Companies are putting great emphasis on digital or self-service contact channels. The economics of self-service are undoubtedly compelling: Whereas live support channels cost dollars, self-service channels, by contrast, cost pennies per interaction. Also, self-service channels are improving quickly. With the introduction of intelligent chat bots and other AI-inspired innovations, these channels can handle many more types of transactions than was possible even a few years ago.
However, while statistics vary by needs and other factors, customers still have a strong preference for the phone channel over other channels. While the traditional view is that only older persons prefer voice, that is giving way to an ageless appeal as computer literacy is virtually universal. For many customers, the voice experience will have a profound impact on their view of your company.
Thus, in an always-on customer engagement world, your call center agents must provide a very robust customer experience. Agents are the face of your company. Providing a robust experience requires being able to deliver the insight that you glean from past customer journeys to specific points in a new journey that best responds to that customer’s needs. Think of it as operationalizing a 360-degree view of a customer.
While all this sounds great in theory, you have to run a call center every day. You deal with things like first call resolution (FCR), average handle time (AHT), occupancy rates, and other metrics. Additionally, you manage through agent attrition, training, and the myriad of things that go into making sure your call center can deliver a world-class experience across numerous live support channels. In my experience, some centers have had turnover of 80% and higher, requiring continual hiring and training just to stay even. Alternatively, other centers have chosen to overpay agents to reduce attrition then face issues of higher costs and agents who are not able to adapt quickly to product and process changes. These centers want to have a positive impact on all the hygiene factors that determine success in call center operation, but also recognize the need to deliver a new kind of customer experience.
It is into this situation that always-on customer engagement can help you create a new agent experience. As we have discussed previously, insight is the next frontier in serving customers. Agents are great at making the human connection, but when they are guided by the insight you have uncovered through an always-on experience, they are able to elevate their service to a new level.
One of the immediate concerns call center managers have is whether always-on will reduce costs. There are two dimensions of delivering insight at the point of engagement in the customer journey. First, agents will better understand the customer’s need and have the guidance to respond appropriately. Whether it’s a customer service scenario and the agent can intuit likely reasons for the call, or a sales scenario where the agent can know what the customer is most likely to want or need, it means calls are handled more efficiently and potentially with greater upsell results.
The other thing that happens is the mix into the call center begins to change. Because of improvements in the live channel, the insight can be applied to digital or self-service to improve capture rates in those channels. This means your call center agents can take on a more thoughtful, advisory role with your customers. While some of our customers choose to take the savings generated as a win, others choose to invest those savings into creating a richer live experience. This richer live experience can lead to higher retention rates, new service offerings, and new career options for call center agents.
Call centers and agents are an integral part of always-on customer engagement. Using the insight generated by always-on, agents can get better and deliver better results for your company. Better agents in turn can feed signals that improve the always-on experience. It is this virtuous cycle of improvement that evolves your customer relationship beyond what is available with an omnichannel-only experience. It is the next evolution in customer engagement.