Scriptwriters for bots and roleplaying thespians: The vital new job roles helping customer service evolveby
The customer service landscape is transforming, and so are the jobs associated with it. We explore some of the roles that are blossoming.
As a professional actor, Safron Beck has had a typically eclectic mix of roles during her career.
She’s played Queen Victoria’s mother for TV series Inside. An inquisitive reporter in a film about shadow operatives and espionage called The Bag. More recently, she could be found treading the boards as a diplodocus, for the puppet-based theatre production The Dinosaur Show.
When she’s not appearing on stage or on the silver screen, however, Safron’s acting skills are put to good use in the customer service field.
As part of a pool of 100+ actors working for UK-based Hendrix Training, she delivers roleplay training for new and aspiring service professionals across the UK. She plays angry, upset and challenging customers, whilst the trainees learn the optimum ways to diffuse difficult situations by interacting with her in a variety of real-world scenarios.
For Safron, it’s more than a role. It’s vital tutelage for those working in an industry that’s transforming at breakneck speed.
“As an actor you bring truth, authenticity, honesty, positivity, encouragement and confidence building to any training session,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for customer service trainees to feel they are in a safe space to play, explore, experiment, make mistakes and learn about themselves and others.”
For Steve Hemsley, managing director of Hendrix Training, the demand for the company’s pool of actors has never been higher. He says it’s proof that as customer service – and the job roles that exist within the discipline – increasingly shift towards the online realm and digital engagement, the need for more human skills and traits becomes ever more valuable. This is exemplified by 2020 Blue Arrow data that highlighted ‘empathy’ as increasing exponentially in the skillsets requested in customer service job adverts in the UK.
“During the roleplays the actors listen and respond as real customers. They are experts in emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication and are often asked by the facilitators for their feedback.
“They can be questioned on how they felt during a conversation with the customer service trainee and what advice would they give on tone of voice and body language, for example, to ensure the best outcomes and to ensure satisfied customers.”
Writing scripts for bots
On the surface, training chatbots would arguably be the antithesis to what Safron, Steve and Hendrix Training are doing in the customer service discipline.
As an automated, AI-driven, self-service digital tool, chatbots have previously been described as a “nail in the coffin” for genuine human service.
A Forrester report once called them ‘virtual idiots’. In 2019, 54% of online US consumers stated that interactions with customer service chatbots had “a negative impact on the quality of their lives”.
However, as a customer service channel, the chatbot has recently experienced something of a renaissance.
Its fate was aided first by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both of which successfully installed and deployed chatbots on their websites at the very start of last year’s coronavirus pandemic, to provide up-to-date information on the coronavirus – and both were lauded for their successful deployment.
Then there was the COVID-19 dash to digital. As consumers all over the globe were forced indoors due to national lockdowns and curfews, their digital footprint increased exponentially overnight. This led to huge upticks in the use of digital service channels, including messenger platforms, self-service, email and, of course, bots.
And while chatbots may be seen by some as a highly automated, digitised service channel with little by way of human involvement on the business side of the interaction, the reality is somewhat different. So much so that they are also attracting a new band of professional where the skillset demands levels of creativity, emotional intelligence and adaptability similar to those shown by Safron’s acting role.
Why not have scriptwriters from Hollywood and novelists working on making chatbots more relatable and natural to converse with?
As a customer service and operations stalwart of 30+ years, having worked at GE under the stewardship of iconic business leader Jack Welch in the 90s, Rosie Appleyard is the VP of customer experience, process and conversational design for LivePerson and heads up her own band of said customer service professionals.
It’s the ‘conversational design’ aspect that is perhaps the most innovative. With chatbots so often accused of feeling inauthentic, automated and unintuitive to interact with, a key part of Rosie and her team’s mandate is to make chatbots ‘talk’ to customers in a more human manner. This need has brought about an unlikely but critical requirement in the service field.
“Creating a bot persona is the same as creating a character for a storyline,” says Appleyard. “You have to know who they are, where they’re from, what drives them to be great, what they like and don’t like, what excites them. All of that builds how a person thinks and ultimately how they speak.
“Creating a backstory is key to any persona, therefore it’s imperative conservational designers can write dialogue for an automation that accurately represents the defined persona and represents the brand too.”
