NTT’s 2021 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report noted that most organizations now provide nine customer interaction channels, up from eight in 2020. Why the push for more ways to assist customers? As companies seek to improve the customer experience (CX), it’s only natural to interact with customers when and how they want to connect. However, the more points of connection there are, the more complex CX management becomes. In particular, this complexity increases the need to refine self-service and, more importantly, the need for more agent training for when self-service options fail or are not taken.
Not All Channels Are Created Equal
SMS provides a stellar example of channel expansion. According to CTIA, in the US alone, 6 billion SMS messages are sent each day. It was only a matter of time before businesses began to adopt messaging as a way to engage customers. Not only does SMS provide a comfortable and familiar way to engage with customers, but it also provides benefits core to the needs of the contact center by reducing agent workload, allowing more easy proactive engagement, and increasing call deflection.
When NTT asked which channel offerings were in place or planned, instant messaging channels, including SMS, were in the top tier of 1,359 responses. Almost 90% of respondents said they either already had or were planning on adding messaging within the next year. Despite this level of adoption, companies often fall into the trap of not training agents for the nuances and specificities that messaging requires.
In fact, you can look at interaction handling and see how the needle on customer sentiment and satisfaction can move back and forth based on interaction brevity. For instance, in a voice call, analytics and customer information can guide the agent, but live conversation enables the agent to intuitively understand how the call is going and correct quickly in real-time. While email affords an agent a lot of conversational white space to explain, clarify, or ask succinct questions to gather information, messaging (despite being conversational) that takes place in one text line or chat is open to misinterpretation and can lack the normal cues that a full conversation provides. A poorly trained agent might treat the message as a one-way street, blasting multiple pieces of information at the customer without paying attention to conversational turn-taking. Likewise, an agent could miss cues as to when the conversation might be better served by escalating to voice.
SMS Success Requires Attention to Detail
Successful agent training considers knowledge management, company brand and tone, product or service knowledge, and myriad other factors. Still, when agents aren’t properly trained in switching channels, the subtleties of interactions can make or break their success. Key detail considerations include:
How or should agents respond?
Beauty is found in the proactivity of the messaging channel. When done right, outbound notifications provide more opportunities for positive customer engagement, strengthening brand perception and improving the customer experience. Creating best practices and training agents when and how to respond is vital. For example, proactively sending out billing notices with links to pay provides convenience, but a company needs to decide if its messages should only be one way, should they allow customers to respond with questions, and what types of questions agents should be allowed to reply to. If they reply, are agents properly trained to answer those questions?
Agent compliance and consent management are critical contact center concerns, and missteps put organizations at risk of losing customers or even costly customer litigation. Training agents how and when to ask or confirm consent is necessary, but so is understanding that consent status changes over time. Just because a customer opts in to receive SMS messages doesn’t necessarily mean they go all in. Trained agents know when and how to solicit or confirm consent and know how to deftly continue conversations with customers that may decide later to opt-out, keeping them looped in. Of course, if for any reason the customer still wants to opt-out, it is imperative to properly train the agent to let them.
Keeping it appropriate
Contact centers seek the best match between agent and channel and function. A customer service agent fielding support calls might not be adept at or interested in moving to outbound sales, for example. The same holds true for digital channels. While it seems like common sense to ensure that agents manning digital channels such as email have exceptional writing skills, it’s perhaps even more important to do the same in messaging. Agents that are comfortable texting in their personal lives still need best practice training in a work environment, where spelling and punctuation matter, cute emojis may be inappropriate, acronyms may be unclear, or too long or too short replies may be off-putting. Further, agents should be trained to assume that anything they text might end up on social media.
Unveiling the Power of Messaging
While nothing ever quite replaces face-to-face interaction or a highly engaged agent on the phone, other options are surging in popularity and have unique customer benefits. SMS is a natural way to connect with customers as it’s easy, familiar, quick, and unobtrusive. It allows for persistent and asynchronous communication that lets the customer engage at their own pace. High customer satisfaction and an elevated CX are built one interaction at a time. Using SMS to engage gives a company the ability to keep customers informed and keep the business top of mind. Used proactively, it can also assist customers with issues before they even know about them, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and further cementing brand loyalty while reducing more costly inbound call volume.
Frost & Sullivan