The Call Centre Metamorphosis – Serving the Internet of Customers


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Digital disruption is all around us; walk into any coffee shop today (many with free Wi-Fi) and you’ll probably see over 50% of people engrossed in their devices, from tablets, smart phones, laptops and the odd Nike+ early morning runner.

History can teach us a lot about the dynamics between society and businesses. Some time back I watched the popular history series, History of the World by Andrew Marr on the BBC (you can catch-up on iPlayer or Netflix!) that spanned our origins in Africa to the emergence of religion and philosophy, the rise of empires to the wonders of the digital age, Marr charted “the major turning points, decisive moments and pivotal questions – questions with which we’re still grappling now”.

Recently, two simpler questions have come up with reference to “next generation digital customer experience” at multiple meetings and cafe latte conversations:
1. What would a digital service centre look like; and
2. What is the impact for the companies who can’t acquire and assimilate these technologies quickly?

These are very interesting questions that many businesses need to answer before embarking on the essential digital journey. During these meetings I always countered with, “So, you are embarking on a digital transformation programme but how are you going to support and service these customers? Does your service centre have the capabilities required to do this and is it part of the plan?”

About 80% of the people I spoke to hadn’t thought about this in depth before and couldn’t respond. Let me voice some caution; don’t be foolish to think customers will only self-serve – rapid and random deployments will result in many deficiencies that will impact the customer experience and the bottom line for years to come.

Careful, joined up planning is paramount. Let me highlight a few points:

• Customers are now in control of the agenda in the pursuit of immediate, easy and convenient experiences. Companies like Google and Amazon raised the bar on customer experience so customer expectations for digital channels and functionality increases exponentially with the next gadget or application. This results in service levels that are well below expectations.
• Channel width increases and total interactions increase. Substitution has not happened because the digital channels are not seamless, full depth alternatives.
• When customers do call the service centre, the calls will be more emotionally charged from the outset and difficult to handle as the service centre migrates to the channel of last resort.
• There are new and innovative cloud-based multichannel solutions available that let you handle a call, then e-mail, then tweet, then chat, etc. – all during the same customer interaction. Really! But these are being pitched on a functionality rather than business solution level. So in the short term corporations will struggle to acquire multi-channel solutions that are practically oriented.
• The profile of the next service centre agent will change in order to support emerging channels and technologies. Human capital and its education will be a key challenge for service centres.
• Finally, a well-designed service centre of the future will become a powerful insight centre – while already powerful, data is not easily accessible due to multiple legacy systems – with all the channels it handles (social, email, text, voice, chat, video etc. being able to centralise and harness this data and convert it into insight and intelligence will be key to the continuous improvement of customer experience.

Technology will play a key part in the next generation service centre.
Cloud-based solutions and the focus on the customer experience will drive the following requirements as a minimum:

1. Visually engage customers in real time via plug and play technology that creates a bridge between digital self-serve and traditional channels
2. Handling phone and non-phone communications via a single queue as well as co-browsing for web site issues
3. Distributing the above to agent groups based on skillsets, availability and service levels
4. Providing an application for agents and team managers to view the interaction history of all customers across all channels
5. Providing an application to view and manage open items ensuring service-level agreements are not breached
6. Producing integrated management information on workload volumes by reason for contact and by channel
7. Integrating the wider organisation technology and telephony architectures and platforms – business carry a lot of legacy
8. Security and identity management
9. Do the above without breaking the bank as existing budgets are typically linked to existing systems and processes

It’s important to understand that customer experience is a lot more than just technology – sounds obvious but with the excitement of the digital race it’s easy to overlook other factors. It requires commitment and a culture shift in order to create and deliver winning experiences. Without an end-to-end view and deep understanding of how customers interact and use your products and services, and how they might use it in the future, any changes will be accidental and likely to fail.

Let me put it to you this way: Addressing the customer’s desired outcomes requires new thinking and new experiences in the digital age, and so does how you service and support your customers.

Businesses tend to use old thinking to address new challenges, removing waste, optimising processes, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of value to be had by optimising experiences and cost to serve in the short-term but in itself, probably not enough in the digital age.

The next generation service centre requires new thinking and a joined up strategy. What you do next will define your own destiny; don’t leave it entirely to chance. I say ‘entirely’ because you don’t know where the next disruptor will come from, so you need to at least mitigate the impact by becoming agile and mobile. I will end with Marr’s wise words…

“We can’t hope to know all of the human story, but it does help to have the big picture because it’s really the story of who we are now. We’ve been brilliantly clever at reshaping the world around us – almost as clever as we think we are – though not perhaps as wise. There will be challenges, triumphs and surprises – all the essentials of the story, except, of course, how it ends…”

Marcio Rodrigues
Marcio Rodrigues is Customer Propositions Director at . Passionate about customer experience and innovation with over 10 years' experience in designing, managing and analysing winning customer experience programmes in the UK, EU, US, South African and Indian markets. CXPA UK Board Ambassador. @marcioontw


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