This need has led to many of the world’s biggest virtual assistant and chatbot providers seeking the skills of “scriptwriters, comedians, authors, empathy experts, sound engineers, game designers, and [because many assistants and chatbots have a visual representation too] animators, illustrators and graphic designers”.
It’s not necessarily the pool of professions you’d expect to pick from in the process of trying to evolve the customer service field, but much of the change in emphasis is being driven by wider trends in how we communicate with one another – especially the change in how we communicate with brands.
“A recent survey by the tech analyst Sensor Tower highlighted that we are less and less frequently using phones to call each other,” says Appleyard.
“Messaging is taking over. Written and verbal communication are independent skills and most people have a preference for one or the other. Currently we have a large voice base for call centres, but we are seeing more and more companies moving to messaging to utilise automation and expand concurrency.
“I think we’re slowly starting to turn people around. There are still companies out there who still feel ‘voice is king’ because that’s what they know, that’s how they’ve always measured success, but the world has changed. Why not have scriptwriters from Hollywood and novelists working on making chatbots more relatable and natural to converse with?”
Conversational designers aren’t the only requirement in Rosie’s team. Other roles blossoming under her stewardship are bot tuners – those who monitor conversations between customers and chatbots, reporting on any failed conversations, outdated references and incorrect outcomes; transformation leaders – responsible for making assessments on where automated customer service such as a chatbot makes most sense in a brand’s customer journey; and then customer journey managers – the people charged with conceptualising a brand’s complete end-to-end service experience.
The journey is crucial, says Appleyard. As our use of digital interaction channels increases, so the “ability to analyse, understand and proactively design journeys based on individual customer needs/intents” is a decisive customer service provision all brands must consider.
Managing customer journeys
One such brand is Sky, and as a CX journey manager with the company, Rupinder Gill has a more conventional customer service background than those working with Hendrix Training, and many of those in Rosie’s team at LivePerson.
However, her foresight to see the way the service landscape was evolving forced a change of direction, moving from operations in contact centres to service design, and ultimately journey management, with Sky.
“I worked in contact centres for 17 years, trying to improve service for our customers, day-to-day; firefighting and fixing ad-hoc problems and making improvements as they arose.
“Then I found service design and it gave me a more focused role that allowed me to concentrate on mapping journeys and a long-term approach to fixing the problems.
“As a journey manager I now get to map out end-to-end journeys that customers would experience at various lifecycle. We then try and figure out the best way to communicate and interact with our customer at each step of their journey to ensure that they can effortlessly complete their selected journey through their channel of choice. It’s a data-led and scientific approach to customer interactions.”
Journey management, as a customer service discipline, remains fairly nascent. Kerry Bodine, CEO at CX consultants Bodine & Co, who has tracked the emergence of the role, found only 1,248 people with ‘journey manager’ in their current or previous titles in 2019.
I think to be a customer service and CX professional right now is super exciting as our roles are being taken more seriously
But with customer journeys transforming in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and with the concept of journey management increasingly becoming mainstream and more and more brands such as Sky hiring service professionals to oversee customer journeys, the likelihood is that journey managers will become increasingly common in customer service teams.
Gill admits that at present, some people are confused by her role. One person even questioned if it was her job to order customers an Uber. But as with anything new, she expects this to dissipate over time.
“I definitely think that those companies who are investing in journey management are genuinely thinking about their end user – the customer. It is enabling companies to make greater changes to improve their customer interactions and experience with the business.
“I think to be a customer service and CX professional right now is super exciting as our roles are being taken more seriously, pay is getting better and senior position are becoming more readily available as business finally understand the truth of having a great, inclusive, interactive customer experience within their organisation.”
This final point is echoed by Appleyard: “Many of these fields did not exist in their current form a decade ago. These are young disciplines. But it’s always been about meeting the customer in their channel of choice whilst leaning on the new technologies we have in the right way. Look at artificial intelligence - most industries will need to hire plenty of AI and machine learning experts in the future but as we’ve shown with our conversational analysts, this also means a variety of other skillsets being needed in the customer service discipline as a result.”
And as Steve Hemsley alluded to earlier, this will likely mean Hendrix Training - and its pool of actors - will continue to be called upon to train the ‘human’ side of customer service for years to come too.
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.