Olu Orugboh asks whether your people have the right skills, arguing that letting go of the old to bring in the new can sometimes be overwhelming.
I recently came across a question that asked, “is the call centre dead?” This prompted a high level of debate and comment, including one commentator who said, “the call centre is taking longer to die than John Wayne in an old western”. Now some of you millennials may wonder who John Wayne is, but we shall leave that to another time.
Now as a major source of employment in the UK, with over 6,200 contact centres in the UK and over 734,000 agent positions in the contact centre market, questions like that may be perceived by some as scaremongering.
In my view, the call centre is not dying, it is dead, but the contact centre will always live on, albeit in a different form with a demand for staff.
The contact centre is increasingly becoming a hub where the company and the customer converge, providing the opportunity to serve the customer, using their preferred channel, in the way that they choose.
The world is changing and so also is technology and customer expectations; all are moving at a lightning speed. The telephone monopoly is over, and a new set of challenges is being presented.
Customers want to be able to hop seamlessly across channels and experience true connectedness, where omnichannel interactions can be started on one channel and continued on another. This is not a choice but a necessity, and companies need to prepare both their operation and their people to meet this expectation.
Thanks to the internet and social media revolution of the last decade, contact centres now manage a variety of channels, not just telephone but also email, SMS, video, Facebook, Twitter and live chat.
All these channels have made the business of running a contact centre far more complex from a people, process and technology perspective than the call centres of 20 years ago.
However, contact centres are reinventing themselves and the emergence of customer management across a multitude of channels is fuelling that growth.
Customers are becoming more demanding, and their expectations are increasingly being set by companies such as Amazon, where transactions can be completed in just a few clicks on their mobile device.
For Generation Y profiles, the phone is now the fourth channel of choice (behind electronic messaging, social media and smartphone applications) and this picture is gradually becoming similar for Generation X customers too, with the baby boomers following closely behind.
Companies do not need a strategy for the contact centre, for each channel, they need a single strategy for customer contact across all channels and they need to give their staff the skills to survive in this environment.
So as the contact centre focuses on providing all of these channels, it is fundamental to remember its overall purpose: to combine the people, process and technology to serve the customer, in a pain-free way using their channel of preference. I would also like to reiterate pain free for both the customer and the employee.
Letting Go of the Old Is Becoming Fundamental
Many contact centre leaders are focused on balancing the need to deliver performance targets whilst responding to the customer need for more channels.
However, in some instances, onboarding these new channels is just that, a further channel to manage, but it is not seamless for the customer or painless for the customer-facing agents.
With high-flying start-ups snapping at the heel-nabbing market share by delivering their business, smarter, quicker and easier for their customers and staff, simply offering another channel and retaining the old ways of contact centre support is no longer an option. It is a matter of survival.
Contact centre leaders are increasingly required to develop new skills that will enable them to build seamless, unified access channels for their customers and move away from focusing on looking at channels in isolation.
As with any initiative, changing behaviours is often the most difficult, and letting go of the old “comfortable” practices may be hard, not just for customer-facing agents but also for contact centre leaders. This is because they reluctantly hold on to channels that are no longer a priority for their customer and create bolt-on channels, believing this is all they need to do.
Take a Deep Breath, Letting Go of the Old Is Good
Letting go of the old provides the opportunity to make way for the new. For example, utilising analytics to gain deeper insight into customer behaviour, and freeing up the operation from inflexible technology by embracing cloud innovation.
By doing this, the contact centre can create an agile structure and agile agents that support the delivery of a truly omnichannel environment.
In turn, this builds smarter working practices, such as virtual agent solutions, creating pain-free customer experience. All of these activities require the management team to upgrade their skills and, where feasible, partner with specialists to fast-track the learning.
Your Agents Are Still the Lifeblood of the Contact Centre
We cannot write about the modern contact centre without talking about the most important people in the whole process, those who manage the customer interactions. The expectations and pressure that are placed on agents keep increasing.
Agents are now expected to know more, sell more, be nicer, complete the contact quicker, capture more information and achieve a vast array of targets and objectives.
Customer-facing roles are broadening in scope and becoming more interesting but also tougher to perform.
The reality is that the modern contact centre is going to require a different approach to people management, from recruitment and training through to measurement, managing and incentivising, to employee engagement.
Agent profiles, recruitment, onboarding and training of old may no longer be fit for purpose. There will be a need to review these areas and more to determine whether they are still aligned to the needs of the “new operation”.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Many companies are working with four or five generations across their workforce. There are many differences across the generations, including the way they think and their aspirations. It is important for contact centre leaders to recognise these differences and put in place the needed support.
With the increasing focus on mental well-being and negative public perception of contact centres, employee engagement is useful, but it is not enough.
There is a need to really look after the welfare of staff as individuals. This is key. Maintaining stalwarts such as coaching and introducing new practices such as counselling support and equipping operational managers in mental health first aid would certainly go some way to achieving this and provide warning signs of staff at risk.
With change comes fear, for example fear about job security, fear about whether “robots” will take over roles. If used correctly, technology provides the opportunities for staff skills to be upgraded and for customer experience to become truly seamless. But only if it is done correctly.
So, letting go of the old can be overwhelming, but bringing in the new can be exciting for the contact centre. If it is allowed.
Thanks to Olu Orugboh, a managing director at Synergy Organisational Solutions