I have long been an advocate of customer online self-services, since it reduces contact center staffing requirements and also makes it easier for customers to get information directly without the need for live assistance. Online self-services are hugely better than legacy IVR applications in many ways, and are now much more practical with consumer adoption of personal smartphones and tablets. So, there is big payoff in business communications for any size organization, as well as to their customers.
However, I have also emphasized that any self-service application always needs to allow convenient and flexible access to live assistance whenever the customer runs into a problem with the application they are trying to use. This will typically occur when the interactive user interface is not understandable to the user, and that can easily happen all the time.
The other day I personally experienced such a frustrating need when trying to book an airline flight online. My motivation was the drastic discount deal offered (around 70%) if I booked it myself online within the next two days.
It takes a while to look up and select the available flights, then enter passenger and payment information. In my case I had some refund credits to apply, and the user interface was very confusing to understand what would be actually billed to my credit card. So, rather than guess about it, I decided to place a quick call for assistance, since the airline website did not offer a “click-to-chat” option.
When I placed my phone call, I got the typical “all agents are busy” recording, but instead of being placed into the wait queue, I was offered a “virtual queue” option with an estimate of 4-8 minutes of wait time for a return call.
That was OK with me and, sure enough, I got a return call in about 9 minutes. In answer to my question to the agent, I was quickly reassured that everything will be accurate by simply pressing the “accept” option. So, while still on the phone with the agent, I went back to my computer screen and, guess what? It had an error message saying that it had timed out and I would have to start all over in entering my booking data. The agent told me she couldn’t do anything else for me, because I would lose my big discount for booking it myself online.
When I got done doing all that again, I had spent over an hour doing something that shouldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes, including a quick chat question to an agent..
Obviously, the online application didn’t know that I was trying to get live assistance through a separate phone call and timed out, and, obviously, the airline agent was blocked from getting involved, even minimally. This would have been a perfect situation for a contextual “click-for-assistance” to close the gap and avoid any customer frustration when they don’t understand the self-service application interface. Given that there are thousands of business interactions for consumers who will be using smartphones and tablets for eCommerce, the need to to provide convenient, flexible, and “contextual” access to live assistance is going to be table stakes for efficient customer satisfaction.
In my case, if I could have initiated contact with a booking agent directly through the application online interface, instead of a separate toll-free POTS phone call, I could have avoided the unnecessary application time-out and need to repeat all my previous data entry input. On the other side of the coin, the agent that I connected with, voice or chat, would have had complete access to my contextual status information and would have been able to quickly satisfy my needs in just a couple of minutes without jeopardizing the online discount I was getting for doing all the data entry chores.
Let’s go, Web RTC and online customer self-service application developers!