The human voice: It’s the instrument we all play. It’s the most powerful sound in the world, probably.”
Those words, from Julian Treasure’s TED Talk that drew 53 million views over the past 10 years, still resonate today. The influential sound and communications expert spoke about empathy and compassion, those human attributes that no contact center channel—except for voice—can deliver.
Voice remains a dominant channel for contact centers, as 72% of consumers reach out by phone, according to CFI Group’s Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI). And yet, companies have not fully optimized voice because alternate channels often get the fanfare—and the funds. Voice can play a greater role in how consumers interact across all channels to enrich the relationship and drive loyalty, with operational wins as well.
Voice as part of a holistic channel mix
Digital channels and emerging technologies that power them may grab the headlines and budget dollars, but the voice channel remains vital in the omnichannel mix of contact center touchpoints. Consumers are adept at channel-surfing. They may prefer a self-service channel for simple tasks like selecting a product delivery date, but expect to shift from a digital channel to a live associate promptly when:
- obstacles arise and a task can’t be completed
- an issue is complex and warrants more explanation than can be typed into chat or online form
- the matter involves legal, financial, health, or other sensitive issues
It’s here where the contact center’s voice channel can emerge the celebrated hero in the customer experience (CX) journey. How? Embrace and evolve voice as the MVP in a holistic channel mix.
Benefits of an evolved voice channel
The voice channel delivers what can’t be replicated in digital form: empathy, authenticity, and humanity. While voice is not the channel to lean on for every interaction, it is the channel that delivers a differentiated experience when customers have an issue that is relationship-impacting, when trust and accountability matter. Beyond its ability to cement loyalty, a fine-tuned voice channel pays other dividends, such as:
- Decreased average handle time (AHT)
- Reduced cost to serve
- Optimized staffing levels
- Increased customer satisfaction (CSAT)
- Improved first contact resolution (FCR)
- Enhanced productivity
- Increased associate satisfaction, morale, retention
- Expanded reporting capabilities
Understand usage today now, not yesterday
The best first step toward evolving the voice channel and prioritizing how to invest is to understand how your customers and associates use it. If your perspective on the voice channel is based on time-and-motion studies from days gone by or anecdotes and observations from co-workers with tenure longer than your own, it’s woefully out of date.
Consumer behavior is shifting and the best-in-class interactions they experience elsewhere are the gold standard expectations they bring. Customers will use multiple channels such as website, chat, messaging, and email before they connect voice to voice. Is the experience harmonious and complementary across all channels with consistent flow, logic, language, and response time?
If the question gives you pause, and voice does not mirror the experience in other channels, adapt voice so that it connects seamlessly with all channels in a holistic, customer-centric manner.
The when and why voice is chosen is important to understand. Often, customers reach out via voice when all previous attempts at resolving an issue have failed. The associate taking the call often is on the receiving end of frustration, even anger. Do associates have the tools and training to deftly handle a difficult call? Do they have fast access to records of previous customer interactions so they can quickly move toward resolution?
Another reason consumers choose the voice channel is they seek empathy a digital channel cannot provide. Accountability key one; consumers may choose voice because they want a person, with a name, to listen, document the conversation, and take responsibility for resolving the issue.
How to evolve voice
With a better grasp of how consumers approach and use your voice channel, you can evolve the channel to meet their rising expectations.
Voice channel excellence is about connecting all the points in your omnichannel ecosystem to orchestrate a connected experience across all touchpoints.
Optimize the integrated voice response (IVR) system. Review functionality and look for opportunities to improve. “If you have any kind of recorded greeting, make it quick so callers can connect with someone as quickly as possible,” advises a loyalty executive at Zappos, the footwear retailer with legendary customer service.
Connect voice to your customer relationship management (CRM) platform and other systems, so when a customer calls in the associate recognizes who they are.
Increase self-service automation by incorporating the features customers want, when they want them. A call originating in voice should be deflected to a self-serve channel, if that works best for the customer. Smart call routing and queuing is a key way to evolve and truly enhance the voice channel—at a lower cost of ownership. Mapping customer intents, the reasons they reach out to a company, and routing those intents to the proper channel can yield savings of 10% to 20%, TTEC has found based on client experience.
Speaking of client experience…
A company in the uniform services industry was looking to streamline its IVR and improve the customer experience (CX). TTEC’s Contact Center Experience Strategy team assessed the company’s two IVRs. Then we provided best practices for redesign along with more than 30 recommendations to improve data collection, routing and queuing strategy. Initial findings:
- 10% projected AHT reduction when gathering customer-identifying information pre-agent
- 3x reduction in time to get to the self-serve channel or live agent by reducing IVR menu length
- 10%-15% projected savings deflected and contained call volume to additional IVR self-service options
What’s next? Assess
Evolving the voice channel doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. An organization may discover that an overhaul isn’t needed when in fact a few refinements could make a big difference. Take a step back and objectively assess how the voice channel operates today and how it's impacting customer experience.
Ask yourself: Is the customer journey streamlined, requiring minimal effort on the part of customers? Is your IVR optimized or does it still contain recorded information that is no longer relevant? Do you have a good grasp of your AHT and how to improve it? Are you getting the most out of your automation and self-service channels?
By assessing the current state of your contact center’s voice channel, you'll see which improvements hold the greatest potential to drive productivity, reduce costs, and extract valuable insights from data. And you'll help ensure an optimal customer experience journey and enduring relationship.