What Role do Employees Have in the Future of Customer Contact?
Guest Blog by By Ajmal Mahmood, Customer Contact Propositions Lead at KCOM
Today, there’s no guarantee customers will reach you via phone to process their request. How they choose to interact with brands is constantly changing – so it’s just as likely you could receive a WhatsApp message. This is all thanks to new channels emerging, driven by innovation in apps, mobile and the introduction of smart voice assistants to the home. As a result – companies are conscious to keep up.
Many are experimenting with AI and automation to try and meet the scale of demand. NatWest’s trial of voice banking in the UK is testament to this.
However, in this fast-moving new age of communication, what role does the call agent have? With the rise of channels that require no human intermediary, are agents in danger of being automated out of existence?
In the white-hot heat of change, companies can’t risk overlooking what their call agents have to offer.
An endangered species?
Automation is a controversial topic within contact centre environments, but it’s only going to become more relevant as the capabilities of AI grow. For now, AI-enabled chatbots aren’t suitable for answering complex customer queries, but the situation could well change in the next five to ten years.
It’s no accident that AI is predicted to automate 800 million jobs by 2030. However, believing you can replace your call agents gradually with AI solutions would be short-sighted in the extreme.
Organisations are sometimes too focused on cutting costs rather than deepening their customer relationships. The satisfaction of a customer still very much depends on a relationship – whether it’s between the customer and a company, or the customer and an individual agent. Brands forget this at their peril.
What does the call agent of the future look like?
There’s been immense focus on the jobs that automation will replace. What should be talked about more, however, are the jobs AI will create. The role of the call agent will inevitably change, but it will be a process of evolution rather than reduction.
As chatbots grow in prominence, your agents should become more like advisers and supervisors. This is where they can share the most value, by training your AI systems to be more human.
Even with the most advanced machine learning algorithms, it takes time for machines to get to know individual customers. While your call agents have built this knowledge over time. They can share insights and techniques that can then be programmed into the solution, making it more relatable and effective over time.
Call agents should also become more active on the review side. Automated decisions can sometimes go wrong, sharing the wrong information with customers or failing to recognise when they’re becoming frustrated. No matter how advanced your system is, you need someone there to actively review its decisions and intervene when the customer relationship is at risk.
For most, these responsibilities will be new and unfamiliar. Organisations should be willing to invest time and money in training to ensure the value and insight of their agents isn’t lost. This is why a market leader like Amazon recently announced it would be committing $700 million to upskilling a third of its US workforce into more technical roles.
The more customers change, the more they stay the same. While the channels and methods are increasingly new, fundamentally customers still want to feel valued which mostly depends upon having their issues resolved at speed.
Let’s think about voice calls. When it represents the final port of call for a frustrated customer, it becomes more important than ever. An agent’s role in this brave new world isn’t that of someone who knows systems and processes inside out, but someone who is able to process lots of visual information very quickly (verified customer data, associated recent history and a sentiment rating) and apply the appropriate tone, rapport and empathy that brings the interaction back from the brink.
AI is helping make this new reality possible, but it can’t be done without human intervention. Customers will always appreciate a human touch.