Last update: 01 Nov, 2021 15:00
Hurray for the telephone, or: Why there's life in the old dog yet.
When I started in the contact centre industry 20 years ago, multi-channel was a new and hot topic. A new technology called email and the World Wide Web were hailed as saviours and the telephone was declared dead. Many companies promised to be able to handle all customer enquiries completely as self-service via the web, thus saving a lot of time and money. Questions, suggestions and complaints would no longer be handled by telephone, but by e-mail. Telephone numbers disappeared from websites and companies tried to avoid personal contact with the customer as much as possible. So suddenly there was more time for processing enquiries, but it quickly became clear that processing times were increasing and that e-mails were more expensive, slower and less productive than case-closing processing in a direct or telephone conversation.
Since, as we all know, usually, there's life in the old dog yet and people like to talk to other people, it quickly became clear that call volumes may be declining, but the telephone is still needed. There is no doubt that we can order train tickets, clothes or concert tickets effortlessly in self-service via app or website. This not only saves time on the company side, but is also easier, more efficient and possible at any time for customers. However, when it comes to a special request or a complaint, people continue to call diligently and efficiently. Even the fax, although somewhat dusty, is still used. In the hustle and bustle of a large kitchen, no one fiddles with the touchscreen of their tablet between sliced herbs and dripping sauces. So an order slip is ideal, which - with or without a splash of sauce - is simply placed on the fax. The dream of Zero UI will come true one day, no question - more on this in a separate article, a la "Communication in 2030".
If fax and telephone are still not obsolete, are we in Germany too backward for modern technology and AI? No, of course not. These examples are only meant to show that, firstly, the choice of channel should always lie with the customer, and secondly, different communication channels must also be offered for different needs of the same person.
Especially in service, when an order has not gone smoothly, it is essential that agents react correctly. In addition to empathy and competence, they should of course also observe all compliance rules. The employees on the phone should be perfectly trained and always have all the information at hand. Today, this is only possible with the support of technology. A speech analysis recognises the choice of words and the adherence to compliance rules, and measures which conversations are successful and why sometimes long conversations are more efficient than short ones. In addition, service centres can now make use of smart assistants. Thanks to them, agents can make decisions faster and handle calls in a case-finishing manner. The result is a much more satisfying conversation for both sides.
In sales, too, it is immensely important to appear professional on the phone. In addition to friendliness, the right choice of voice and expertise, it is of course particularly important to conduct the conversation. Here, too, analysis tools help to recognise which conversations lead to the conclusion of a sale, where pauses are too long or phrases or filler words are used.
As a trainer, service or sales manager, you naturally need to know how to train your teams. For example, what proportion of speech is beneficial? Current studies show that the share of speech of your agents should always be slightly higher than that of the callers. When it comes to the duration of the speech, it is more difficult: sometimes this way, sometimes that way is the right choice.
In fact, a long call can drive up the average call time and the KPI, yet long calls can be very efficient because they have helped the:caller and sold an additional option. Analysis software provides information on exactly this: when do longer conversations lead to success, when is it just chit-chat? When are there breaks in the conversation, where are there problems with the operation of the system? This knowledge is essential to train your staff, to keep processes efficient and to achieve a WOW effect with your customers.
Therefore, look at the details in your contact centre and not only at superficial KPIs. You should also consider service and sales as a unit in order to carry out cross-selling and up-selling in the right places. When your employees can score points, how and with the right offers, can be identified with modern, AI-based analysis. A question about an invoice can quickly turn into a successful sales call. Of course, it is essential that your employees are qualified to do this and that the corresponding knowledge is available at the push of a button.
Artificial intelligence provides smart support here - the abbreviation AI is on everyone's lips. So it turns out that although people in Germany still like to talk on the phone a lot, we need modern technology to be able to talk on the phone more successfully. The unbeatable advantage of the telephone: it is a live channel and runs synchronously. Enquiries can be made easily, and although we are in a 1-1 situation (customer:in - employee:in), this is precisely why the communication channel can be very efficient.
In addition, your employees score points on the phone with empathy and customer proximity and the barrier is maximally low, whether landline or mobile, the phone can be used by all age groups. And last but not least, have you ever paid attention to your posture when talking or writing? The telephone is definitely preferable here, because thanks to the headset, the arms and hands can relax or even be moved in a body-friendly way and even the gaze can wander into the distance in between, which in turn relaxes the eyes and neck.
Author: Ralf Mühlenhöver