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Many contact center initiatives begin with an internal focus, looking for ways to improve current operations. But what if you flipped that approach 180 degrees and asked, “What do our customers really want?”
Taking that customer-centric perspective allowed two international airlines to navigate the ups and downs of the global economy in recent years, while boosting customer satisfaction and long-term loyalty, according to Richard McFarlin, who managed contact centers for Qatar Airways and Emirates before joining Avaya as a business analyst.
“Customer loyalty is at the heart of every contact center interaction,” said McFarlin in an Avaya ENGAGE session, “CX: Customer Centric Technology Strategy.” That includes IVR identity validations for a personalized customer experience, tier-based routing and tier-based agent groups across all direct channels. “Simple navigation, easy ability to connect and consistent conversations are all crucial for the best CX,” he added. “Interactions that involve more agents and channels increase customer friction.”
Other customer-centric steps include storing a caller’s preferred language and geographic location, allowing the agent to personalize the interaction and demonstrate empathy, McFarlin said. “Any call-backs are routed to an experienced agent for a better CX.”
All agents and channels are centrally managed in the cloud to ensure a consistent experience for customers at all tiers of the airlines’ loyalty programs, said McFarlin. The head office also manages cyber security and sustainability aspects for the contact center operations.
At the same time, the regional contact centers operate within local rules and regulations. For example, one airline contact center has 1,800 agents in five locations who speak 10 languages. The center handles about 2 million transactions a month – 50 percent automated and 50 percent going to human agents. “We have found that the further away an agent is from the customer’s location, the less likelihood of a favorable CX outcome,” he said.
Having one global platform allows all agents to see the customer journey, added McFarlin, who noted that delivering that customer-centric view to the agent involves five elements:
• A virtual platform for voice, digital and robotic-process automation (RPA) interactions
• A digital help domain
• Single user desktop with agent-assisted knowledge
• Centralized processes for scheduling, forecasting and other operations
• Contact center teams that focus on managing productivity, quality and revenue
“With this approach, there are no blind spots, and you have an agile team that can deliver continual CX enhancements,” McFarlin said. “You can expect to see stellar uplifts, because the agents are aligned in moving the business in the right direction.” For example, one airline saw first-call resolution rise more than 10 percent, while social interaction volume was reduced by 60 percent in some channels.
Managing changing volumes
A centralized CX strategy allows contact center leaders to manage event-related or seasonal peaks and valleys of customer interactions. “To lessen the impact of global events, the airlines built their automated capabilities for notifications and rebookings,” McFarlin said. “To maximize personalization, loyal customers get priority access to agents.”
McFarlin said the 2010 Iceland volcanic eruption whose ash cloud impacted worldwide air travel provided a wakeup call for the airline industry. “At that time, we had on-prem technology in silos, and were unable to manage the upturn in demand,” he said. “But our agile team approach came into play when COVID hit in 2020, as contact center interactions grew by 400 percent and stayed high throughout the pandemic. We were able to replicate agents and use automated systems for bookings, flight changes, refunds and other requests. Any failed process was handed off to an agent, maximizing their skills and minimizing their time.”
Looking ahead, center technology doesn’t stand still. “Customer expectations evolve and new channels develop,” McFarlin said. “You need to take a progressive approach and get in front of the trends.”