How You Can Strike the Elusive Balance Between Efficiency & the Customer Experience  

When it comes to cost efficiency vs. the customer experience in the contact center and customer service teams, it’s not an either/or question.

by Charles Araujo | January 5, 2023

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“You hear the people in the ivory tower calling for the king’s head and saying it’s blasphemy and oh my gosh, you’ll destroy the customer experience. It’s bullshit.”

I was speaking with a senior contact center leader for some upcoming research when he made this statement. We were discussing the balance between the need for efficiency and cost reduction on the one hand, and the chorus from, as he called it, the ivory towers of punditry claiming that the customer experience is more important than anything else.

I had to chuckle. I mean, I publish something called The Digital Experience Report. I must be one of those in that ivory tower, right?

But his point was well-taken. The customer experience does not and cannot operate in a vacuum.

And it’s not just from an organization’s “must take cost out” perspective either. As another executive said, “Sometimes the customer doesn’t want to talk or need empathy. Sometimes they just want to get something done and move on.”

There’s no question that we’re in a period of evolution in all aspects of customer contact, service, and experience delivery. Volumes, costs, expectations, and the relative importance of the experience are all increasing simultaneously — all while organizations attempt to prepare for a potential market downturn.

The question for contact center, customer experience, and IT leaders is how to strike this balance between these seemingly competing needs of delivering efficiency and a differentiated customer experience.

It’s a question without an easy answer, but with some promising advancements on the horizon.

One Approach: Blended Conversations 

Striking this balance is no simple task, particularly because it comes in two forms. On the one hand, you have the need for an organization to manage costs, but to deliver a winning experience. On the other, for the customer to get what they want with no fuss, no muss, but also get empathetic, human attention when they want or need it.

The result of organizations struggling with — and failing at — striking this balance is evident in the long history in almost every organization of failed attempts that either caused experiences to fall flat or costs to soar — and sometimes both!

Everyone has their story.

Yet, it’s a balance that organizations must strike to compete in our experience-driven economy.

And technology providers across the spectrum are rushing to try and help enterprise leaders do so. One of the latest is Zoho’s recent release of its latest version of Zoho Desk, which includes what it calls Blended Conversations.

The concept is that neither humans nor machines can really meet both ends of this balance effectively. Whether from a cost or experience perspective, the company believes that both bots and humans have something unique to offer, but organizations have been forced to choose one or the other.

Instead, the company suggests, why not blend them?

According to the company, this approach “allows customer service agents to deliver the best experience in the moment by delegating the majority of manual and transactional tasks to bots, while remaining in control of the overall service experience.”

It’s an intriguing idea, and one that is already reflected to varying degrees in many major Customer Experience (CX) platforms. What is most interesting, however, is the explicit acknowledgment that this should not be a one-way hand-off and that, instead, there are some things that each does better, so we should allow them to do so in tandem.

According to the company, doing so will allow organizations to better strike this elusive balance.

The Increasing Role of Messaging 

Implicit in Zoho’s approach to blended conversations is the importance of messaging. While some forms of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) can operate in a voice environment, most bots operate in some form of a text-based interface.

Whether via a web-based chat or various forms of messaging (e.g., SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.), this type of blended approach works best when both the technology and the human interfaces are messaging-based.

That’s why Zoho has simultaneously released its new Instant Messaging Framework — and why we’re seeing virtually every major player in the contact center and customer experience space introduce some form of messaging into the mix.

Another critical factor visible in Zoho’s announcement is the importance of meeting the customer on whichever channel they prefer. Zoho’s IM Framework, for instance, supports WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, WeChat, Messenger, and Instagram. Other vendors have similar multi-channel approaches, with almost everyone in a race to enable their customers to connect on whatever channel they like.

Still, the abundance of messaging channels is as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Every channel has its own unique characteristics, which can create a burden when trying to leverage all of them to communicate with customers. That’s why organizations are increasingly leveraging platforms, such as Zoho’s IM Framework, to provide a consolidated management interface.

It’s Not About a Trade-off. You Can Do Both 

Technicalities aside, there are two critical things you must remember as you seek to strike the balance between efficiency and experience:

  • It’s not a trade-off; and
  • Your customer is your guiding light.

Since I launched The Digital Experience Report almost a year ago, I have spoken with countless enterprise executives about how they’re striking this balance. Invariably, those getting it right do not see it as a high-wire balancing act. Instead, they ask themselves how they can simultaneously achieve both efficiency and a better experience.

When they are doing both, they know they’re getting it right.

And that sense of simultaneously serving both your customer and the organization’s need to reduce costs also means that you’ll be striking your second note: keeping your customer as your guiding light.

Too often, the balance goes out of whack because the need for efficiency outweighs the need for a positive experience (Exhibit A: almost every self-service effort ever!). This second focus, however, will also help you ensure that you’re delivering the right level of efficiency from the customer’s perspective and not providing them with a high-touch service when they’re looking for quick and dirty.

The balancing act is never easy. And it’s made all that much more complex by the fact that both customer expectations and supporting technologies are in a constant state of change. But by adopting smart new technologies and applying them with a dual eye toward driving efficiency and a winning experience, you and your customers will come out as winners.

Disclosure: Zoho is a client of The Digital Experience Report. The Digital Experience Report maintained full editorial control of this analysis.

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About the author 

Charles Araujo

Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise, the Digital Experience and the Future of Work. Researching Digital Transformation for over 10 years, he is now focused on helping leaders transform their organizations around the digital experience and to reimagine the future of work. Publisher and principal analyst of The Digital Experience Report, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, co-founder of The MAPS Institute, and author of three books, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and advisor to technology companies and enterprise leaders.

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