A perfect storm is brewing in the land of the contact centre. You are prepared, aren't you?
There is a clear trend to the research and thought leadership published by contact centre and customer experience (Cx) experts these days: the times they are a’changing – and rapidly.
Now is possibly the last chance you’ll have to prepare yourself for the storm’s break. Here are six points to consider.
Firstly, let’s take a look at today’s customers.
It goes without saying, I hope, that these people are digital natives. They’re online and connected for the greater part of the day, shifting seamlessly between desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.
‘Demanding’ doesn’t even begin to describe. They expect greater service and product performance. We’re talking amazing post-purchase support alongside convenience and competitive pricing. And to be clear: they deserve these things.
Today’s customers are fickle. They are more informed. Sometimes – and here we have Google to thank – they’re more knowledgeable than the organisation’s contact centre or sales staff (!).
The key point: we’re talking about people who do not have the patience for typical call and contact centres.
And let’s not forget that they are hugely influential. Individually they may have several thousand followers, friends and professional links – and they’re particularly vocal when it comes to customer service failures.
Few organisations are appropriately prepared for this new customer norm. This is largely because so many still resist change in an environment that demands agility above perhaps any other trait.
Behold the dark clouds gathering!
The philosopher Victor Hugo put it perfectly: ‘There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ The contemporary customer engagement centre is exactly that idea.
And it’s very real. It’s at the heart and soul of the organisation’s ability to deliver a breathtaking customer experience. And here’s the thing: it’s being deployed by forward-thinking organisations right now.
By 2020, true omnichannel – the ability to deliver a consistent experience across every single touchpoint – will be standard. And as for customer demands? Any time. Any Place. Any channel. Any device. Low effort. Fast Response. Availability 24/7, 365 days a year. They will expect self-service portals, sophisticated apps and instant access to online information.
There are also strong indications that customers will become far more vocal and insistent about opt-in and permission-based communication; they’ll bring the same expectations to bear on the disclosure of the profiles you have on them. Legislation will support this trend.
Customers are demanding rewarding conversations with their providers, both in a virtual and a physical sense. And if you want to forge – and keep – high-value customer relationships, you’ll need to meet this demand.
That’s precisely what today’s leading-edge contact centre platform will deliver. And a lot more.
Gone are the days when ‘lowly’ call centre agents working in sweat-shops were the industry standard. Gone are the days when hugely complex call centre back-end technologies demanded that agents access multiple systems and screens in a maze of alt-tab keystrokes and error-prone cut-and-paste routines.
The total contact centre employee experience has changed for the better. Customer engagement technologies are becoming as intuitive as the apps most frontline employees are so familiar with.
The upshot? Far more empathetic contact centre personnel, far more rewarding customer conversations, and far better customer experiences. In short, the contact centre becomes a significant value centre.
In the not-too-distant future, as customer self-service platforms grow ever more sophisticated, mundane interactions will be handled by automated systems. This doesn’t mean robots will replace agents – rather, it means the demands that filter through to agents will become more complex and challenging.
Globally, analysts concur with the prediction that the modern customer interaction centre will soon be staffed by so-called super agents. These agents will have the knowledge, experience and skills necessary to resolve issues where automated assistance may have failed.
Super agents will need to be experts with superb communication skills, EQ, empathy, tenacity and resilience, along with the ability to handle high cognitive load. They will also need to be technically adept and capable of reaching out to specialised knowledge workers throughout the organisation to support customers quickly.
An important note: agents of this calibre must be empowered to make significant decisions and commitments on behalf of the organisation. Strategies, policies, processes, systems and training will need to support this.
It also stands to reason that super agents will be more experienced, more mature, and therefore significantly costlier to the organisation, pound for pound. To make the most of them – and ensure they stick around – you’ll need tip-top organisational culture, working environment and technology.
(And trust us, you will want them to stick around.)
Processes are at the heart and soul of the customer experience. In the majority of cases, customer engagement processes will make or break any sales or service interaction.
Deliberately designed customer experiences will focus on the degree of excellence of the customer’s journey across all touchpoints. These carefully crafted customer journeys will take all physical and emotional factors into account, and will deliver amazing experiences in line with the brand’s promise.
Experience design does not entail simply mapping the ‘as is’ processes and streamlining them. Processes designed from an empathy-driven or customer-centred perspective will immediately highlight high-effort obstacles and constraints.
Experience design must carry your strategy and inform your tactics. It needs to yank down silos so as to involve everyone in the organisation, regardless of role.
You might call yourself a call centre, contact centre or customer engagement centre. Either way the key thing to recognise is that a business capable of addressing the needs, demands and expectations of today and tomorrow’s customers is a far cry from the voice-based call centre of yesterday.
Attempts to introduce omnichannel customer engagement are fraught with the challenges of integration. We see far too many isolated systems – particularly ones that just don’t gel with one another.
These problems become far worse when centres try to get in on interaction and data analytics. Poorly integrated systems make the effective use of machine learning and artificial intelligence – the keys to exceptional customer journeys and consequential revenue gains at scale – all but impossible.
Today, large numbers of customers already channel-hop, engaging with organisations from multiple angles around a single issue. The astute organisation will embrace this reality within the framework of the fully integrated, omnichannel customer engagement model.
To be effective, a customer engagement centre must provide a seamless, consistent customer experience across every touchpoint. This necessarily means the experience within the enterprise must be as seamless and consistent.
It has become a strategic baseline for most organisations to deploy true CRM: a real-time single view of the customer, including all historical transaction and interaction data across all channels and devices.
Going forward, intelligent skills and resource-based routing systems that remember their customers will be critical to delivering the ultimate experience. Understanding the customer’s intent and steering them to the most appropriate resource will be absolutely fundamental.
Interaction analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are the keys to getting this all right.
As you might have gathered, a lot of work is required to break into the new way of doing things. That’s because contact centres traditionally have a huge amount of inertia to deal with. Whatever you do, combat the roots of that inertia at every opportunity.
Because it really is sink-or-swim time.