Contact centres are changing. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: in recent years we’ve seen huge shifts that – for better or worse – have revolutionised the industry. Those massive changes – offshoring in particular – have transformed call centres, providing some significant cost savings and improvements for some, and serious problems for others.
But there is much, much more to come. So much so that we can’t cover everything in this article, so I will focus on some key areas.
- Firstly, over the next few years, with the progression of technology and trends, we’ll see call centres move towards automation.
- There will be further investment in channels that can improve efficiencies and cut calls, including: voice recognition, biometric profiling, texting and mobile chat.
- The impact of social media means that marketing/sales and customer services are finally getting closer, which will hopefully speed up a true ‘single view of the customer’- important to ensure a strong, consistent brand experiences.
- The distinction between front and back office will continue to blur thanks to better end-to-end processes to support the customer journey.
- And, last but not least, in a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence is increasingly being talked about, the reality is that we are not quite there yet. We’ll see more ‘human assisted’ services coming to market which blend automation and human intervention at an optimised cost.
Without a doubt, all of this will have a big impact on the size, scale and focus of operations as we know them today. Here follow some of the operational changes that will result:
Text will take over
Even though 53 per cent of us of use more than 3 channels to contact a company, voice still holds on to a place at the top. However, increasingly customers want to text the businesses they speak to: recent research showed that 81% of under 35s want to speak to companies through text, not voice. Despite this, only 5% of companies currently allow this.
The practice bears the theory out: when we’ve worked with large companies in the EU to automate enquiries (so that customers can text in a simple question and have sophisticated software interpret and reply in natural language) it has reduced call volumes by around 25%, all the while increasing customer satisfaction. The technology is developing rapidly, so text could account for an even greater proportion of interactions in five years’ time and, done well, WILL have an impact on the number of voice calls.
Queries such as ‘when’s my bill due?’ or ‘what day should I put my rubbish out on?’ ‘how can I take advantage of the promotion you’re offering’ and ‘where’s my order?’, will be dealt with automatically, freeing up staff time to pay more attention to more complex and urgent customer enquiries.
How will this impact call centres? Aside from an obvious reduction in operational costs, there will be an increase in customer satisfaction as we’ll be communicating with customers in the way that they want us to. This, in turn, will help the contact centre deliver strategic value – i.e. move away from being a cost centre to a profit centre – and become truly customer centric.
Skill-sets need to evolve
As simpler queries are dealt with automatically, staff will spend a greater proportion of their time dealing with complex and urgent enquiries across multiple channels.
As such it’s important to equip our agents with the skills and knowledge they require to deal with both the type of contact and the channel – as these all have different attributes. Gone are the days of a classroom ‘sheep dip’ approach to training! It’s time to welcome social and multi-channel learning precisely matched to individuals’ skill gaps. The result? Less money on training, more highly performing and engaged agents and a much better customer experience. Win-win-win.
Language requirements will increase
We live in a global economy and businesses have to serve customers from wherever they want to buy, which will likely have an impact on the languages that need to be supported by the contact centre.
Contact centres are already adapting to cope with this, but they would do well to prepare for further increases without breaking the bank. The technology we use allows us to understand and respond to enquiries in many languages and dialect variations, with multi-lingual agents available if escalation is required. Companies should be sure that anything they’re using has this kind of capability built in.
I want it and I want it NOW
Consumer tolerance to customer service response times is continuing to decline. As a nation, we are very impatient and increasingly expect immediate answers to our questions and resolutions to our problems. Automated services such as the one we offer will send a detailed, thought-out reply to a customer enquiry within around 20 seconds, which means you will be able to meet customer response time expectations.
Good bye seasonality and disaster nightmares
Well, obviously they won’t go away, but greater automation will help businesses to reduce the impact of seasonal peaks and surges due to exceptional circumstances.
Some retailers make 90% of their revenue over the Christmas period. Discerning shoppers want information on product, price and delivery options and timeframes – not least the reassurance that the gift they have ordered will be delivered on time. We’ve seen that proactive texts can have a significant reduction in the number of inbound calls, cutting costs significantly all the while keeping customers happy.
New product launches are a good example of this: contact centres are typically inundated with calls over a short period and are unable cope with this surge effectively. As a result, they have to redirect resources from other parts of the business to cope with demand, meaning there is a negative impact to customers across the board. Given that many of the enquiries will be simple questions about the product, its availability, delivery etc., automation will allow companies to divert substantial numbers of calls (which can be handled simply by text) and reduce the impact of these kinds of surges.
Overall, good contact centres must become more agile and able to meet the channel preferences of consumers. This means they need to embrace text-based channels with open arms, but ensure that human assistance is there to back it all up. If they do so, they will be able to service customers at any time and without delay, in a way that is reassuring and low effort for the customer and low cost and in line with customer experience targets for the organisation.
This inevitable shift towards human assisted automation will create winners and losers, but businesses that do it well will cut costs (and the size of their contact centre operations) while improving customer satisfaction – an excellent outcome.
Daniel Hunter is UK MD of Text4Assist, a specialist company that enables businesses to reduce cost and increase customer satisfaction by communicating with customers via text.