When call centers were first emerging, they were viewed as a necessary evil—organizations sold products and services to customers, and those customers needed to be served and supported. Yet, during this time, most of these organizations focused intently on driving down costs, rather than on the customer or the call center agent. As new technology evolved and channels emerged, the game changed. What was once viewed as a simple and straightforward solution became complex. And as telecom, financial services, healthcare and insurance companies worked to gain market share and lifelong customers, new competition, compliance and regulation changes challenged the way call centers operated. Today, call centers are operating under extreme circumstances given the heightened emotional state of customers and continuation of the always-on nature of customer service, handling upwards of 50 calls each day in the (not so) comfort of their own homes.
For the last 35 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to customer experience (CX) and its rapidly growing impact on enterprise organizations. Through witnessing the evolutions in the CX space, I’ve developed a philosophy that I feel has never run more true than it does today: organizations need to adapt to serve today’s customers better, creating deeply human connections along the way.
A Call to Adapt
Call center agents have long been caught between frustrated and impatient customers, and management under pressure to achieve corporate goals. Performing repetitive tasks and carrying the burden of emotionally tense situations is extremely draining, even for the most seasoned professional.
Over the last year-plus of the global pandemic, we’ve seen changes come in two waves. The first being the massive and near-immediate shift to remote work that we collectively experienced in March of 2020. The second being the return to office plans going from concept to reality. For call centers, the transition to remote work was understandably not as seamless as other industries—the small laptop, limited office space at home, and general pandemic uncertainty and fear proved to be challenging for frontline workers. And, the reality is, even as some states and businesses reopen and return to work, many customer service organizations are not rushing to return due to the challenges of office layouts and general uncertainty around the comfort of returning—which means we’re on the cusp of yet another CX transformation.
Notoriously known for their high turnover rates—some reporting 30-45% turnover according to the Quality Assurance and Training Connection (QATC) and from my experience, some much higher—it’s time we prioritize giving agents the tools and processes to help them through difficult conversations, alleviate frustrations and improve performance, or risk deteriorating CX and EX (employee experience) as they struggle to adapt. With the next-gen of CX coming to fruition, the best organizations will do a much better job providing support to agents on and off calls.
Balancing Machine and Human Intelligence
To provide this support to agents in the next evolution of CX, customer service organizations should welcome the human-machine relationship with open minds. Balancing agent intelligence with machine intelligence can create better experiences than one without the other. Leading organizations like Humana and Metlife have seen the increased success of leveraging the two to drive enhanced service and experiences when it matters most.
We must remember to welcome technology that augments outcomes and improves humans’ performance. The value human intelligence brings to the CX ecosystem cannot be over-emphasized, especially as new and flashy technology is introduced and how we work evolves.
Let’s set the record straight: AI is not coming for your job. We’ve certainly come a long way with the advancements in and capabilities of technology. Yet, you and I have something AI will never have: innately human soft skills.
Customer Centricity Requires Connections
Real human connection cannot be faked. It cannot be operationalized, produced or manufactured. Forming connections requires genuine, innately human interactions, which has never been more critical than it is today.
Many of us have been on the customer side of a customer service call—frustrated given the situation or impatient after a long wait—and, in those situations, you can feel whether or not the agent is genuinely engaged and trying to connect. 66% of customers said they would switch brands if they thought they were being “treated like a number, not an individual.” With more options available to customers today than in years past, the decision to take business elsewhere is on the table if any experience is unsatisfactory. It’s on the organization to ensure CX goes above and beyond expectations to attract and retain customers, especially as organizations adapt, introduce new technology and evolve to meet the changing tides.
To create a truly customer-centric organization, creating connections between the agent, the customer and the business itself will always be a must-have, not a nice to have.
If done right, customer service organizations can earn loyalty and customers for life. While your CX organization may change from time to time, staying true to the core philosophy of being customer-centric, rooted in empathy and creating deeply human connections will continuously lift your organization and create better outcomes for all.