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Close the Context Gap – Don’t make customers repeat themselves

In their 1999 book ‘Future Living in a Participatory Way’, Laurence Claeys and Johan Criel defined the Context Gap as “the gap between what technologies can measure and calculate from sensor data or other types of electronic information and the complex, individually-perceived context in a user’s environment”.

More recently, it’s a term that’s started to be used in the customer contact world to describe the gap that exists when a customer jumps between ‘customer self-service’ and ‘live agent service’ within a single interaction.

The two uses of the term are different but clearly related. Claeys and Criel describe how technology is able to measure/calculate some things about a person’s objectives, actions and intentions from available data but isn’t able to understand everything about the user’s context.

And this is exactly what sometimes occurs when customers transfer between self-help and live agents. If the customer starts an interaction by trying to find an answer on the web, or by using an IVR, and then feels the need to transfer to an agent, then a lot of relevant transaction and account information can be passed across to an agent – including personal details, nature of problem, browsing history etc. When combined with other data quickly accessible by the agent about that customer, they can hit the ground running.

The problem is currently, that often doesn’t happen. Not only do agents taking over calls from self- service systems not understand the customer context, they frequently also don’t receive basic

information such as who they are speaking to and what their query is. The result is that customers who have wasted time unsuccessfully trying to resolve their query using self-service now have to waste more time repeating information they’ve already given. No wonder it’s nearly always cited as one of customer’s top grievances with using IVR systems.

What’s the relevance to personalisation? An obvious one. It’s the difference between starting a conversation with “Hello, can I help you?” and “Good morning Mr Brown, I’m sorry you’ve been having problems with your new washing machine…..”

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