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Digital Strategy around Technology and Customer Experience

By Hui Wu-Curtis, Sr. Director, Customer Care Strategy-Global, Choice Hotels International

Hui Wu-Curtis, Sr. Director, Customer Care Strategy-Global, Choice Hotels International

In today’s environment, the contact center is viewed as one of many channels for customers to reach organizations. In our digital age, customer demands accessibility to companies anytime, anywhere, and on the device or channel of their choosing. If you were to ask why contact centers are important in this digital age, a typical response would be that a contact center is important for achieving business efficiency, greater sales and increased customer satisfaction. However, given the distribution of activity in this digital age, the voice channel with contact centers are becoming a much smaller channel in many organizations while mobile and websites are drawing millions of visitors per day. The role of contact centers are often diminished due to the volume of interaction it handles in comparison to websites. Companies develop their digital strategy around technology and the customer experience on those digital platforms. That digital strategy often falls short of including contact centers. Businesses continue to struggle with traditional silos and a lack of alignment with organization, technology, and operational processes.

"Technology is allowing contact centers to better predict caller behavior, matching caller personality with agents that match their style"

Whether it be on our voice channel in our contact centers or on our mobile application, we are making strides in looking at the customer journey more organically in this digital age. At Choice Hotels, we realize the contact centers, under our Shared Services organization, are a key component of the customer’s experience with our brand. This involves both how our agents interact with customers, and also ensuring that we, as a company, are focused on what truly impacts the customer experience. Our global contact centers process over 12 million transactions a year and serves as a great resource for data and insights.

Companies use advances in Data collection, Data analysis, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the call center experience for customers. Technology is allowing contact centers to better predict caller behavior, matching caller personality with agents that match their style, speech analytics to detect when customers are on the verge of getting angry or predict when someone is lying and trying to commit fraud. There are many benefits to the various technological advances in contact centers today; not only for the management that run the contact centers but for the customers that call into them.

For Choice Hotels, we look towards our contact centers for data and insight, not only to monitor and improve operations but to also capture that insight and be more outward facing. We ask ourselves how we can better utilize the tremendous amounts of data that we can and do collect in this multi-million transaction environment. Leveraging data, analytics and insight to drive innovation and change within our business. Working in collaboration with other internal departments drives customer experience with our website, IT customer experience, e-Commerce, social media, and the mobile development teams.

In the latter part of 2015 and well into 2016, our Quality Assurance Department evolved into the Continuous Improvement (CI) Department. Changes we made were related to business-level monitoring. The CI team dedicated to monitoring for business-level issues became less focused on calibration and more focused on driving overall business results. When there were changes to our website or the rollout of new programs, our CI team monitored the effects of those changes and shared the insights with our internal business partners and IT development teams.

From an e-Commerce perspective, the team would run reporting that shows certain online behaviors, such as traffic falling off on certain pages on our website. The contact center’s CI team would listen and observe incoming calls from guests and franchisees and are able to identify the why’s. The CI team would share insight into functionality issues thus driving changes in our design. The team also listened for impacts to customer experience and is able to proactively identify system issues, error messages, or program problems. Observing and measuring the increase in call volume and identifying problems helped our IT customer experience and .com teams prioritize development work that improved our servicing for both our guests and our franchisees.

The contact centers are transforming from sales/service delivery hubs to large customer experience labs to design, test and evaluate technology solutions. We leverage millions of interactions to help us define and refine those technology needs and proactively identify service issues.

The role of contact centers have gone through a slow evolution from an operating structure that provides economies of scale and seen as a large operating expense to a center that offers differentiation through sales and servicing. Internally, contact centers continue to operate in a silo from the rest of the organization, reporting on key performance metrics that are important in the context of call centers. Choice Hotels have identified that our global contact centers provide not only big data but important insight to help us drive better customer experience through being a strategic business partner to the rest of the enterprise. Our global contact centers are playing a greater role in helping Choice Hotels define the company’s overall digital strategy.