The real cost of doing customer service badly

Kath Blackham

Kath is a global leader in conversational AI, and the founder of Versa ( Versa is a leading digital transformation agency that’s powered by conversational AI. In addition to her role at Versa, Kath is an in-demand speaker on the topics of AI, voice technologies, the future of work, and mental health in the workplace.

Headlines of unacceptable waiting times to get onto Qantas will have many brand owners, chief executives and boards thinking, ‘thank goodness that is not us’. But Qantas isn’t the only company being inundated with calls with no reprieve in sight, it’s just dominating headlines right now. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, no customer-facing brand has been immune to long call wait times, high abandonment rates and lower than normal customer satisfaction scores.  

Bad customer service could be costing Australian businesses more than $100 billion each year, with up to a third of customers migrating from one brand to another due to just one bad customer experience, according to PwC.  

Every report on customer satisfaction says the same thing: Customers will pay more, buy more and stay for longer if they have a good customer service experience. Yet every customer in Australia right now has not one but several horror stories of waiting on the phone for hours or waiting for a product for days or weeks, sometimes without an update from the brand they purchased from.  

Earlier in the year when these service challenges came to light, Qantas apologised and began hiring 750 additional call centre operators to hopefully end the nightmare.  

What can brands do to avoid this all together? There are several ways to alleviate this issue: More customer service staff, improved supply chain practices and an improved product offering. All of these are expensive, however, and, in some cases, simply not possible. After all, the global pandemic is still raging, and the conflict in Ukraine is wreaking havoc with supply from China and other countries. Add to that skyrocketing fuel costs, which eventually need to be passed on to customers, and life is tough for brands and their customers.  

There is, however, one easy answer to improving customer service. That is automation. And the good news is, it really isn’t that hard.    

Automation is not only about cutting costs and managing growth, although it is widely accepted companies can expect to see a cost reduction of 30 per cent or more if they deploy automation within their call centre operations. They can also expect to see lower attrition across the customer care team, higher satisfaction scores and much happier staff and customers across the board.  

The key is to make sure the virtual customer care ‘person’ will mimic the brand and the customer care one would expect from a human. If organisations can do this, the spoils will be quick and many.  

Automating with humanity  

Automation through conversational artificial intelligence (AI) allows brands to build customer experiences around the simple question of “how can I help?” on any channel the customer wants to engage on. Bendigo Bank has demonstrated this with its digital-first CX strategy. The organisation has a clear and consolidated focus, and its human-led approach results in an experience that balances the digital and personal.

Bendigo Bank has built its digital offering to meet customer needs in the channel of choice and to do so with personalised and intelligent content. The group consistently ranks higher in public facing CSAT reviews in comparison to any of the big four banks as a result.  

General manager of customer services at David Jones/Country Road Group, Daniele Iezzi, also understands the huge benefits conversational AI and automation bring to the call centre. As a company that identified the opportunity early, the retailer has been working hard to take advantage ever since. The results speak for themselves.  

When speaking to Daniel recently, he said: “In the past, every customer service team member could only speak to one person at a time. Now some of the team can converse with over 15 customers concurrently, which means we can handle more queries in significantly less time, which is great for our customers. We believe that using technology intelligently to improve the experience for our customers is the way forward and we have only just begun.”  

Another great example of the benefit of automation can be seen with one of Australia’s biggest parking brands. In just four weeks, the business saw call volumes drop by 15 per cent after implementing call centre automation. It only took a small investment to complete the proof of concept and build the business case for further investment.  

There is a perception automation requires lots of upfront cost and technology readiness but that’s just not the case. Companies can have one or two use cases up and running within weeks and expect to see significant savings from that point onwards. This is a cost saving or growth management exercise for almost all companies.  

Conversational AI, the use of speech recognition technology, natural language understanding and sentiment analysis, allows computers to understand customers and get them what they need when human operators aren’t available. Computers don’t get busy or need to sleep, they just scale up and down depending on how many customers are on the other end of the line.   

The technology that enables conversational AI has come leaps and bounds in the past five years. When well-designed and with the customer needs as its focus, speech recognition, multilingual translation, synthetic voice application and machine learning models make for useful, and most importantly, delightful customer experiences.  

Customers calling the contact centre are doing so because they have a problem they can’t solve alone. Many customers will say they want to speak to a human. However, according to Talkdesk, what they actually want is the immediacy of a human-like experience to have their issue resolved quickly.  

As Australia continues to emerge from the effects of the pandemic, it is a seamless customer experience that will make all the difference in growing and retaining customers. While most are failing to keep up with demands, the brands who are quick to recognise, prioritise and make the shift to automation will rise above their competitors.

Tags: customer service, contact centre, customer support, customer experience management, Versa, conversational AI, automation

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