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Friday 7 August 2009

How do contact centres adapt to the Big Shift?

I have just experienced two very different contact centre interactions. In the first, the contact centre agent was able to address my questions and resolve my issue in a personable dialogue, making decisions along the way and accessing information easily and rapidly to make these decisions. The result was successful and my perception of the company enhanced. In fact, this was a better experience than resolving the same issue online. I can clearly see how this contact centre could engage in social CRM and graduate to a two way relationships world, interacting on multiple platforms.

In the second experience, with a different company, the agent followed an inflexible script in an impersonal manner and was unable to resolve the query (systems too slow, needed to swivel between several applications, and ultimately the key data required was on a system the agent did not have access to). The result was a highly frustrating experience and need for a second call. Argh...

These two experiences made me realise how tough the job of a contact centre agent is. On very little pay and in a pressurised environment, these guys deal day in day out with often angry customers and are supposed to resolve all their issues rapidly and pleasantly. And we are increasingly expecting more from them: issues are getting more difficult to resolve because the simpler tasks are now done online, we expect a higher standard of service from the agent because we get already so much from self-service, and finally we expect them to make decisions there and then. In some industries, contact centre interactions are becoming a key driver of customer churn.

I can only see this trend accelerating. Younger generations are not willing to deal with companies in one way, push type relationships. They expect two-way relationships across multiple platforms where they take control of the relationship with the brand. This will put even more responsibility on contact centres agents and will fundamentally alter the role of the contact centre:

1. Contact centre agents’ value will increase as they to take on greater responsibilities and capacity to make decisions. Talent retention will become more important, compensation will increase and the role will shift from transaction to relationship management;

2. The contact centre itself will become a strategic asset essential for customer relationships. Investment decisions will shift from minimizing costs of interaction to maximising interaction value;

3. Off shoring decisions will need to include whether the processes and/or customer interactions require complex interactions where local knowledge is important to build the customer relationship;

4. Systems supporting contact centres will need to be more integrated (social media, self-service etc.) to enable support of customer interactions across platforms and at different steps of the interaction process (e.g. interaction initiated in self-service and completed with an agent);

5. Flexible, dynamic and user centric systems will become essential to ensure fit for purpose IT that empowers agents to do their jobs in ever changing environment.

I believe this is part of the Big Shift described by John Hagel in his latest blog. In a further blog, I will develop our thoughts on the implications of this type of shift for organizations processes and supporting IT systems. But first off on holidays!

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