Design Considerations for Channel Shift

Delivering effective and efficient customer service through self service and automation is a real opportunity for many organisations. There are many examples of where this has made a significant impact on improving the customer experience, increasing efficiency, reducing cost and made a positive contribution to both service provider and customer.

Self service is now part of our daily lives. Whether it is in the supermarket, booking travel, paying for road tax or almost everything else that we do, there is an opportunity to serve ourselves. Some of this is online but other examples such as the supermarket, banks or fast food outlets enable customers to serve themselves onsite through the use of technology. This often leads to shorter queues, a level of consistency and a reduction in the number of people required to serve directly.

We fully support these investments and recognise the value that they deliver. However, there are some implications that require consideration. When looking at online transactions, the following diagram highlights some areas that need consideration in the design process;

The service provided must meet the needs of customers and be accessible and easy to use. There is a need to identify who customers are and understand their experience and expertise levels of using technology. There are a number of considerations;

• Is there a resistance to technology
• Do you have any vulnerable customers that need to talk to somebody to understand their issue?
• Is the technology interface accessible to customers?
• Can all customer enquiries be met with automation?

Technology is more reliable than ever but there are always points of failure that are out of service provider’s control. There are many components between the end user device (PC, smartphone etc) and the host systems that there is always the potential for failure. Failure of any of these components needs to be considered as do a number of other factors;

• What happens when the technology or accessibility fails?
• Is the interface user friendly?
• Who will provide the technical support for the interface?
• What is the expected requirement for technical support?
• What happens when the inevitable user error occurs?

The content of an enquiry often dictates the degree to which a service can be automated. Ordering widgets online is easy but what if there are different delivery addresses or the widgets are required at different times in different locations. To establish a sale may require a conversation to ensure that the right order is placed.
When there is an element of complexity then it is difficult to automate. For example, if a provided service is only partially required then this may be too complex for automation. There are only so many options that could be predictable there are sure to be some that are unique. This complexity will often require a human intervention to be able to explore and discuss to reach a conclusion as to the best option for the customer. There have always been cases that have required escalation, it may well be that this is to a person rather than a senior person.
It is also probable that there may be exceptional requirements in terms of timescales and urgency. What happens when an emergency service is required or there are restricted access times?
Automation and Artificial Intelligence is great but there are some areas where it struggles;

• Problem solving
• Showing empathy
• Dealing with complexity

All of the above need to be included in designing a service to enable a suitable outcome that is right for all.

As simple enquiries are automated it is likely that the contacts that require a human intervention are likely to be more technical or complex by their nature. This means that the people that will deal with these enquiries need to be highly skilled in a number of areas but specifically the product offering, the user interface and having the ability to take ownership of an issue.

• What are the required skills to deal with enquiries that cannot be automated?
• Are these skills available?
• Can they be met with training and if so how?
• What are the correct remuneration levels for these skills?

It is likely that these people will be regarded as product or service experts and will be empowered to make decisions that meet the needs of the organisation and their customers. It is therefore likely that these front-line staff will demand increased rewards in terms of salaries and benefits.

Organisations implement automation for three main reasons;

• Improve the customer experience
• Maintain pace with the market
• Reduce costs.

If we focus on cost reduction then there are some obvious savings in resources required to deliver service to customers and the efficiency gained through having efficient processes (assuming that they were inefficient previously).

But there are a number of misconceptions that need to be addressed particularly the scale of an organisation may impact the opportunity to reduce resource. If additional channels are added then they need to be resourced. I experienced a situation recently when trying to check on a delivery time where live chat was not available because all of the team were taking telephone calls. There was a long queue with a message recommending that callers use live chat.
Live Chat is a good example of a misconception of efficiency. The theory is that an Advisor can handle multiple chats at any one time with 3 being a good benchmark. But what happens when there are not three chats, what if there is only one. Whilst the delays in conversation are ok for a chat it would not be appropriate when dealing with a call, imagine that fragmented experience. So there is a need for sufficient demand to make it efficient.

It is essential that during the design stage that the following questions are continually examined and used to ensure that the design is fit for purpose;

• What do we expect to see as a cost reduction?
• How will we measure the customer experience and customer satisfaction?
• What channels must we deliver service over?
• What will future channels be?
• What is the quality of data captured through automation like and is it sufficient for continuous improvement?

The use of automation and implementation of self service is an attractive way to move forwards. However, to ensure that the benefits are realised and that the outcomes are positive, sufficient care and consideration is required during the design stage to ensure that any solution is suitable for the service provider and most importantly the customer.

Mpathy Plus support organisations in transforming their service, improving performance and providing operational support.