Digging for Data: How Contact Centers Became a Source for Retailer Insight

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Retailers are sitting on a gold mine and they don’t even know it. If customer data is the new gold, contact centers are rich with powerful insights that could drive huge change across the industry, benefiting both customers and the retailers themselves. 

“We’re at the beginning of the new great gold rush,” Talkdesk global vice president of AI specialized sales Fernando Egea says. “But this time, the asset being mined isn’t mineral: It’s actually customer data—and we’re the gold miners.”

Retailers must learn to tap into this source of wealth to truly transform: by collecting, analyzing, and then acting on the data. Over half of the customer experience (CX) leaders Talkdesk surveyed stated that this was their number one CX priority.  “Our number one asset—no matter what business we’re in—is our customers,” CX expert and author Dan Gingiss says. “If we don’t have any customers, we don’t have any business.”

“There’s so much value in listening to consumers,” industry veteran and retail expert Liza Almani says. “As a merchant, I would only get that from walking the shop floor.” But technology is changing that reality. 

We recently hosted a webinar in which Liza, Dan, and Fernando shared their insight into these issues—and more—to help empower retailers to re-envision their contact centers for change.

How contact centers (should) collect data.

Customer data is a bigger priority than channel expansion or personalization, and strong data infrastructure is necessary. It’s also free to mine. The problem is, CX leaders don’t know how to harness the power that customer data offers. Something has to change to improve CX.

Contact center perception problems

Unfortunately, the perception of the contact center is that it functions as a “frontline” against customers and store associates. Even among retailers themselves, “too many companies look at the contact center in the wrong way—they look at it as a cost center,” Dan highlights.

In reality, the contact center is much more powerful. It forms the basis of interaction between the business and the customer: “This is the one place that customers come [to] when they want to talk to us—especially if you’re an e-commerce player,” he says.

Retailers need to change how they—and customers in turn—view the contact center. “Instead of wanting to get them off the phone super fast or wanting them not to call at all, what if we actually wanted to talk to them?” Dan asks.

“A lot of those insights from customer data are being held hostage,” Liza explains. “[Viewing it] as an insights hub where we’re collecting customer feedback data on returns and why product is being returned,” she says, “could not only help drive product creation decisions, but also assortment planning decisions.”

Extracting different kinds of data

At the same time, focusing on the quantitative—average hold time, length of calls, number of calls per hour, and call disposition codes—is valuable but not customer-focused. To develop a full picture of what’s going on, marketing and customer experience leaders should sit with customer agents and listen to calls.

“There is nothing like hearing the literal voice of your customer,” Dan says. Calls capture emotion and nuance. “People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” Fernando adds. Going off script for a minute—asking about the customer’s dog or baby in the background—increases the chances of these positive interactions happening.

Customers generally call contact centers to complain, so that makes rapport-building early in the call all the more important. “You’re not competing with the number one retailer in your category,” Fernando explains. “You’re competing with the best provider of customer experience across all industries, because those experiences are transcendent.

Best practice for analyzing data

And yet, only 1% of call recordings are properly analyzed—it’s hard to do, and costs time, money, and labor. Additionally, few want to struggle keeping up with daily call reports. “[It] is just not efficient,” Dan says. “I don’t need another report—neither does my boss, and certainly our C-level people don’t.”

But to get the CX game where it should be, data needs analysis. “This is where artificial intelligence comes into play,” Fernando says. “It’s able to see through all the data that’s being generated from the contact center and look for patterns, issues, and opportunities that can then be analyzed and acted upon.”

Using natural language interactive voice response (IVR), customers are no longer forced down a rigid path. Coupled with monthly high-level meetings listening to and analyzing a randomized selection of customer calls “results in so much positive change,” Dan says. 

Extracting deeper insights from natural language IVR—and authenticating those insights—is now easier than ever. Instead of proving who the customer is before discussing the problem, agents can now employ voice biometrics to do it for them automatically. “There’s nothing more beautiful than greeting your customers by name,” Fernando says.

Rethinking IVR means more happy customers. “A dual tone multi frequency (DTMF) based IVR tends to be the single biggest source of customer satisfaction,” Fernando says. Speech and text analytics can automatically analyze all conversations to improve this. “One of our customers discovered that when agents greeted their customers a certain way, it increased their average sales price by 20%,” he says.

Acting on data

Collecting and analyzing data means very little unless contact centers also act on it. Harvard Business Review found the number one thing that drives loyalty is reducing customer effort—any inconvenience discourages them. “These are the things that we have to fix, and that’s what taking action is about,” Dan says.

If a customer has to hold, letting them pick the hold music they listen to, or giving them live news reports improves the inevitable waiting experience.

But it’s impossible to get it 100% right all the time. “You have to be open minded to accept the feedback that your experience isn’t perfect,” Dan says. The customer is signaling that they want to keep doing business—otherwise they’d silently go elsewhere.

But data without action isn’t worth much. “We need to focus on what outcome we’re trying to achieve,” Liza says, and “translate that into closing the feedback loop.” 

This focus is more critical than ever before. Growing trends like fire sales, excess inventory, and a large number of returns all indicate that retailers could stand to benefit from better understanding their customers’ needs. Retailers can gain real-time insight—which impacts design and development decisions—by using data to inform company-wide decision making. 

“Retailers hate change,” Liza says. But working with teams across an organization helps sales, gross margin, and creates positive perception. It also ultimately drives a better overall journey—for customers, product creators, and everyone else in the organization—improving brand loyalty.

Harnessing the power of interaction analytics for contact centers

With speech and text analytics, data is automatically accessible across all business lines. Being proactive reduces customer effort and improves experiences even before customers reach the contact center.

AI powered by personal insight—who is calling and why—feeds into success across the whole organization. The customer experience and journey depend on it, so taking advantage of the technology is a must.

Listen to more insight from Dan, Liza, and Fernando during the webinar on interaction analytics.

Top quotes: 

[08:02] Liza Amlani: “If we start to think about the contact center as an insights hub where we’re collecting customer feedback data on returns and why product is being returned … that could help drive not only product creation decisions, but assortment planning decisions. If we think about where folks are calling from—certain communities—this could drive reallocation of product instead of traditional clustering and allocation of product.” [08:43]

[09:44] Dan Gingiss: “Too many companies look at the contact center in the wrong way: They look at it as a cost center, and it’s meant to then focus only on operational efficiency and cutting costs. And what that’s missing is that our number one asset—no matter what business we’re in—is our customers. If we don’t have any customers, we don’t have any business.” [10:06]

[21:04] Fernando Egea: “You’re not competing with the number one retailer in your category: You’re competing with the best provider of customer experience across all of those industries, because those experiences are transcendent. You’ll take the best experience you had at Starbucks this morning, and then you go to a retailer you expect to be able to deliver the same [great experience].” [21:22]

[33:38] Fernando Egea: “It’s almost like you’re inviting a friend over to dinner. And just imagine when your friend shows up at the door and they knock on your door, your reaction was, who are you and what do you want? Kind of funny, but we do the same in business. We invite customers to do business with us. When they reach out to the contact center, the first reaction is, who are you and what you want? So natural language understanding starts changing this.” [33:09]

[40:10] Dan Gingiss: “You have to be open minded to accept the feedback that your experience isn’t perfect. If your experience was perfect … no one would ever call you. So if you don’t want to have a call center and you want to save lots of money, just have a perfect customer experience and no one will ever have to contact you.” [40:26]


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