Providing good customer service has never been easy, but today it’s more challenging than ever, because of three factors. First is the growing overlap between marketing, sales and customer service. This is driven by customers’ increased expectations about the quality of customer service, the consistency of responses they receive during interactions and privacy legislation that limits companies’ collection and use of customer information and unsolicited contact. These circumstances put pressure on companies to take maximum advantage of all inbound interactions. Second, technology has changed customers’ communication habits, forcing companies to interact with them through multiple channels (including social media); this gets complicated when internally different lines of business hold responsibility for some of the channels. And third, companies can’t afford poor-quality products, services and customer experiences because customer complaints are likely to be broadcast over social media, potentially with devastating effects. To meet these challenges, companies have to start thinking differently; a good place to start is with the processes associated with customer-facing activities.
In my experience most contact center and customer support staff don’t think in terms of process, they think about tasks – taking an order, resolving a complaint, responding to a request for information and many others that make up their jobs. Each of these tasks is actually a collection of processes, and they fit within bigger processes that often transcend business unit boundaries – for example, taking an order in a contact center is likely a result of a marketing campaign, which may have been followed up by a sales person before finishing in the contact center. Due to organizational and cultural issues, most companies struggle with managing processes that cross these business unit boundaries. A relatively new product from Interactive Intelligence (ININ) can help address these issues.
Its Interaction Process Automation (IPA) product allows companies to map (or model) their processes, design forms to drive the process, initiate processes, monitor progress throughout the process and report on how well the process worked. It includes a variety of capabilities. The modeling tools provide users with drag-and-drop capabilities to model processes (that is, produce process maps that include actions, tasks and decision points ), even those that transcend business unit boundaries. The form designer tool provides the same type of drag-and-drop capabilities that allow users to create forms, either from presupplied templates or from scratch. Behind the forms are integration capabilities that allow users to extract and display data from existing applications or capture data that can be used to update one or more applications.
Another component allows users to initiate processes or steps within a process in several ways. A process can be initiated manually by a user, automatically by an event (for example, a notification that the customer accessed the self-service portal), or by a trigger within an application (for example, when a balance falls below a defined threshold). Within a multichannel customer service environment, this trigger-by-event capability can be especially useful as it can ensure that actions or events on one channel trigger a follow-up process on a different channel. For example, if the customer tries but fails to complete a purchase on the company’s website, an outbound contact center agent could be alerted to call the customer back to try and complete the purchase. ININ markets this feature as Communications-Based Process Automation because tight integration with its core CIC platform enables users to trigger processes in response to communication-based events.
A fourth component monitors the completion of tasks within a process, enabling users to track progress through a complete end-to-end process. And finally IPA comes with a suite of analysis and reporting tools that allow companies to see how well their processes are working.
As I implied, this process-based orientation might seem alien to people in contact centers, who may not buy into “consultant speak” about communications-enabled business process. However, my research shows that contact centers face many challenges, such as reducing average handling times, improving first-contact-resolution rates, and meeting an ever increasing number of customer-related metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS) and customer effort score (CES), and they need to address them somehow. Any solution depends on having the right information available at every interaction point and making the process as efficient and effective as possible. Although some vendors of more general process automation products claim to play in this space, IPA is one of very few products that address specific issues related to handling customer interactions. Managing diverse set of interactions was found to be quite complex in my benchmark research on contact center technology that find the number of them and varying types to be a challenge. As such, as companies seek to improve their customer-related activities, I recommend that they evaluate what IPA offers.
Do you face challenges managing processes that cross business unit boundaries? Are you seeking to improve the way you handle customer interactions? If so please tell us more and come and collaborate with me.
Richard Snow – VP & Research Director