Balancing Customer Service Needs Today

Service center management is constantly balancing present customer service contact reality, while keeping an eye to the future trends of the industry.  Many experienced voices in the industry look to a more technology driven future, however when I wake up in the morning we will still need to take clients calls with current technology, and strive to give their customers a top notch experience with the tools at hand. In an age where customer loyalty to a brand is declining and the new loyalty seems to be to “easy”, customers are loyal to companies who make their customer experience with a company as fast, pleasant and easy as possible.  Therefore eventually, I think we will see a customer service station that integrates several channels of communication onto a screen that will give a qualified agent instant insight into the customers, past interactions, and current issues, regardless of whether it was a phone, email, chat, social media, or other contact point. A single customer view will be important technology.  Customers understandably do not like having to repeat their question or problem to multiple individuals within a contact center.

An important advancement in customer service will be having a customer information depository that holds a complete record of every interaction a customer has with the company.  This information will not only be useful to frontline employees who want to better understand a customer before and during a call, but also to managers who can use the information to determine if a customer is likely to make a switch to a competitor. About half of the people in a recent survey said they only call the center when there is a complex problem, so today we have to continually upgrade and update the knowledge base of our agents. In the past agents were not trained to resolve complex issues, this is quickly changing.  It is the driver that is making agent retention so important. Customers are insisting on a first call resolution to issues, and seamless integration of information with the client company. All successful call centers painstaking review hiring, training and retaining agents.  I focus more on why agents stay, and the profile of a successful long term agent, as opposed to why some leave.  As with any job or profession there are people who are ideally suited to the task and there are those who should never even try.

Building an ideal candidate profile is essential to agent success.  Knowing personality types that fit best in a call center culture has been a key to a far lower than average attrition rate. Millennials who can spend hours at a screen, or agents who can handle the phone time, have a basic trait that combined with a good work ethic can be invaluable asset to a center.  I find  some agents who  spend all day on the phone pleasantly assisting client customers, and will get on their cell phones during breaks.  I tried my hand as an agent once, and would not talk to my mother in my off phone time.  I did  not fit the profile of an ideal agent. Using call centers as profit centers is another trend that seems to be getting traction with many clients.  In past the cost of customer services was more or less considered a necessary evil, simply an expense of doing business.

Today many clients are attempting to create a profit center from this expense, by using every customer contact as an opportunity to upsell their products or services, or provide customers with information that may lead to future business. These upsell opportunities are attempts to mitigate the cost of their customer services, or even profit from these interactions, thus placing a whole new burden on agents to be able to fluidly switch from a helpful assistance role to that of a soft sales person.  As companies compete fiercely for consumer attention these contacts are considered golden opportunities. I also see a shift in the metrics that are used to quantify the services being provided.  It appears many clients are moving beyond current standard metrics of average answer times, average handle times, etc. etc.  Management within the companies I serve, are finding there are too many metrics measured, and too much time energy and expense going into improving these measures, with little consequence to the quality of the customer experience or bottom line costs. Some companies are dramatically cutting the number of metrics measured.  They are moving from action based metrics, such as how many calls an agent processed in a day, to outcome based metrics that measure customer satisfaction with their contact experience.

To cure the paralysis in the face of too much data, the trend is to focus only on the few data points that are fundamental to business success. As is the case in our centers, centers around the globe are dealing with changing circumstances.  Management is pulled in differing directions by clients who are viewing strictly the costs of services, and forward thinking clients who view an excellent customer service experience, as a holistic approach to growth and profitability for their business.  Customer experience matters now more than ever because it really does matter to your revenues. Hybrid models are evolving that that include a mix of near shore and on shore agents.  This helps keep costs in control, while adding an element of an American voice to the service.  Calls automatically go to where capacity and ability meet a caller’s needs.  Lower tiered calls may go to an economical center near shore, where higher tiered calls remain on shore to increase the probability of resolving an issue to a customer’s satisfaction. The contact center of the future I believe will be more and more a relationship hub for our clients.  In addition to managing call volumes, the center will manage a company’s social media, email, and chat contacts.  Much of this is in place today, and with smart phones as well as other technological advances it will be more so in the years ahead.  The amount of data will be daunting, and while technology will exist to handle this data, the problem of cost effective IT support for the technology, will continue to haunt customer service costs. We do not see any downward trend in the cost of maintaining systems, and service centers in general are seeking creative ways to manage these costs, and give the informed consumer all the convenience they have come to expect.

So what does the future look like?  Expect all these trends I touched on to accelerate.  The risk of information overload isn’t going to decrease.  Luckily though, the tools for dealing with data effectively are going to proliferate I believe.  That should hopefully make the rapidly-multiplying number of customer touchpoints more manageable. A more important antidote to added complexity isn’t a technological solution.  It’s remembering that the purpose of customer interactions is to offer a truly great customer experience.  Keeping that goal in mind will help any center manager to separate the important advances from the ones that only add expense and do not add quality.  At every junction where today meets tomorrow, ask if enhancements you’re considering matter for your customers.  If it does embrace it, if not let it go as if it were chaff, keep only the wheat. Best of luck to all who are attempting to balance reasonable cost and excellent customer service.