Judging has been taking place for this year's European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards ahead of the ceremony on 27th November. MyCustomer spoke with some of the awards judges to find out what insights into the industry they have gained from this year's contestants.
The European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards (ECCCSAs) is the longest-running and largest competition for the customer service sector in Europe. Now in its 18th year, the prestigious event has expanded in 2018 to cover more categories and more contestants than ever before.
To become a winner at the ECCCSAs is a true achievement – part of the reason the competition is so well-regarded within the industry is due to the integrity and credibility of the judging process
Contestants must go through a rigorous process, from submitting a thorough written application, to delivering a presentation and fielding questions from a judging panel, while some categories also require on-site visits from the judges.
The judges themselves are handpicked for their experience and knowledge, all of whom work in the industry, and many of which are previous award-winners.
Ahead of the glittering awards ceremony at London’s Battersea Park on 27th November, MyCustomer caught up with some of the ECCCSAs judges to find out what the judging process and the applicants they have spoken to have taught them about the state of the contact centre industry today and tomorrow.
So, what has judging this year’s ECCCSAs revealed about…
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Contact centre trends
Justin Haines, customer services director at Ovo Energy
Everybody has efficiency and cost challenges but they also want to do the right thing for their customers, so contact centres are all trying to work out how to strike that balance between the bottom line and the customer experience. Everybody wants to delight customers but everybody’s got targets to hit still; we all recognise that challenge and we’re all familiar with it, but across this year’s finalists in all of the categories I’ve judged, that balance is at the heart of most contact centres’ plans.
Michael Sherwood, head of customer experience at Atom Bank
Agile methodologies have come to the fore again this year – everybody is trying to transform their contact centres, in a bid to be better, faster, more efficient. There’s a technical drive behind this, but there’s also some operations-based change programmes we’ve seen adopting agile principles: for instance there has been collaborative working through cross-functional teams that have a shared objective with a timescale to achieve, and lots of ‘requirement light’ projects with people just getting on with actually activating their change programmes - which is refreshing.
Nerys Corfield, chair of Contact Centre Council at DMA; director at Injection Consulting
We’ve seen organisations really embracing technology, not just for commercial gains, but to enhance the support functions: the learning and development teams, the quality monitoring, and the workforce optimisation part - all of those using technology to best effect to better influence the end customer experience and the employee experience as well.
What the industry is doing well
Helen Wilson, head of customer service at Atom Bank
The industry is definitely focusing more on what customers want and also looking at the colleague experience as part of that. As part of this, we see contact centres looking for opportunities to harness technologies to help the colleague to be able to deliver that great experience to their customers. But of course that is sometimes a challenge because technology costs money! So it depends on the organisation, and how much they are willing to invest. But certainly the desire is there.
Artificial intelligence is where everyone is investing - but it has to be right for customers. Fortunately, from the trends I’ve seen in the categories I’ve judged, AI is being approached with deep consideration. Nominees are looking at what the right technology is, how to choose the correct technology partner, how to make sure that they’re delivering something that’s sustainable and that both delivers a financial benefit without annoying customers.
Customer experience – the focus on CX and its many variations. Everybody is focusing more on the end customer. There’s definitely an enhanced focus on outside-in thinking, using insight and not just measuring NPS for the sake of it but NPS with CSAT to collate things that aren’t going well and then using that insight to drive change in the business. The whole focus of CX from an internal point of view is also being done well – it’s about the customer but it’s also about the people.
The future of the contact centre sector
Artificial intelligence, use of robotics and chatbots, etc has come through quite strongly, but the alignment to the human approach is really coming through. AI is following the same route of webchat from several years ago – it’s exploded on the scene and now contact centres are realising that you can’t just jump into delivering chatbots, there’s an evolution process and the entries I’ve judged are taking phased approaches, refining algorithms, doing control groups and using staff to drive what’s feasible forwards.
You can’t just automate a customer’s problem away – many contact centres this year have gone at length to highlight that they are not going to rush AI and are taking their time to phase things in. It’s less of a focus on the cost and more about the value these things can offer.
Iryna Velychko, chair of the Ukraine Contact Centre Association
The volume of work will be much higher for agents in the future. And because the levels will be higher, the education must be higher, and their pay must be higher. The European contact centres seem to be adapting. But I foresee a big problem in Asian contact centres, because they are not prepared for this growth in needs. Their staff will need to earn much more than they do now, and the agents will also need to have higher education than what they perhaps have now. But in five years’ time perhaps the situation will have changed.
Everybody thinks there will always be a role for people despite the increase in AI investment; technology can’t replace the role of the human, but it’s clear that the roles themselves are evolving and changing to meet the demands of new AI-led technology.
One of the nominees said they saw the future role of their contact centre agents to be training the AI bots themselves. Bots can’t learn on their own so it’s about how you can fine tune them and make better bots through human intelligence. There’s definitely a journey towards AI but it is tentative because it’s uncharted waters for many.
People are talking about the human-machine balance an awful lot – people are worried about losing jobs to AI, so it’s refreshing to see discussions from nominees about where they see their people featuring in the future and how they might need to be retrained to remain central to this shift in thinking, towards AI.
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.