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Customer Service Center Is Dead, Humanity Isn't | CCW Winter Lessons

Brian Cantor

Last week, we held our final online summit of the year: CCW Winter Online.  If you did not attend live, you missed out on a great exploration into how the contact center function has evolved this year – and how it will continue evolving in the year to come.

Recordings of the sessions will be made available online; you can secure “on demand” access by registering here.

Below, meanwhile, we highlight some of the key themes and takeaways from the event.

Death of the Call Center, Death of the Customer Service Center

At the beginning of each session, we asked our speakers a simple question:  what “role” will the contact center play within the business?

The answers differed from speaker to speaker.  Some focused on the contact center’s role in collecting valuable customer data and business intelligence. Some focused more on the engagement aspect; the contact center is all about making connections with customers.

All, however, seemed pretty clear on two things:  the contact center must handle all types of engagement – in all channels.

It can no longer be a “call center” that only handles interactions in “traditional” channels like voice and e-mail.  It, moreover, can no longer be a “customer service center” that only manages inbound support interactions.

If an opportunity to reactively or proactively interact with a customer emerges, the contact center must always step up to the plate.

Lisa Abbott (Genesys) and Michael Ringman (TELUS International) spoke about the contact center’s transformation into an omnichannel engagement center responsible for the entire customer experience journey.  As more opportunities for “connections” emerge, the scope of the contact center must grow.

Empower the Customer

Whether due to its inefficient processes or its inability to properly resolve issues, the contact center has garnered a negative stigma from many customers.  They see it as something to dread rather than as something to embrace.

Moving forward, the contact center must change this perspective.

The contact center, after all, is meant to empower the customer.  It is supposed to be the customer’s ticket to a desired resolution, a great offer or valuable information.  If customers see the contact center as an opponent rather than as an ally, the customer experience is broken.

Transforming the contact center into a source of customer empowerment requires some key steps.  As Jesse Hoobler (Pitney Bowes) and Brian LaRoche (CallMiner) noted in their roundtable, it needs to work vigorously to understand the customer.  A contact center should not be making independent, insulated decisions about the processes it uses, the policies it enforces or the technology it implements; it should be acting based a thorough understanding of overarching consumer trends and the preferences of its specific  customers.

Jay Autrey (MONI Smart Security), meanwhile, advocates for a simple, customer-centric approach to metrics.  Instead of assessing agent performance based on a myriad of conflicting “scores,” condition them to deliver what customers really want.

Empower the Business

The contact center must be pro-customer, but it cannot be anti-business.  It absolutely must operate with a cognizance for cost containment and value generation.  It absolutely must understand and contribute favorably to the business.

The good news is that customer-centric behaviors, contrary to common beliefs, often are best for the business.  Speakers like Autrey, Ed Ariel (ezCater) and Chris Rainsforth (The Forum) stressed that effortless, efficient, personalized experiences – those which customers are truly craving – generally coincide with cost savings.  Contact centers that allow customers to successfully engage in lower-touch channels (when appropriate), proactively resolve issues (when possible) and solve inbound issues on the first call are saving the business money and giving customers what they really want.  Efforts to understand customers help achieve this optimal customer experience – they also provide the business with the intelligence it needs to make substantive improvements.

Years ago, customer centricity caught a bad rap due to buzz over the “strategic calls.”  At the time, thought leaders argued that customers were looking for deep, in-depth conversations with agents.  They wanted to discuss their family histories, pets, vacation plans, and hopes and dreams with agents.  Agents not up to the task were ruining the customer experience.

Customers, as it turns out, are not necessarily looking for this type of interaction.  They are not averse to being “wowed,” but they are most concerned with getting their problem solved quickly and painlessly.  These “strategic calls” actually thwart that objective; they are actually the opposite of customer-centric.

By acknowledging this reality, businesses will hopefully stop seeing customer centricity as a costly, “Kumbaya” initiative.  They will see customer centricity and business centricity in tandem; and see a well-function contact center as a way to more successfully achieve key business objectives.

Data, Data, Data

If you are not using voice of the customer insights to improve contact center operations, you are not customer-centric.

If you are only using voice of the customer insights to improve contact center operations, you are not customer-centric.

The data collected from customers – whether from direct feedback surveys, indirect social media chatter or interaction analytics – has ramifications for the entire business.  As we look toward 2017, it is therefore important to ensure this data is flowing throughout the business.

Contact center data can be incredibly valuable; businesses must be in position to optimize that value.

LaRoche, Lenin Gali (Ubisoft) and Noel Holmes (Travelport) all made data a central part of their presentations; if you do not know what to acquire, where to acquire it, or how to leverage what you acquired, you are bottlenecking performance.  Neither the contact center nor the business will perform optimally.

Humanity in a Non-Human Era

One taking a superficial glance at key contact center trends would likely conclude that “humanity” is on the way out.  We’re emphasizing digital channels that eliminate voice conversations -- or, in the case of self-service, conversations altogether.  And when conversations do happen, they’re supposed to be quick and concise.

That could not be further from the truth.  Customers are indeed demanding digital, effortless experiences but they also expect personalization.  They want the business to know them.  They want the business to value them.  They want the business to create a journey for them.

From a user experience perspective, this means even non-“conversational” channels need a human touch.  Mindful of this need, Dan Fox and Michael Johnston (Interactions) shared how artificial intelligence is empowering contact center interactions – particularly by bringing adaptive learning and naturalistic language into “self-service” technology like virtual assistants and bots.

When the conversation does happen, agents must be able to create “connections” – quickly.  They need to understand who the customer is, what the customer wants, and how the business can most successfully help.  By virtue of what they give the customer and how they give it to the customer, they will demonstrate their appreciation for that customer’s business and their recognition of that customer’s humanity.

Humanity, of course, also plays a big role in the backend.  In order to ensure agents have the skills to not only serve customers but efficiently connect with them, businesses must optimize the coaching and training component.

They, as Justin Chase (Crisis Response Network) emphasizes, must also establish the right culture.  In addition to sending the right message about the importance of customer centricity, “culture” demonstrates the extent to which the business values its agents.  If great enough, that value will trickle down into the customer engagement interactions.

Happy agents = happy customers, after all.

The individual sessions go into considerably more detail; make sure to register for your on-demand access.

And make sure to keep an eye out for our 2017 events, beginning with CCW Online: Customer Experience Gamechangers this March.