Voice is still powerful for the public sector in a multi-channel world

Video didn’t kill the radio star, Netflix hasn’t killed the BBC and multi-channel contact won’t kill voice. In fact, quite the opposite is true: the telephone is still the preferred channel for resolving customer queries. However, the multi-channel landscape is changing consumer expectations and public sector organisations need to understand where voice now sits in their overall communications mix.

More choice, less patience with voice

Multi-channel contact is now considered standard. People interact with organisations via email, websites, mobile apps, text, social media and live chat, as well as interactive voice response (IVR) and phone. Communications strategies generally include a spectrum of channels in response to the growing demand for choice from consumers and a push for greater efficiencies.

While all this choice is exactly what people want, it appears to be making them more impatient with voice-based customer service. According to a recent Zendesk survey, 83% of people say they expect more from customer service than ever before: if they phone in, they expect an immediate response, they expect not to be put on hold for long and they expect a speedy resolution.

For many IT Directors within the public sector, their telecoms journey from A to B can be can be endlessly disrupted by external factors. The job of finding a solution to meet their IT needs is becoming harder and harder.

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Too complex for digital

As non-vocal communication channels continue to evolve to handle a wider variety of consumer needs, self-service is a significant trend and most customers are happy to check manuals, social media, FAQs or Google for straightforward queries. But for complicated, time-critical or emotionally charged issues, such as the intricacies of a tax return or university clearing, being able to talk to a human being is still essential.

The idea that the phone is a ‘last resort’ for tech-savvy users or that it is favoured only by older customers is a myth. Voice has a central role to play for all users at key ‘flashpoints’ in the service lifecycle. Public sector organisations that can identify those points and put in place an appropriate voice response can handle peaks in demand and gain reputational points from users.

Voice is easy again

The public perception of frustrating government call centres – long queues, lost calls, IVR mazes – is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as large public-facing organisations invest wisely in telephony infrastructure as part of a multi-channel strategy. For several years it was harder (and often painful) to call organisations like HM Passport Office, and customers were politely ushered towards digital. But technologies such as ‘click-to-call’ and voice-activated in-car ‘personal assistants’ are simplifying the task of making a call and enabling conversations like never before. With major desktop apps such as Google Hangouts and Skype for Web adding voice capability, the phone lines are well and truly open again. Technology is now lifting barriers to voice, not building them.

And for some, voice is all there is

Institutions who deal with the general public rather than a single demographic slice know only too well that, even today, there are many consumers who lack access to digital channels and rely on the telephone. Some resort to voice simply because they’re used to it. And even digitally savvy customers can lose Wi-Fi from time to time.

So voice is not dying. It’s not even unwell. It’s found its place right at the heart of a joined-up multi-channel communications mix. Emerging media won’t see the end of voice and organisations that use connected voice, mobility and data solutions can simplify their contact strategy, reduce costs and resolve customer issues at the first point of contact.

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29 March 2017 | Sam Winterbottom

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