Customer service skills

Firms fear service staff lack skills to support customers of tomorrow


Most organisations feel that their customer service teams are ill-equipped to deal with changing consumer demands. 

12th Nov 2019

Customer service functions will need to conduct a major reskilling exercise if their employees are to have the expertise required to respond effectively to customers’ changing needs.

These changing demands, brought about by the more widespread deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) software and robotics to respond to simple queries and requests, will result in contact centre agents becoming focused on more challenging customer interactions. This means they will need to demonstrate higher levels of emotional intelligence, particularly in the case of vulnerable customers who require a more sensitive, human dialogue.

But to make this vision a reality, employers will have to find ways to boost the soft skills of their workforce. They will also need to take action to empower their workers and enable them to both assume more responsibility in decision-making and respond more creatively to customer challenges.

As a new report entitled ‘The Future of Work and Automation in CX’ by professional customer service body CCA and business management consultancy Gobeyond Partners, indicates: “One of the most important emerging skills for the future is the need for employees to develop highly effective emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent agents can provide an improved experience for the customer but also make a lasting impression, creating a competitive advantage.”

The point, it says, is that as calls grow in complexity, the more the emphasis will need to be on “strengthening the customer relationship and adding value”.

The soft skills that are likely to prove most vital in this context will be problem-solving, according to 83% of the executives questioned in one of a series of surveys undertaken for the report. Just over two thirds of executives also felt that empathy and emotional intelligence would be crucial if staff were to successfully handle the multiple requirements of different demographics and work in a progressively omnichannel environment.

Agent roles becoming more sophisticated

 “The ‘human touch’ will remain, and it has to feel individual as the demand for deeper personalisation and richer context around every conversation grows,” the report says. “There is a need not just to utilise the technology but to possess a reactive and proactive skillset to deal with what is left over after when organisations have automated everything they can.”

So as job roles become progressively less transactional and more sophisticated in terms of social interaction, it will become increasingly necessary for employers to reskill and retrain their workforce to cope.

The aim, the report says, is to create “the super-agent of the future”, who will “possess an attitude change to focusing on outcomes rather than tasks, is highly knowledgeable within the subject base and is autonomous within their work”.

But the CCA’s Future Workforce Study found that while many employers considered themselves well equipped (28%) or satisfactorily equipped (30%) to meet the requirements of digitisation, which includes reskilling, a worrying 28% did not. Indeed, the biggest challenge expressed by 69% of them related to finding ways to address their changing skills requirements.

But as Dave Pattman, managing director of CS services at Gobeyond Partners, warns, employers may need to change their attitudes and internal cultures to get where they need to be because all too many are currently preoccupied with a technology- rather than customer-first approach in a bid to cut costs.

“Those organisations which will be the most successful will need to look at automation through a more human lens, or what we call HX. HX is all about putting human experience at the heart of everything: taking an end-to-end view of the customer journey, leveraging digital technologies to augment human interactions and engaging colleagues on this journey,” he concludes.

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By PaulineAshenden
18th Nov 2019 10:51

It is fascinating how increased automation is changing the balance between the human and technology element of customer service. As the report says, human agents will need to focus on more challenging interactions, which will not only require different skills, but ultimately will be more interesting and rewarding. We’ve put together a guide to some of the skills these agents of the future will require in this blog post

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