COVID-19

Driving Contact Center Innovation in Uncertain Times

Times of upheaval like this bring constant challenges that often have to be dealt with in a timely fashion. It’s also a great time to think about innovation.

You probably see the pain points for both your contact center and your customers more clearly than ever. You can find plenty of blogs and articles discussing all the ways COVID has caused disruption in the customer engagement space: long waits, remote agents, overwhelmed capacity, and on-premise limitations, to name a few.

I won’t go into all the details of that again here. I would like to talk about how Twilio Flex and other services from Twilio can provide some straightforward ways not only to manage these immediate concerns but also to drive innovations in how you interact with your customers.

By now, most contact center managers have likely had enough time to think about what they might want to change. In many cases, changes and improvements may have already been identified but put off due to schedules, contracts, budgets, and other considerations. In either case, the pandemic has probably put gaps and areas for improvement in your current solutions in stark contrast.

Although it’s still unclear the depth and length of the pandemic, you’ve probably already been trying some things, changed some things, and maybe lamented not addressing certain things sooner. We hear this feedback from many existing customers and prospects we’ve been talking with.

Maybe you’ve tried changing some processes and had enough success you would like to dig in further. Perhaps your agents are starting to learn how to work effectively from their homes. Did you have to pivot from a mostly voice contact center to other channels, or you are at least considering it? We can help guide you through all this.

Experiment

I would argue there has never been a better time to experiment in ways to engage with your customers in more efficient, productive, and meaningful ways. Customers are as accepting of new ways to entertain as they have ever been. We saw a lot of evidence of this pre-COVID. The pandemic has just accelerated it. Here are some examples:

  • Call Deflection Strategies
  • Self-service options
  • Additional channels or a full omnichannel strategy
  • Chatbots or other AI and natural language processing approaches
  • Conversations, not notifications

Brainstorming

Let’s get into some specific ideas and scenarios on some of these approaches.

Self-Service

Call deflection and self-service are increasingly important, given longer wait times and more customers looking for similar information due to disruptions in everyday business operations. Twilio Flex offers a wide variety of ways to approach call deflection, and all of them are likely to result in higher customer satisfaction.

The Digital Essentials, Part 3
The Digital Essentials, Part 3

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Self-service can be a sub-set of call deflection. For standard requests and questions, you can often automate the process of connecting customers with the information they need. For simple things like hours of operation, COVID protocols for in-person interactions, or the status of a request, a few questions in a Studio IVR flow can pinpoint the customer’s intent in a relatively straightforward manner. From there, think about natural language processing or chatbots for more advanced scenarios.

If you’ve wanted to give those a try, identify one or two common customer requests and think about how you can automate the answer. Speaking to a live agent still remains an option, and Twilio Flex makes continuing the interaction this way easy to accommodate. If self-service works, you’ve helped them get their answer quickly and decreased wait times and capacity needs in your call center. Contrary to popular belief, many customers are primarily interested in getting their questions or issue addressed quickly and see self-service or AI as an innovative way to accomplish that. A recent study addresses the new reality of customer expectations.

Callbacks

Callbacks are another great way to improve customer experience during periods of high usage. You can provide real-time feedback to the customer on the current status and give them options.

If you’ve been interested in adding callbacks to your voice call center, it’s a great time to try it. Most folks are home or reachable to a greater extent than average. You are likely to have a high degree of success in connecting with them. They will appreciate the flexibility. Nobody likes waiting on hold for long periods. Customers are likely trying to get their own work done while working from home. They may be juggling childcare or education tasks as well.

Channel Switching

With omnichannel, there are exciting variations on callbacks to consider as well. For digital channels on mobile, offer an opportunity to switch to a text-based interaction within your mobile app. This can show an improvement in the experience of business started on the SMS channel. If you are using Flex, you probably already have some customer context. All messaging interactions, including SMS, typically flow through a Studio Flow (Twilio’s visual IVR) first. It can be closer to a verified exchange, even if not fully authenticated. If your customers go through some sort of an identity verification process in the IVR, you still have that context if you switch channels.

Depending on what they are calling about, maybe self-service is an option. Handing off their query to a virtual agent and using some AI techniques may be more efficient than talking to a live agent. This approach allows your agents to focus more time on high-value interactions instead of FAQs. Agents frequently express frustration with spending much of their time repeating mundane tasks, once again highlighted in this study from 2019.

How Do I Get Started

Maybe this all sounds interesting, but you still aren’t sure where to get started. Possibly you have a limited budget due to current conditions and need a high ROI, value-driven option to test the waters.

We would love to talk to you and help you visualize some possibilities. One of the favorite parts of my job is dreaming about the “art of the possible” with customers and potential customers. Our team’s experience around customer engagement and contact center can help you innovate, starting in small, impactful ways.

Customers are often surprised at how quickly they can experiment with new user experiences. We’ve seen a lot of recent interest in Twilio’s Programmable Video platform. Programmable Video makes it possible to create one-on-one or group video interactions between agents and customers without a lot of custom development. Video interactions can piggyback off existing channels you already have in place.

Also, the Twilio Flex Boost program still has lots of incentives to help organizations that have been negatively impacted by COVID. If you have a public benefit use case or a non-profit, the options are even more attractive.

Strategy

Maybe you want to start with some strategy sessions. The pandemic has brought long-standing issues in contact centers into focus. Many companies realize they can no longer put off necessary improvements. But migrating your contact center can be a daunting task.

Customer engagement can often touch every part of how you do business. There may be anxiety about already being behind on concepts like omnichannel, chatbots, AI, and machine learning. Our Envision Strategy Process can help you objectively identify your most key use cases and provide insights on the best approaches and technology to solve them.

We often see customers in reactive mode, trying to quickly solve a pressing problem. While understandable, it’s helpful to take a more high-level view. We can help solve your short-term, critical issues. But it’s also a great time to think about where you want your contact center to be in a year or two years or five years. Planning for long-term needs pays dividends down the road. This is one of the reasons we are strong proponents of the Twilio Flex platform. It allows organizations to quickly solve short-term needs iteratively. At the same time, you are not locked into (or out of) adding new features or taking an alternative approach down the road.

We hope you are as excited about the future of the contact center as we are. It’s a great time to build and dream. Let’s do it together.

About the Author

Director of Customer Engagement Solutions, currently focusing on the Twilio Flex contact center platform and other Twilio services. My background spans 25 years including Microsoft and front-end application development, unified communications, enterprise architecture and services, Azure, AWS, database design and a little bit of everything else.

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