Despite the growing demand for digital, consumers aren’t ready to hang up the telephone as a conversational channel.
“Whether it’s called a customer experience center, a customer relations center, a contact center or a call center…each of these terms refer to a conversational customer experience, whose variations: call, messaging, live chat, chatbot or virtual assistant…never seem to stop multiplying,” said Isabelle Allanche, Energy Sector Manager, and Samira Canus, Measurement and Attribution Specialist at Google France. The two introduced Google’s first Thinking Session dedicated to the unique challenges ‘voice’ represents in customer experience and how the telephone endures as a customer relations channel.
Hung up on the phone
Even with this growing proliferation of digital contact channels, at the Search Giant’s Paris headquarters, Sitel Group, Club Med and GMF were among the companies called on to discuss the telephone’s continuing appeal – not as a means of mobile browsing or using apps – but as a device for speaking directly to someone and for hearing someone’s voice.
And that’s because despite all of the connectivity possibilities a smartphone presents, Google’s own research shows that: “The phone retains a central role as a conversion channel, and also upstream in the consultation phase and for providing human contact: 50% of utilities provider subscriptions are made via the phone; 20-30% for telecoms; 7-12% for financial services,” revealed Isabelle Allanche. “In short, the telephone is of major importance for converting prospects into customers in all business sectors.”
With this data as a starting point, Google’s guests were invited to articulate their insights regarding how to best to shape digital channels for real human contact; how they remove friction points from the customer journey; and what they believe are the keys to really unlocking the true potential of omnichannel CX.
An era of context and real-time understanding
“The title of this event does not just refer to the phone, but also to context,” said Sitel Group founding partner and CMO, Arnaud de Lacoste, when he took to the stage to give the day’s opening keynote address. “The volume of data that we manage – and which is growing all the time – makes it possible to understand a caller’s context in a specific point in time – where he is, who he is, his history and, thanks to smart data, what he would like.”
As a result, it’s now easy to picture a set of interfaces beyond the smartphone that are fueled by contextual awareness and that can proactively serve consumers with personalized content and predictively perform specific actions.
Quoting US futurist Amy Webb, Arnaud de Lacoste said: “We are coming to the end of the age of the smartphone and coming back to an age of multiple devices.” And in this age, he sees our voice, gestures or even the senses of our body becoming part of the interface. “This will have profound consequences for the relationship consumers have with brands, and poses a set of challenges far superior to anything we have experienced so far. But the rewards [in overcoming these challenges] are immense?” said Arnaud de Lacoste.
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The era of proactive personalization
To illustrate this point, Arnaud de Lacoste highlighted what’s already happening in customer relations in China with WeChat: “The platform now supports mini apps that automatically download relevant content to a user’s device based on that person’s location. That content then disappears again when the user moves on elsewhere.”
This is just a small example and to really meet the challenge of delivering a proactively personalized and contextualized, he laid out three major projects that a brand will have to undertake:
In terms of industrialization, AT&T has integrated customer-type-specific data into a series of videos that help customers understand their bill. “There are as many videos as there are customers,” explained Arnaud de Lacoste. “The initiative has cut the volume of calls from customers saying that they don’t understand their bill be 20-30%.”
However, he warned, there is a caveat: “Working with trust is as important as the challenge of collecting and understanding data.” Transparency and honesty will need to be the future cornerstone of customer relations. This according to Arnaud de Lacoste, will lead not only to stronger relationships with customers, but better, more accurate data and therefore greater personalization.
When customer care agents become data ‘agents’
Online isn’t everything. French life, health, property and casualty insurer GMF still receives 5 million calls every year, including 1.7 million that are routed via a digital channel, such as website Skype call buttons. This makes it the number-one conversion channel.
Using digital to seamlessly lead consumers to the call center has allowed the company’s teams to build stronger connections with prospects and existing customers, alike. “We have noticed not only an increase in the number of appointments made after a call but also the levels of retention,” explained GMF’s Acquisition and Digital Performance Manager Olivia Vigouroux. “Our teams were concerned that digital would negatively impact on way they do their jobs, but on the contrary this transformation has allowed them to deliver true added value in the terms of the quality of the exchanges with the customers.”
A spoken conversation is still the richest form of customer/company engagement and GMF has built on this by prioritizing listening, and giving clear advice to callers. “This turns our consultants into data ‘agents’; because of their close proximity to customers they can provide direct, precise feedback from the field that flows into our predictive analytic model. It allows us to make our model more accurate,” she continued.
Club Med: from last click to first call
Club Med, which works with the Sitel Group’s teams, has also ignored conventional digital wisdom when it comes to selling and to presuming that online is where the customer prefers to conduct a transaction.
By monitoring its channels to arrive at a ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline) score, the brand was able to develop a new “micro conversions” methodology to boost sales.
“By moving away from a pure transaction logic and towards a logic of micro conversions, we were able to track our calls, optimize our investments and enrich the entire omnichannel journey,” explained Nathanelle Tran, Club Med Digital Media Manager EMEA.
This departure from the last-click culture, in order to focus on objectives specific to each individual channel in order to take a more holistic view, meant “We broke the silos that made us shortsighted. By merging the off-and-online journeys, we have been able to retrieve data much closer to customer behavior, allowing us to establish an understanding that online data alone was not enough to verify,” she concluded.
Google’s Five-A Mantra
“The trend towards digitalization often leads us to value only digital channels. This can make us lose sight of the immense added value of the telephone as a complementarity channel,” said Nicolas Bertaux, Head of Telecom and Media at Google France, in conclusion to this first thinking session.
To help companies gauge the effectiveness of their approach to digital, to identify areas that need to be strengthened and to assess the maturity of their partners in delivering their services, Bertaux closed out the event by sharing Google’s Five-A mantra:
This is the first priority. It is imperative to “drain the swamp” so that the foundations your business fundamentals – advertising formats, physical and digital points of contact are stronger. “Don’t consider going further until you have done this,” said Bertaux.
Know where your audience is and understand its individual segments.
Accessing your products or services should be easy online and offline. “Develop a technological infrastructure that provides the gateways necessary.”
By properly aligning a company’s conversion goals with its available resources it will be able to get the most value out of each of its channels, its content and its advertising.
“The other half of the winning pair; following attribution, combining it with automation will then improve the return on your investments and increase your business,” explained Bertaux.
Call me, maybe?
Between visionary speeches, best practice testimonials and a framework for reimagining the omnichannel approach, one thing remained clear: the strength of the telephone as a customer relations channel. As the channel that enables verbal communication, the richest and most human form of engagement, digital is in no danger of making it disappear.