this approach can also uncover inconsistencies within your processes and procedures. It’ll improve your efficiency in the long run.
For example, one of the primary reasons for shopping cart abandonment is the discovery of hidden delivery fees. An easy solution is to provide an FAQs link earlier in the sales process. It’ll mean less cart abandonment and less customer tension too.
To make sure your customer journey isn’t filled with pain-points, utilise website engagement tools like user recording or analytics software. By examining the data of real-life users, you’ll be able to uncover the areas in which you can improve.
From there, you can begin to design a better journey – one that looks more like our example above. It’ll help you do away with customer tension and deliver a seamless customer experience instead.
3. Deliver convenience and anticipate needs
90% of customers have said that a convenient experience is crucial when engaging with a brand online. Now that you’ve developed an understanding of your target audience and the customer journey, you’re much better equipped to deliver convenience and anticipate customer needs.
As the above statistic shows, convenience is one of the most important aspects of a truly seamless customer experience. Customer service expert Shep Hyken even suggests that it’s now one of the best ways to rival your competition too:
‘Look at what Uber and Lyft did to the taxi industry, what Amazon did to retail… these are examples of convenience that have disrupted not only direct competitors but also entire industries.’
To make sure you’re offering maximum convenience and anticipating your customers’ needs, take another look at your research on your target audience and the customer journey.
While you might have identified areas of friction for your customers, are you offering them as much convenience as possible? How could you anticipate their needs?
For example, did you know that when getting in touch with a company, 67% of customers prefer self-service options to customer service interactions?
With this kind of platform, your customers can use their favourite channel of choice first. Then, if their option can’t be solved via self-service, their chat can be escalated to a member of the contact team. It’ll prove that a seamless customer experience is your number one priority.
4. Offer personalisation
With 71% of customers feeling frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences, it’s clear enough that a personalised customer experience is now the expected norm.
Customers love personalised experiences for the same reason they love convenience – it makes their lives easier. It’s been proven to boost customer engagement too. As such, offering personalisation is another crucial step towards designing a seamless customer experience.
One of the simplest ways that online companies can offer a personalised approach is to tailor content to their audience’s preferences. The most obvious examples of companies who use this kind of practice are Netflix and Spotify.
However, while these tech giants utilise algorithms and data to offer personalised recommendations and tailored content, you don’t need to get overly technical to start offering your customers similar perks.
You can make a simple start by prioritizing your customer relations. Ask your customers for feedback, and keep in touch to ask how they are enjoying their purchases. It’ll build valuable relationships that can help you design a more engaging and seamless customer experience in the future.
5. Be communicative
Great communication is an incredibly important part of the customer experience. In fact, 68% of customers say their perception of a brand improves when they are sent proactive customer service notifications. It’s proof that keeping too quiet around your customers can be a true customer service mistake.
To make sure you’re offering a seamless customer experience, communication with your team is just as important as it is with your customers.
For instance, say a customer gets in touch with your company through social media, rather than your regular contact channels. They might end up talking to a member of the marketing department. If that member of staff doesn’t know how to solve their problem, the customer could face a delay in receiving their answer. It’s hardly an example of a seamless customer experience.
The first step to solving this kind of problem is to make sure you align your team on your goals. Update them frequently on new products and offers, and always remain open to the idea of further training.
That said, if you’re really serious about offering the best customer experience possible, the best solution is to make sure all your contact channels are connected.
Take the above example in mind: by integrating live chat with social media, customers will be quickly connected to the right people – ensuring the customer experience is always seamless.
6. Keep your promises
It might be tempting to offer your customers the world, but if you can’t keep your promises, you’ve no chance of delivering a seamless customer experience.
Overpromising or overselling aspects of the customer journey is a sure-fire way to invite disaster. As customer experience expert Matt Watkinson suggests, ‘the ideal gap between the brand image (what customers are promised), and the brand reality (what customers actually experience) is zero.’
Let’s take a look at an example. Say you promise your customers you can provide next day delivery. What if your regular delivery service has let you down in the past? If they’ve shown a pattern of late deliveries, you’re at risk of breaking a promise to your customers if the delivery company messes up once again.
