Respecting the superheroes who keep contact centres going
Way back in the early part of this century Channel 4 News ran a campaign focused on how contact centres were having a detrimental effect on the life of those who worked in them. Shamed as ‘dark satanic mills’ by the Blake-quoting reporters, the contact centres at the time were presented as little more than the modern-day equivalents of the Victorian workhouse.
In many ways, the reputation of the contact centre agent has improved today, but most still do not get the recognition they deserve for the role they play today in representing brands and helping modern customers. Today the contact centre agent is bringing together every single business function that we would traditionally consider to be customer facing - marketing, sales, media, service, and advertising. The role of the agent today comprises all these functions and so brands should be treating them as superheroes.
Although I don’t think these superheroes are getting the recognition they deserve today, but we are seeing a shift in thinking and that’s important. If you are the last brand to recognise how the role of the agent has changed then everyone around you will already have joined the race before you even have time to devise or implement a new approach; recognising the change now and getting ahead is key.
Take a look at the top contact centre trends outlined in this Fonolo research paper. They suggest that it’s essential to support customers across multiple channels, to coordinate all those channels so a single omnichannel approach to service is offered, and to plan for entirely different types of customer interactions - such as via app rather than in-store or on the telephone. There is only so much of this that can be achieved through automation, in the end the superhero agent is the glue that brings all the customers journey points together and is the common thread in helping them through their complex interactions
In addition, this NICE research from last year plots the development of the contact centre to 2025 and actually declares the contact centre (as we know it) dead because robots will have replaced all the agents. The concept of a contact centre being just focused on voice interactions after a purchase has been made will be dated. Think about some fairly normal customer expectations on the contact centre today:
- How agents work across many channels; customers no longer call a defined number at a defined time, they use the communication channel they like and expect the brand to be out there ready to help on that channel.
- How customers hop channels and can still be handled; did you ever send an email and call because you got no response only for the agent to ask you to repeat all the information? Try doing that when your customer is naturally hopping between voice, chat, and in-app support. Customers naturally move around channels depending on their environment and your agents and systems need to cope.
- How great interactions are shared; have you ever seen someone share a social interaction with a brand? It happens all the time today and often these screenshots go viral and end up covered as news in the media. Both really good and really bad customer experiences are shared so it can go either way, but your agents have the power to create fantastic marketing opportunities that build customer advocacy.
- How relationships are created; your customers are not just asking questions after a sale. The questions are coming in before, during, and after sales now. You are building an ongoing relationship that can hopefully be extended into the long-term, covering several sales cycles.
- How proactive conversations can be started; if your agents are monitoring online discussion for mentions of your products or brand then they can also step into related conversations. Notice how many brands now start conversations with potential customers on social channels because the customer is talking about a particular subject.
The NICE research suggests that brands need to build experience hubs, focused on all aspects of the brand to customer relationship. I entirely agree. Just by summarising some of these changing customer expectations it is clear that customer service agents are directly involved in sales, marketing, and media outreach. They are not just handling your customer problems; they are promoting your brand and closing sales.
That’s why I think we need to start rethinking the contact centre and the role of the contact centre agent. The tools created by Honeybee Solutions help your agents step away from just answering questions and enable agents to truly help customers find the solutions they need.