With virtual touchpoints dominating customer experience, the personal customer service via telephone is more important than ever. How can organizations improve the relationship with their customers and create a leaner workforce and a more flexible work environment? James Cadman, VP of Customer Success at Luware, shares his experience of implementing modern contact center solutions at numerous customers. He sees three key trends with great potentials for the transformation and digitalization of the customer service – one of them is to empower employees and transition customer service from cost to profit center.
For many years, the contact center has been perceived and treated as a cost center. Those contact centers traditionally comprised a large volume of people, providing first level support – the first line of contact for internal and external customers. The key was to have enough people to answer the initial contact quickly, always trying to reduce costs, by automating customer interactions, outsourcing staff, or by employing low-cost, low-skilled employees. The job descriptions and tasks of these agents were far from sexy and the contact center departments were eyed as cost drivers within a company.
In recent years, I have seen many of my customers shifting from the traditional contact center to customer-focused service teams. This might seem like semantics – like just a new buzzword for the same old thing –, but it’s actually about a major change in the volumes of the customer service, of both calls and people to respond to them.
Customer centric organizations are keenly aware that the best experience for customers is when they can get an answer to their query without needing to call, e.g. through self-service. This drastically reduces the call volume at many of my customers. The calls that remain, however, become more complex and demanding and this is exactly what demands a new approach to the contact center.
There is a lot of talk in the industry about Artificial Intelligence and the role of bots. Whilst some organizations are using AI and bots to great effect, in many cases I’ve seen, it can often come across as impersonal, worsening customer experience.
The reduction of call volumes is happening, but not because of a great big AI revolution sweeping across the world of customer service. It’s happening because of all the other ways that customers can get information now: clever use of knowledge bases, customer portals, apps, FAQs and even community-based support is driving a lot more of this change.
Organizations are realizing more and more that those customer service agents are not a cost center as once seen – they are the ones who have the greatest impact on customer experience and satisfaction. These in turn increase customer loyalty – and we all know about the value of loyal customers.
Moreover, the contact center agents are among the few employees with a personal interaction with customers and a 360° view of their demographics, needs, and already purchased products thanks to context information. This gives them a huge head start in presenting customers with the products and services that are most relevant to them. This is where the customer service transforms from cost to profit center, creating turnover for the company.
More complex customer inquiries and an elevated business potential of personal customers require the interaction with a completely different type of employee. Rather than recruiting great armies of people who can only answer basic questions or follow a flow chart, the organizations I work with are looking for employees with better skills and a passion for service.
This new generation of agent needs a different style of management – they cannot thrive with the heavy-handed leadership style that traditionally predominated the contact center. Especially now, those techniques of managing a large contact center operation simply don’t work when the agents need to work remotely, from dining room tables and bedroom desks. They need transparent and outcome-oriented leadership that gives them the ability to reach their full potential.
Today’s customer service agents need to be empowered with their own and their teams’ performance. Delivering this can be quite a cultural shift, because it requires transparency. The right choice of customer service solution can provide your agents with a real time picture of the demands on them and their team – and detailed insights for the management on the KPIs of the customer service. In my experience, when you give the ownership to the people, the quality of service increases.
Customer service platforms with team dashboards and real-time information, combined with personal performance dashboards give the agents the tools they need to make smart decisions and proactive customer service, such as ending their after-call-work time early, or to switch service lines to help their busy colleagues. Personal insights into how they are performing against their peers can demonstrate where people need to step up.
This transformation is one of the trickier ones for an organization to deal with – it’s less about technology and more about how to bring along all the stakeholders with you. But time and again I’ve seen this transformation deliver real benefits to the customer because people who feel more trusted deliver better service.