The annual Customer Contact Week (CCW) conference highlighted a bright future but lacked a consistent direction especially for small and medium-sized business looking to improve today
In June I enjoyed an interesting conference with several industry leaders at Contact Center Week in Las Vegas. The event was packed with speakers and insight into an industry that is growing and shifting in ways no one could have predicted a few years ago. As the events wrapped up, I asked a colleague how he would summarize the show. He struggled to find an answer. We both agreed: the industry is having trouble finding an actionable theme to focus on as technology and perspectives shift and change.
Instead of one big theme, this year’s conference highlighted several lessons contact center and customer service professionals should take to heart. Here are a few highlights I heard and four personal lessons I took away from CCW 2018. I think we can all learn from these lessons as we head into the second half of the year:
1) Customer Service Is About Self-Service
The lesson I heard from the people who speak with customers every day was this: customers are smarter than they have ever been. They deserve to be empowered to take action on their own. Self-service capabilities are now a must-have for every customer service department. Uber takes things to an extreme: you can’t call them at all. Every customer service response is either a self-service solution or a written message. Users can access answers to specific questions through the app, and as a last resort can request a customer service agent call them back. Nowhere will users find an Uber customer service phone number. A mindset focused on self-service first does many things. Customers expect the ability to find solutions on their own. At a time when any answer can be Googled, customers’ first response to an issue is to try and solve things themselves. Having these self-service capabilities front and center makes the customer experience smooth, efficient, and satisfactory. Giving users the ability to solve problems on their own furthers the goal of the next lesson I saw at CCW — the more customers do on their own, the more time and energy agents have to focus on complex requests from more frustrated customers and the better the employee experience is.
2) The Age Of Agent Efficiency
Contact center managers have a lot on their plates: frustrated callers, overworked employees, conflicting priorities, and more. Their main concern above everything else, as it should be, is the customer service agents they manage. The best contact center puts the best agents in the best position to deliver great service. Thanks to technology, that service is continually improving. Some of the most talked about technologies and platforms at CCW were the ones making agents more efficient. Humans aren’t built for repetitive tasks. We are slow, get bored, and don’t function well when constantly berated by frustrated callers asking the same questions over and over again. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and other management and automation technologies are taking the repetition out of agents’ lives. Many calls to contact centers focus on a few common problems. For a lot of industries, these problems don’t take complicated solutions. Where they can, many contact center managers I talked to at CCW are opting to automate these repetitive tasks and take the worst work off their agents’ plates, freeing them to focus on the complicated calls that can only be solved with expertise and attention.
“Many contact center managers I talked to at CCW are opting to automate these repetitive tasks and take the worst work off their agents’ plate when they can.”
3) The Rise Of Cloud Contact Centers
Technology comes at a price: the more interconnected systems and new technologies companies implement, the larger their IT teams need to be and the more complex problems and glitches can become. Cloud computing has been a wonderful revelation in the technology sector, especially for contact centers. For organizations that often have offices in various locations, technology accessible from everywhere that can integrate with a variety of systems through the cloud provides a great advantage over legacy systems custom built to individual, on-site requirements. Easier integration means fewer complex glitches. Cloud solutions are often less expensive than large, on-site implementations as well — the icing on the cake for contact center managers trying to balance improvements on an allocated budget.
The speakers and events in Vegas offered great insights into the customer service industry and where the future will take us. There were lessons I learned along the way as well. Here are four additional insights I noted while reading in between the lines at CCW. These are the lessons we need to keep in mind as we move forward into the second half of 2018:
1) Small And Medium Businesses Are Underserved
Every impressive technology or powerful speaker I saw at CCW was focused on powerful results. Their platforms and insights were impactful, but most of them were applicable to one demographic: large enterprise businesses. Small and medium business have a very different perspective, and few vendors pay attention to their needs. Service providers are rightly tempted by the huge numbers and big issues facing large businesses around the world, but the small and medium business market is just as important. Their contact center agents are just as stressed by mundane, repetitive tasks. The automation and alleviation aimed at enterprise agents are just as helpful and necessary for SMB agents — maybe even more helpful. Often times these “contact center agents” are also warehouse employees or office managers. Many small and medium business workers split time between customer service and other responsibilities. Their jobs are complicated and wide-ranging. Vendors would be remiss to forget about their needs.
2) AI Isn’t Ready … Yet
Google Assistant’s “um’s…” and “uh’s…” were tantalizingly breathtaking for any manager contemplating the impact automation can have on their contact center. Artificial Intelligence combined with advanced natural language processing (NLP) responding naturally and fluently to callers is the peak all automated technology is striving for. As far as CCW 2018 is concerned, we won’t be summiting that peak any time in the next few years. The possibility of robo agents doesn’t seem like pure fiction anymore, but the technology is still a long way away from being practical in most real-world customer service applications. AI also has a high bar to pass. Possibly the quickest way to destroy customer satisfaction would be forcing customers into interactions with inadequate or inarticulate AI agents before the technology is absolutely foolproof.
3) Companies Need Automation Today
AI’s relegation to future implementation doesn’t mean automation is a lost cause for businesses looking for solutions today. Robotic Process Automation has fully arrived. Every professional focused on making live agents’ lives easier is hyper-aware of the advantages Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can provide to contact centers. Every boring, repetitive task agents don’t want to be forced into over and over again can be handled by current RPA bots. This live agent/RPA combination is a powerful solution sweeping across the customer service landscape. The backbone of modern self-service capabilities, Robotic Process Automation bots take user-submitted information and complete the repetitive tasks an agent would otherwise have to accomplish. No more submitting information to databases, no more rescheduling appointments, no more simple tasks. AI will be ready a few years, but RPA is ready today.
4) Total Overhauls Are Totally Intimidating
One of the best benefits to automating existing tasks and easily integrated cloud software solutions should be ease of implementation. At CCW I noticed two extremes: there were business leaders who had completely overhauled their entire system, committing 100% to the future of technology, and the exact opposite — leaders who were admittedly interested in new developments and what AI can do in the future, but hadn’t invested any real time or funds into adding current functionalities to their contact centers. Just as vendors are missing the small and medium business market, I see a huge opportunity for service providers offering small, complementary solutions. Most businesses don’t want to undertake a system-wide change. Transforming fundamental processes is a large, costly, and intimidating investment that only a select few are willing to make. Sometimes, this huge commitment can cause stagnation. Technology might be advancing, but if vendors like Zappix don’t offer businesses the option of taking small steps with meaningful benefits towards the future, companies will choose to skip jumping on the bandwagon altogether. Taking the big leap into future technologies isn’t an appealing choice for most managers. Simple and easy to implement solutions focused on solving one or two issues without completely changing the way companies currently operate can provide a lot of value and should be part of the product offerings.
Customer Contact Week provided incredible insight into the current state of a quickly changing industry. Customer satisfaction and CX are racing to the forefront of business priorities. Active, intelligent customers are looking for self-service options. Agents inundated with mundane, repetitive tasks will rejoice over automation like Robotic Process Automation. All these advancements and new solutions need to be made practical and applicable not only to large corporations but to the small and medium-sized businesses all around us as well. Ultimately, these lessons from CCW 2018 will help me focus Zappix on continuing to develop the right product and capabilities for our customers this year, and makes me excited to see how Zappix impacts businesses for years to come.