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For Today’s Contact Centers, Great First Impressions May Start With AI

Everybody knows you only get one chance to make a first impression — which is why I want to start this week’s post with something truly inspiring. Let me direct your attention to the venerable U.S. reality TV show, The Bachelor

But seriously! Stay with me.

In every season of The Bachelor, there’s a prize in the first episode called the First Impression Rose. It’s offered to whichever contestant makes the best initial impression on the Bachelor or Bachelorette, protecting them from elimination that week. Winning that rose doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win the whole contest, but it does guarantee you’ll at least have a solid chance. 

And that’s the lesson for contact center leaders. Not only do customers form split-second judgments about your brand, they’re also comparing your customer service — whether consciously or subconsciously — to your competitors. And those judgments stick; those comparisons lay the foundation for the entire customer relationship. If you botch the first impression, it’s ‘game over’ for the rest of the contest.

So when it comes to CX, good first impressions are table stakes, and great ones are the key to lasting competitive differentiation. The only question is: How can your contact centers keep up? In other words, how do you win your customers’ First Impression Rose?

Customer Experience in the Cloud live stream banner

First customer touchpoints = first impressions

Studies show that whenever we meet someone new, we form a judgment about them in roughly four seconds and within just 30 seconds, that judgment is largely cemented. That’s exactly what’s happening whenever your contact center has a first touchpoint or interaction with a customer. 

That first touch, wherever it’s taking place, prejudices the customer’s view of the entire interaction. And if it’s a first-time customer? Their view of your entire brand. If a customer has a bad first impression with self-service or with a chatbot, they’re going to carry those judgments with them when it comes time to speak with a live agent. 

That’s why self-service and AI channels (whether via the web, mobile, chatbots or IVR) are so crucial. Because the most important attribute of the customer experience — as identified by 75 percent of customers — is a fast response time. And those are the channels that guarantee customers access to help instantaneously, on their terms. 

Thus, it’s no coincidence that self-service channels are usually where that all-important first touchpoint takes place — or that more than 70 percent of customers now expect a company’s website to include a self-service application, with 40 percent expressing an active preference for self-service over human contact. 

However, simply having self-service isn’t enough. If you want to win that sweet, sweet First Impression Rose from your customers, you need great self-service. And if you want great self-service, you need exceptional AI.

Blossoming self-service and AI

For years, customer self-service meant early-gen IVR systems, which usually required screaming into your phone, “Agent! I want an agent!” Of course, those days are (thankfully) ancient history. If your contact center still hasn’t adapted, you better get there fast. Fortunately, adaptation is what machine learning-driven AI is all about. 

Getting into AI can be intimidating. Here at Lifesize, a lot of organizations come to us saying, “I need AI,” but aren’t exactly sure where they need it, or why. For most, the lowest hanging fruit is in that critical pre-interaction phase — modernizing and optimizing self-service through conversational AI, chatbots and virtual agents.

Artificial intelligence for phases of contact center interaction

Not only is it typically the easiest place to start with AI, it’s also among the best for tracking and demonstrating ROI. It helps offload more interaction types to free up agents for more difficult and higher impact tasks. And of course, it’s the key to making great first impressions and winning that rose. 

Know when it’s time to look in the mirror

Whenever you come home after a big job interview or a first date (whether on The Bachelor or IRL), one of the immediate things you probably ask yourself is, “What kind of first impression did I make?” And if it wasn’t as great as you’d hoped, then why wasn’t it? Maybe you could have dressed a little better. Maybe you should have been more assertive. Or maybe you were too assertive, and should have done a better job of knowing when to step back and listen.

Contact center leaders should do the exact same thing. We need to ask ourselves, “How is our first impression? Where are our gaps? How can we better use technologies like AI to support the customer journey?”

Chart depicting tech-process gap analysis for a contact center

In this week’s live stream, my colleague Andy told a story about a customer who came to his team here at Lifesize looking for help with AI. They thought they wanted to dive into voice recognition AI. But when we asked them to take a step back — to really reflect on how they were using chat, and to identify the 15 most common interaction types their agents had to deal with — they realized that starting with AI chatbots would not only be much easier, it would deliver much more value to the business.

So remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once, but first impressions are often the best place to start.

The 3 key takeaways

That thing about how you only get one chance to make a first impression? It’s a cliche for a reason. Wherever those 30 seconds take place, you better make them count. Consider:

  1. WHY? — First impressions have a significant CX and cost/revenue impact on your business.
  2. WHAT? — Do a tech-process gap analysis. Ask how you can make a better first impression. 
  3. HOW? — Understand how AI (when implemented correctly) can make all the difference in winning that First Impression Rose. 

For more insights, watch the full recent LinkedIn live stream episode, “AI: How to Win Your Customer’s First Impression Rose.”

For discussion of similar topics, tune in for the “Customer Experience in the Cloud” live stream series with Valur Svansson, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. CT on the Lifesize LinkedIn page. To watch past episodes on-demand, visit our YouTube channel.