Improving Customer Interaction in the Contact Center

Undoubtedly, online and self-service options are changing the traditional perspective of branch banking, and as part of this evolution, many traditional direct consumer interactions are being pushed to the contact center. As a result, contact center employees have also evolved, focusing more on relationship building and product sales. Frequent training and communications help associates and agents keep up with the changing regulations and market conditions, but the challenge lies in finding the time.

Here are a few best practices and tools financial institutions can employ to ensure their contact center employees are properly prepared for any customer interaction:

Ensure each associate receives individualized training and coaching. Agents that receive coaching and training are shown to be more productive and have higher job satisfaction. And remember, it’s not just “product” training and learning the X’s and O’s of service offerings; it’s also coaching agents about how to deliver excellent customer service. People can be emotional about their finances and an associate who demonstrates understanding can make a big difference in a customer’s perception of your financial institution. Coaching every team member, from the one who is struggling to your top performer, is necessary if you are to drive continued development.

The risk of a poor customer experience due to lack of individualized development just isn’t worth it in today’s competitive environment, so coaching must be a priority. Additionally, high-performing agents are likely looking to advance and take on more responsibility, and coaching them for these opportunities encourages loyalty, job satisfaction and better customer interactions.

Provide support across all channels. No matter how your customers reach out to you, via phone, email, chat or in-person, you need to be ready and able to assist. One challenge to customer experience in a multi-channel environment, which is pretty much the case for most businesses today, is that different groups within an organization manage the various communication channels. For instance, marketing is often the primary owner of social media channels. However, when customers lodge a complaint or service request on social media, even with monitoring tools in place, the contact center does not always have the ability to quickly direct agents to handle such inquiries. 

Most contact centers utilize some form of workforce management (WFM) process for forecasting, scheduling and resource allocation. These tools are essential for multi-channel operations, but persistent variables in business conditions often require intraday corrections and modifications to staffing and work assignments. Enhancements to traditional WFM systems answer this need by automating intraday activities, providing the ability to adjust “on the fly” to meet unexpected demands.

Intraday automation technology automates these adjustments to better match available resources with customer volume through business rules that monitor conditions and take action when needed. Ultimately, your customers will receive the timely responses they have come to expect when technology directs agents to handle customer inquiries in each customer service channel you offer and balance agent availability to meet customer demand. 

Manage off-phone or non-customer facing tasks. Contact center agents handle other responsibilities in addition to customer-facing activities. These can include administrative, training and oftentimes back-office work. Typically this off-phone work is scheduled so that other agents can cover inbound activity. 

However, managers could take advantage of time throughout the day that an agent sits idle waiting for another customer inquiry. Short two-to-three minute intervals of idle time can add up to be a significant part of an agent’s day and could be put to use taking care of non-customer facing work. 

Intraday automation technology works in sync with automatic call distributors and other systems to redistribute this downtime. By creating longer segments for a few agents at a time to receive off-phone tasks in between calls, contact centers can greatly improve productivity without sacrificing service levels.

Stave off bad customer experiences by intervening before issues escalate. While you work to prepare your agents the best you can, you can’t expect them to “bat a thousand” every single day. However, to mitigate the occasional bad experience, it’s essential that you’re proactive and attuned to potential issues before they go too far.

Savvy managers are aware of important information that can alert them to potential sub-par customer interactions. Take, for example, a customer call that spans longer than a predetermined timeframe. A lengthy and drawn-out issue resolution process or service delivery is one of the fastest ways to degrade your customer’s experience. Implementing a process that alerts a manager to the issue so they can step in if needed reduces the chances of the call escalating while preserving the customer experience.

No customer interaction is the same as the next, but with the right tools and some smart initiatives, you can properly prepare your workforce for any kind of customer scenario and ensure your agents are never caught off guard. The result is an evolved approach to the customer experience so that customers can interact with your contact center workforce as easily and confidently as they do with your in-branch staff.

Mr. McConnell is CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Intradiem. He can be reached at [email protected]