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ICMI/LiveOps Report, Facebook Messenger Raises Questions on Contact Center Value

26 Mar 2015 | by Brendan Read
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A new, disquieting, but refreshingly honest, and yet unsurprising International Customer Management Institute (ICMI)/ LiveOps report calls into question the underlying value of having contact centers to support the Customer Experience.

The report, “Own the Moments! Understanding the Customer Journey”, drawn from a survey of over 400 industry professionals, reveals a contradictory set of counterproductive contact center attitudes and practices:

  • 62% cited the agent as the most critical touch point of the customer journey. Yet only 14% empower their agents to provide top-notch customer experiences. And that 42% of contact centers do not investigate the root cause of repeat customer contacts.
  • 98% agree that real-time information is vital. But more than 1/5th of organizations have zero (emphasis mine) visibility into basic information, such as contact history.
  • The metric of greatest commonality among respondents is Abandonment from Queue (68%). Yet it topped the list of “least effective” metrics.

Worse yet, 74% of surveyees “actually admit to preventing their front line from providing the best possible customer experience possible despite the fact that customer engagement and loyalty were identified as important priorities for all respondents.”

Not surprisingly, nearly 80% felt their customers are not “extremely engaged with their company”, says the report’s press release. “As a result, customers view their relationship with such organizations as disposable.”

Well so does the C-suite. Let’s face it, if most senior executives really believed that providing an extremely effective Customer Experience with their contact centers would significantly boost their profits they would be making large enough investments in them to deliver the desired results.

For the hard truth is that when it comes to making buying decisions customers tend to look at product and service necessity, functionality, convenience, and price, with customer service coming in last. And when one company gets away with treating their customers poorly while charging high prices, the rest will follow in order to maximize profits.

There is an entropy play here. When new market entrants arrive on the scene they inevitably offer a superior Customer Experience, both with the products and services, and with customer service, to create and increase market buzz and share. But most eventually follow the pattern of the existing players. Witness JetBlue and its about-face “me too” shrinking customers’ legroom. Customers can whine all they want on Facebook and Twitter but they will still pony up the cash.

Yes, there are leading light organizations who genuinely believe in treating customers like they want to be treated, and who have executed on those beliefs with excellent customer service through empowered contact centers and agents. Amazon, The Hartford, Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), QVC, and TD (TD Bank and TD Canada Trust) come to mind from our personal experience. Sadly, such outfits are few and far between. And in all too many cases when the execs that initiated and ensured an excellent Customer Experience have moved on, they have been replaced by those whose missions have been to slice costs, beginning with IT, followed closely by customer service.

Little wonder there has been much fanfare about Facebook’s new Businesses on Msenger play, which promises to replace traditional contact centers with messaging and social media. The Millennials who are now the consumer and business buyer mainstream are already there. They have turned to Web, mobile, and social, even face-to-face in bricks-and-mortar outlets for customer service, before dialing contact centers, and they do so only as a last resort.

In fairness to companies, it is becoming difficult for them to justify investments in live agent centers in especially with continuing release of powerful new self-service and social tools, unless there are direct and solid connections between the customer service agents provide and revenues. For if fewer customers see value in these types of interactions, why should companies continue to support them?

Not that contact centers will disappear altogether, for there will always be a need for people helping people. But they will far smaller and will exist either for enterprise and/or virtualized subject matter experts who are also empowered to respond on social, or for those declining numbers of customers who want agent hand-holding.

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