Raising the profile of the customer service agent
A contact centre does what it says on the tin: it is there to act as the main point of contact between a brand and its customers. However, the customer experience by no means starts with the contact agent. In fact, most customers have already completed several unsatisfactory customer journeys before they telephone a call centre.
Contact centres have also developed a reputation for providing temporary careers. With 20-40% attrition rates typically and costly training of new staff, the right talent is not always available to deal with sensitive cases. Where poor customer service can end a customer relationship, great service can win a customer for life – plus potentially anyone they recommend the brand to thereafter. So, for a role that can make or break a brand’s reputation, what can be done to elevate the customer contact agent to reflect their true value?
Although invisible to the customer, poor technology is a dominant contributor to customer service failures. Employees frequently experience verbal abuse from customers who have received bad service due to poor IT, and this will only continue to contribute to high attrition rates.
One major area of failure is basic efficiency. Agents frequently toggle through 60 or more programmes simultaneously on an average day, so they find ways of working around the systems, rather than with them. To change this cycle, businesses need to invest in modern customer centres that use a unified system leveraging robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) to seamlessly sort, connect and contextualise customer data from disparate sources.
With a central architecture running as a layer beneath systems, customer service agents have access to customer interactions that took place on any channel, device, via agent or machine. This could be in conversation with a messenger chatbot, a shop assistant in-store, over email, text, on a smartwatch or connected device so customers aren’t asked to repeat themselves.
In the past, contact centre work has typically attracted young people or students. Now, home working can broaden out the talent pool and diversify the service available to customers. By enabling individuals with different levels of experience, but perhaps more demanding commitments to better manage their schedules, businesses can offer an attractive proposition for experienced customer-facing professionals who can enhance the quality of service.
The ability to work around the clock can be particularly beneficial for parents who can split shifts and work unsociable hours around childcare. And this is good for business, too, as continuous availability of agents gives customers the reassurance they need during an emergency. As such, the customer service agent plays a direct role in adding value to the experience and protecting customers from distress.
For most, contacting the call centre is the last resort, reserved only for when customers have already been let down by their experience of the brand. That means that the pressure is on customer service agents to make sure that their interactions with customers do not mark the end of the road for the relationship. For this reason, we must begin to treat customer contact agents like the soft skill specialists they have become and give them the tools to find a solution to any customer problem.
Now is the time for businesses to introduce ‘customer service ambassadors’. These skilled interpersonal communication professionals can enhance the experience, making encounters with a brand enjoyable and effortless for the customer. Alongside technology that delivers insight-driven recommendations and low-code app-development software, customer service agents can begin to take a far more direct role in augmenting the customer experience. By empowering those closest to customers to directly adjust how the experience is received before they contact customer service, brands can safely nip dissatisfaction in the bud.
What does this mean for the contact centre of the future?
If the contact centre of the future is to truly disrupt the way brands interact with customers, the contact centre agent needs an updated, dynamic role to match. Alongside changes to how customer service centres recruit, pay and train staff, implementing disruptive technology will help to deliver reduced staff churn, so skills can flourish.
Where simple routine tasks are managed by automation and machines, more time will be available for employees to add value to the role. Businesses should start regarding their contact agents as highly trained and emotionally intelligent professionals who bring unique value to the business. Evolving the role means enabling teams with the right tools to enhance the service experience. If done right, contact centres could become the beating heart of the end-to-end customer experience.