While some unexpected problems can’t be avoided, the best way to make sure you’re keeping your promises is to stay realistic and to test your services as much as possible.
For instance, let’s revisit the above example about late deliveries. If your business has experienced similar problems and you’ve made some much needed improvements, you don’t want to let the side down by assuming everything will keep running smoothly in the future.
It’s better to keep testing your processes and procedures again and again, remembering to set competitive but achievable goals. With only 55% of companies currently testing their user experience, it’s another way to set yourself apart.
7. Make your branding seamless and provide trust
It might be a cliche to say that first impressions count, but neglecting your branding across channels can definitely disrupt a seamless customer experience.
For example, if a customer service agent gets in touch with a customer via a generic email address, rather than a company one, it probably won’t inspire much confidence.
The reason branding is so important to your customers is that it broadcasts trust and helps to build a relationship. With 81% of customers saying they want to trust a brand before buying from them, neglecting this area can be a crucial mistake.
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix to this issue: remember that consistency is key.
If you’ve invested in a logo that you’re proud of, ensure it’s clearly in place across all your marketing materials and contact channels. Make sure to always use your signature colours too – especially on social media and in emails. It can increase brand recognition by up to 80%!
Finally, don’t forget to demonstrate trustworthiness on your website, as well as in your external communications.
While it might go without saying that your website should feature consistent branding, your website is your opportunity to deliver as many trust signals as possible. Some customers will take security badges and seals for granted, but other visitors to your site may be more eagle-eyed.
For instance, if you’ve taken the steps to make sure you’re PCI compliant, why not let your more discerning customers know? It’s extra touches like these that mean your customers will always feel at ease, making their customer experience all the more seamless.
8. Boost engagement and show appreciation
If you’ve put your all into providing a seamless customer experience, you don’t want to do your customers a disservice by cutting that experience short.
Customers now expect a degree of engagement throughout the whole of the customer journey – including post-sale. It proves that you want to provide a great experience overall.
The simplest way of engaging customers for longer is to show appreciation through offering additional perks. For example, 61% of customers have said that surprise discounts, offers, and gifts are the best way to engage them.
That said, some companies have had great customer engagement success by simply providing their customers with email updates and a behind the scenes look at new products.
Even a simple thank you email can work wonders. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but offering a sincere post-purchase thank you can make the customer experience all the more memorable.
Whatever engagement strategies you use, it’s these kinds of tactics that can help turn customers into advocates. With highly engaged customers buying 90% more often, it’s certainly worth the effort.
9. Never stop asking for feedback
When it comes to delivering a seamless customer experience for the long term, the importance of asking for feedback cannot be overstated.
Like researching buyer personas and analysing the customer journey, asking for feedback from your customers can help you identify new pain-points that develop over time. After all, while you might have invested in streamlining your current customer journey, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to adapt again in the future.
For instance, customer service and sales staff used to primarily deal with inbound calls from customers. However, these days many customers see this traditional contact channel as an inconvenience. They want quicker, more efficient means of communication. Live chat or web calling, for example.
So, to make sure you’re always keeping ahead of the curve, remember to ask your customers’ questions and listen. If you can automate your customer feedback process or simply make a habit of engaging your customers in this way, so much the better.
91% of customers believe that businesses should fuel innovation by listening to customers rather than experts. Aim to please this huge majority, and you’ll continue to grow for the long term. You’ll be better equipped to deliver consistent and seamless customer experiences too.
The easiest way to deliver a seamless customer experience
According to Microsoft worldwide research, 96% of customers say that great customer service is one of the most important contributors to brand loyalty. What’s more, the same research found that 72% of customers expect contact centre agents to know ‘who they are [and] what they have purchased’ when they get in touch.
It’s proof that for a truly seamless customer experience, sterling customer service is the most crucial factor of all. The great news is that great customer service is now easier to offer than ever before.
If a seamless customer experience is all about providing a smooth and efficient customer journey with no obstacles or pain-points, an omnichannel solution is not only the best approach, but the simplest too.
