Neil Hammerton at Natterbox shares insights on why 2020 has changed customer service and outlook on 2021.
This year has been tough for many, and customer service agents have often borne the brunt of it. But it’s also an opportunity to ensure that we learn from these experiences to ensure the relationship between brands and customers is strengthened moving forward.
Here let’s share three predictions for how organisations can learn from 2020 and set up every business to achieve successful customer interactions.
1. How We Communicate With Colleagues Will Continue to Change
There have been some obvious challenges accelerated by the pandemic. One of the most pressing has been trying to keep the workforce efficient and productive working remotely.
This is especially difficult due to the loss of micro-communication – the professional ‘small talk’ we usually partake in at work.
While most of us are used to sitting around desks chatting to each other, nothing replaced this conversation when we moved to remote working. We lost the interaction we, as humans, need.
Its loss also means managers aren’t able to build the same relationships with their employees, teams can’t communicate as effectively, and it’s harder to notice when colleagues are struggling. These conversations we now miss out on are often what employee satisfaction, efficiency, and training are based on.
As we move into 2021 and remote working policies continue, we’re going to see a higher demand for solutions enabling remote micro-communication. In contact centres we’ve already experienced a significant rise in demand for ‘listen-in’ functionality – allowing managers to listen to conversations with customers as they happen.
This ensures managers understand how their employees are performing and identify areas they may need further training on. Virtual wallboards can also be implemented to help contact agents see how many customers are in the queue and where their colleagues are, for example on the phone or taking a break, to help fill the void of not being able to see them face-to-face.
2. Customer Communication Won’t Be Far Behind Either
Communication with customers is another area that needs to be addressed for agents, especially those who often have to switch between different apps and devices depending on the customer they’re talking to.
The integration of communication channels is one obvious solution to this challenge. Businesses can now combine all communication platforms – external and internal – on a platform like Microsoft Teams. Ultimately, employees must be able to communicate freely with any caller in order to provide a great customer experience.
Whether you’re speaking with colleagues or customers, the future of working from home in 2021 where employees are spread across remote locations and the office, must revolve around collaboration.
3. There Will Be a Huge Effort to Upskill Contact Centre Staff
When agents are happy, they’re happy to have a conversation with a customer – it’s as simple as that. This is what turns contact centres into profit centres. 2021 has to be the year where even more emphasis is placed on upskilling agents to let them focus on building relationships with customers.
As remote working continues into 2021, businesses need to help their contact centre staff realise a ‘less than ideal’ home working set up with noisy children, pets or other distractions interrupting calls can be used to their advantage. Customers often like speaking to someone relatable, and not a robotic, scripted agent.
4. Cybersecurity Becomes an Increasingly Significant Consideration
Contact centres have a big responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to protecting customer data, a lot of which passes over the phone and into a database. Companies rely on their staff more now than ever to ensure that customer data is securely transmitted – however, this isn’t the most secure option.
While it is important to be able to rely on the integrity of staff, especially those with necessary cybersecurity training, it’s also easy to get personal and sensitive information from contact centre databases if they are not properly managed and secure.
It is crucial that businesses take the appropriate steps to ensure their customers are protected with the appropriate technology solutions to work alongside their agents.
For example, when a customer needs to cite their credit card number over the phone, businesses can invest in technology that censors the information both in live conversations as well as in recordings.
Systems may even temporarily transfer the customer to an automated service line so that no human agent is privy to the information in order to mitigate insider threats.
Furthermore, it’s important for contact centres to manage how their agents operate, particularly when working from home. Customer data is much more secure when agents are wearing their headsets so no one else can hear the conversation – without this barrier, who is to say who might be listening in the background.
As we head into 2021 and remote working continues to proliferate, it is vital that businesses make security considerations a priority to ensure they deliver on customer experience.
5. Artificial Intelligence Will Be Implemented Across Customer Service Operations
Gartner says AI will become a foundational element upon which contact centre software is created. Nearly all key application features are expected to utilise some form of AI in the future and the pandemic is accelerating this already rapidly moving transformation.
It’s more important than ever that businesses offer exceptional intelligent customer experience, which is something AI can provide in excess, and we expect to see its use increase significantly in the year ahead.
Until now, contact centres have largely used meta data to improve their customer experience – for example, detail around who is calling and how long their call lasted. Recently, AI is letting us go beyond that and enabling organisations to make decisions based on the conversation itself, and more importantly, its sentiment.
If a customer conversation is recorded as being negative in any way, Natterbox technology can flag the recording as one for management to listen to and provide feedback and training to their employee in order to provide better service to the customer during their next interaction.
AI can now ‘listen’ to customer conversations and sense if a customer is unhappy with the agent they are speaking to by recognising negative sentiment. It can then cleverly route that same customer to a different agent for future calls to try and avoid further negative experiences with the brand.
Additionally, if a customer calls about an issue and the agent they’re speaking to doesn’t know the solution, AI can pop the answer up on the agent’s screen, or if necessary, suggest transferring the customer to an expert on the topic. The former can be a great supplement to agent training, helping facilitate on-the-job learning.
One of the main fears around AI is the concern that it will replace humans in the workplace; this is especially true for the contact centre. The reality is that we are a long way from developing AI that is anywhere near capable of behaving like a human being.
What machines can do is in-depth analysis of large data sets. They can also do jobs that currently no humans are doing because it simply costs too much, like listen in to every customer phone call in order to get a broader view of the customer experience.
With the technology developing at pace and offering the promise of generating business value and resulting revenues, brands that want to get ahead should seize the opportunity sooner rather than later.