The contact center is developing from a cost center to a strategic business unit that has to service the existing customer base and win new customers. In the age of social media, customer experience has become enormously important. Bad handling of customers by agents ruins the name of the product and services, and consequently also the company brand. The required performance and constantly growing volume of service requests are increasing the costs of operating the contact center. How should operators react? Can technology boost the productivity and quality of the agents in the contact center? New, innovative solutions are needed. The following example will show just where the contact center industry is going.
In future, every contact center will have to follow an omni-channel strategy. No matter which channel (voice, e-mail, chat, web chat or video) the customer chooses to place a request, the agent works with one application and through it has access to all the communication channels (modalities) as well as to all the information from past interactions with the customer. Modern technology is now putting additional communication channels in the starting blocks. These will have to be quickly and flexibly adapted to meet the growing demands (virtual reality, co-browsing, etc.). This is a great challenge above all to traditional systems of communication.
Requests fielded by the contact center are becoming ever more complex. If a company wants to stand out from its competitors with its contact center, the agents have to be supported by bots which relieve them of routine tasks. In addition, AI-supported applications provide the agents with information and proposed solutions during the ongoing conversation with the customer.
More and more, customers are using mobile apps to communicate with a company. It must be possible to benefit from the use of e-mail, chat, social media, audio and video from the app. A definite pioneering role is being played by companies who enable customers to telephone with the agent and at the same time together with the agent co-browse in the company catalog on a smartphone or tablet to find a suitable product.
On their websites, companies will publish the profiles and presence status information of their agents online as well as the queues. This gives customers the chance to skip the selection menu, because they can read out what they want from the website content.
Web chat has enormous potential by adding audio, video and co-browsing. It not only permits an agent to quickly build up a personal relationship with the customer, but also explain the handling of products with live video support or, with co-browsing, to help the customer fill in a form.
New functions in the area of speech recognition will digitize and speed up processes in the contact center, for customer identification or for establishing customer satisfaction, for example. Language wizards will also make it possible to interpret the customer’s terms and tone and measure the real customer experience in order to provide management in real time with the information needed for decision making.
The first simple contact center services are already being offered cloud-based by different providers. Lower operating costs and higher scalability of solutions are the main arguments for migrating to the cloud.
A novel contact center application now makes it possible for customers and partners to take on the work of agents. When a customer places a query in the contact center, it is checked for complexity. Questions that can be answered easily are forwarded to a group of selected customers and partners and the community concept is thus transferred from website forums to the contact center. The community members are paid for their work and are trained. They log onto the central system via a mobile app. Then the system knows who is ready to answer customer queries. Once a customer’s query has been dealt with, the system asks the customer to assess the answers. Community agents are paid when the customer returns positive feedback. If a community agent receives multiple bad ratings, the supervisor is informed and can act accordingly.
Contact centers of the future must take on the role of the so-called customer relationship hub. They are the first port of call when customers are not happy with products or processes. They provide the company with strategically important information and therefore have to be seen as an integral part of a comprehensive business strategy. All this is to be considered against the backdrop that positive and negative customer experiences spread like wildfire on the social media and leave a corresponding footprint on the web.
“Will Technology Replace Humans in the Future?” Today this question has to be answered with a definite No. As demonstrated, technology can be the bedrock of new solutions. But these must always be tailored to the customers’ and agents’ requirements and carefully tested in pilot runs to determine the effect on the customer experience. There will always be customers and problems that can only be dealt with by a conversation with an agent (a real person) on the telephone. Artificial intelligence relieves agents because simple support queries can be handled automatically. The trend is clearly going in one direction: less but better trained personnel for more complex problems.