Today’s tech-savvy customer now expects to have access to a wider variety of tools when they need, or want, to communicate with their service provider. For example, a customer will now be comfortable instigating a live webchat session with one agent (often off-shore) which may subsequently be followed up by a phone call answered by a different agent (perhaps on-shore and in a different time zone). But would that second agent be aware of the recent chat exchange?
We have positively encouraged this divergence in contact methods but there is now an expectation that all of these multi-platform, multi-channel routes to resolution are merged together to deliver one joined-up effortless customer journey.
In response to this, many service-led operations are rapidly trying to adopt the omni-channel approach across their customer contact strategy, through the integration of social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, twitter and Facebook, with their contact centres who are dealing with either voice, email or live chat.
Is omni-channel the right channel?
In itself, for many, this is a monumental undertaking from an infrastructure, investment and management perspective. But what happens if, at the same time, those same organisations are proactively driving customers to deal with their own queries online, through the provision of self-service applications? As a result of this empowerment, is the customer becoming more demanding? Once they have exhausted all of their self-service options to try and resolve their basic query, are they then feeling aggrieved to have to give up more of their time to call a contact centre, in order to get their problem resolved? Would it have been more effective (for them) to have done so in the first instance?
We know that there is a proportion of any customer base that, during any contact centre interaction, default to a negative perspective on the discussion ahead – e.g. they are not expecting the service to be great. They anticipate having to sit in a long phone queue, dial an exhaustive IVR and then expect to have to repeat themselves about the issue that they are facing. The quality of interaction they experience dealing with an agent is therefore vitally important, but are we making it worse? With their self-serve options depleted, are they even more emotive?
If the answer to any of the above is yes, and for some it is to all of the above, then trying to successfully navigate these new challenges needs a concerted and fundamentally different approach to those that have gone before.
A different kind of agent
If the customer truly is more self-sufficient, more demanding, more emotive, more price conscious, and possibly less loyal, aren’t those all good reasons to challenge the profile of the agent tasked with keeping them happy? An agent with greater emotional intelligence and empathy, with a broader range of competencies and more life experiences from which to draw from, will inevitably deliver a more rich and meaningful interaction.
If we were to tee up some common stereotypes of agent, what comes to mind (for some) is a 23-25 year old, maybe just out of college, or perhaps just moved into their second job, living at home with their parents and with limited life experience and responsibilities. It could be argued that not all of those currently employed chose to work in contact centres or aspired to make it their long-term career. If this stereotype is accurate, it is fair to assume that those same agents are unlikely to possess the affinity or empathy required for this kind of customer-centric elevated interaction. e.g. when you consider banking, financial services or situations where you are a distressed customer, you want to be able to relate to a like-minded person who has an understanding of the position you are in and can bring some real-life experience into that conversation.
The profile of agent, for any organisation, is invariably limited only by the market proposition (i.e. the work and reward on offer) and the size of that market (i.e. geographic scale and availability of talent). The physical nature of a brick & mortar contact centre creates geographic tethers, limiting sourcing to a commutable distance, and the talent within that zone.
Invariably, the lower down the pay scale, the smaller that zone becomes. If you were to create an environment where remote working is viable, those tethers are broken. Geographic spread of the talent pool becomes irrelevant, as does (to a point) the availability of talent. A distributed workforce, operating remotely, effectively allows anyone from anywhere with any skill to undertake the work in scope. This in itself is a liberating concept (particularly if you head up a recruitment function) but now factor in the removal of the contact centre environment.
Our experience at Arise has demonstrated that a virtual operating model effectively removes many of the barriers to entry and negative perceptions associated with contact centre work, allowing talented, mature individuals with years of life experience to interact with like-minded customers, and within an environment more akin to their comfort zone i.e. their home. Their average age is 42, most work part-time but deliver more productivity than their full-time counterparts.
This model offers them an incredible work life balance, and this balance is represented in their enthusiasm for their work and the service they provide to the customer. Their ability to work at home and create their own schedules delivers a level of agility to resource planning that breaks most of those constraints experienced in a traditional planning cycle (e.g. 4 or 8 hour shifts, locked weeks in advance). Imagine the impact that this kind of model could have on any number of the challenges outlined previously?
The adoption of remote or virtual working through a distributed workforce is still in its infancy in the UK market, particularly compared to its prevalence in the United States; however the migration to self-serve solutions and broader contact channels is forcing the agenda for a step change in how customer contacts are handled, and by whom.
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