With the spotlight on digitalisation, it’s easy to forget that people are the lifeblood of contact centres. In the second of Puzzel’s ‘people, process and technology’ blog series, Colin Hay identifies three reasons humans are here to stay. Contributor Anne-Marie Stagg, Chief Executive – Call Centre Management Association
In the late 1980s, contact centres became welcome sources of employment as soft skills in the growing service industry replaced traditional manual skills in the manufacturing sector. Today, around 6,200 customer-service centres in the UK employ nearly 1.3 million people (i) but that workforce is facing challenges itself as consumers embrace digital technologies. The latest predictions from ContactBabel estimate that 45,700 jobs will disappear from the sector between now and 2021 (ii).
Anne-Marie Stagg, chief executive of the Call Centre Management Association, believes machine-learning, which is inspiring a whole new world of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is the culprit or “current bogeyman” behind such predictions and goes on to explain that this is nothing unusual, “Every couple of years there’s a bogeyman that’s going to take jobs, but we are not seeing it. Call volumes are declining but those that come through are more complex and take longer to resolve.”(iii)
Anne-Marie’s enlightening statement reflects Puzzel’s own conclusion that technology is vital to the evolution of the contact centre but people are pivotal to its survival. Therefore, is it time to stop the scaremongering?
The top contact centre roles that make humans invaluable:
Understanding the customer – clever technology such as speech analytics and silent monitoring are great ways to capture the mood of the customer, and web analytics provide useful data on website visits and user experiences to assess what is working and what is not.
However, it’s no use having all this technology and information at your fingertips if you don’t use it properly. A good customer service strategy starts with good people and a carefully thought-out approach that involves close collaboration and communication within the whole organisation for example:
Use your agents – they deal directly with customers and will know why they are contacting you in the first place, if they are happy, what the pain-points are and which channels they prefer to use. Effective managers will devise mechanisms that allow agents to pool and share this important knowledge.
Managers take note – contact centre leaders should then act on customer feedback to improve call scripts and agent training and then enhance business processes that proactively manage predictable’ situations and resolve problems quickly.
Introduce technology that matters – when agents and managers understand their customers, they are better placed to introduce the technologies that support their customers’ needs rather than deploy technology for technology’s sake. For example, if you know that 80% of your customers are aged 65 years and over and prefer to use the telephone then invest in voice, rather than risk alienating valuable customers by too much emphasis on Web Chat or virtual assistants.
Handling today’s complex conversations – it might appear counter-intuitive but digitalisation has actually elevated the role of the contact centre agent. Agents today are expected to have knowledge of all products, services and manage multiple web chats, social media posts and emails, as well as answering calls, in equal measure. What is more, the voice calls that agents now handle often take longer, are more complex and require moral judgment and empathy.
This is good news for those working in contact centres today. Businesses are paying a premium to attract and keep this new breed of super-agent because they, not technology, are driving positive interactions with customers that really make their organisations stand out from the crowd.
Of course, emerging technologies such as AI in all its forms – robots, digital assistants, virtual agents is radically transforming customer interactions but there is no substitute to the human touch when it comes to closing sales calls or delivering exceptional customer service.
Creating the right framework – even legislation such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) must first be managed by people tasked with putting in place the right processes to handle a constantly changing regulatory environment. It’s up to people to ask the right questions and establish effective ways of working with technology providers and partners. This is where face-to-face human discussions come into their own. They encourage best-practice processes that can then be built into the automated technology and workflows to support them.
According to the scaremongers humans have been under threat in contact centres since the first dotcom bubble at the end of the 1990s. It is true that omnichannel communication has changed the way in which customer service is now delivered, however, human communication will remain at the heart of contact centres and an exceptional customer experience.