By allowing your customers to talk to you over a variety of channels, you’re providing them with maximum support and convenience. In turn, customer obstacles are reduced, as is customer tension.
What’s more, an omnichannel approach gives contact centre agents a single dashboard to handle all interactions – regardless of the contact channel the customer uses. It means that whether customers are getting in touch over the phone, live chat, or social media, the customer experience is never interrupted.
The popularity of omnichannel customer engagement is only growing: 78% of customers now prefer an omnichannel approach to standard contact methods. It’s proof yet again that customers are seeking the most seamless of customer experiences. All that’s left for you to do is meet that demand and watch your customer base soar.
We all know Darwin’s Theory of Evolution; species must adapt to their environment in order to survive. The same is true in business, and the pandemic has been a hard lesson for many companies as they battle to stay afloat. The “fittest” have embraced (and even accelerated) digital transformation, finding new and meaningful ways to engage customers remotely.
This new normal shows no signs of waning. Even when social distancing restrictions relax, customers have grown accustomed to digital interactions. And for good reason: they’re faster and more convenient. But people still want to feel connected, perhaps even more so than before.
So how can companies strengthen their tie with customers and create a personal experience in a predominantly digital world? Unified communications technology makes it possible. Here are three specific ways to leverage digital communications tools to solidify customer relationships—and your survival.
1. Know Your Customer
We’re all in need of a little extra TLC these days, and companies that can find a way to show they care are rising to the top. What better way to do that than to demonstrate how well you know your customers? CRM integration with your communications system gives staff real-time access to information that can be used to create a memorable experience.
As soon as a customer contacts your business, agents can see detailed customer data, ranging from past order history and previous communications. Agents can immediately jump into action, providing updates on recent orders and answering questions the customer may have before they even ask them.
Maybe there’s a note on the account about an issue the customer recently had. How special will they feel if you ask them if it’s been fully resolved to their satisfaction? Or perhaps a promotion is running on a product or service a customer has shown interest in based on past order history. You can make sure they don’t miss out on savings. Small touches like these add up quickly when it comes to making an impact and building customer loyalty. Many companies have this type of data available, but agents need easy access to it precisely at the moment the customer interaction begins.
2. Make It Omnichannel
Customers have been interacting with businesses across multiple digital channels for years now, but the pandemic has forced even the most tech-resistant customers to become more digitally savvy. More than 80 percent of consumers are more likely to use digital wallets or cards in the future, and the use of chat and social media has seen a threefold increase.
Today, customers expect to be able to communicate with businesses via multiple social media channels, web chat, SMS messages, email and messaging apps. But it’s not enough to offer multiple means of communications. They all need to play nice together, allowing customers to seamlessly move from one channel to another. The digital customer simply expects to be able to start a conversation with a chatbot and move to a live agent via chat or phone (depending on their preference) without having to repeat any of the information they already shared.
Smart bots powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) make this possible by routing customers to an agent with the right level of expertise and providing them with a full history of the interaction. AI bots can also monitor communications between agents and customers (even if the conversation moves between channels) and provide guidance and training for the agent in real time.
Companies that move beyond multichannel and truly embrace omnichannel will earn the attention (and repeat business) of digital consumers.
3. Personalize It
Customers may be looking for ways to avoid physical interaction with your staff, but they’re craving personalization more than ever. They want to know you understand their needs and desires, that you value their time and business and that you truly care about giving them what they need. When agents have access to a full customer history, they can personalize the interaction and make customers feel appreciated and valued.
AI technology takes personalization to a new level, with virtual agents monitoring conversations and providing human agents with relevant information to resolve issues and answer questions more quickly. Integration with other internal systems such as supply chain and logistics platforms empower agents to answer just about any question a customer may have.
Imagine how pleased a customer would be if they were calling about a delayed shipment and an agent provides detailed status information as soon as they’re connected. When customers receive individualized attention and get answers to all of their questions, they get a sense of control in a time of constant change and uncertainty.
Powerful unified communications technology arms your business with the right tools to outperform the competition and adapt to changing customer expectations. How will you evolve?