Contact Centres – A Design Revolution Waiting to Happen.
The world of customer service is rapidly changing – technological, social and economic drivers are converging to challenge the traditional model of running contact centres. This white paper explores some of those disrupters and proffers some suggestions on how organisations can respond to get ahead of the game.
There are many technological changes that have had an impact on contact centres over the past few years.
The first, and most obvious is the growth of multi-channel customer access encompassing email, phone, live chat and social media. Particularly significant is the increase use of smart phone and latterly wearables with mobility driving the increasing desire by customers to engage with your contact centre when and where it suits them. Additionally, customers want the ability to swap between channels as and when it suits them.
The second disrupter is that of big data and analytics – real time analysis of customer sentiment, buying habits, preferences and even emotion through the use of voice analytics. This data, and more importantly the ability to apply analytics to gain insight, delivers a customer service organisation two key things. Firstly, it enables a richer customer experience to be delivered, based in real time and the ability to personalise the service experience, offers and propositions. Secondly, big data and analytics start to bridge the gap between the contact centre, marketing, operations and the executive. Real time data can help drive the organisation to serve the true needs of the customer rather than being based on out of date, aggregated information.
No review of future technology would be complete without consideration of artificial intelligence and the internet of things. It is predicted that by 2017 there will be 8 billion devices connected to the internet – more than humans on Earth. This will fundamentally shift the nature of service calls coming into contact centres – devices will communicate directly rather than require human intervention, often identifying and solving problems prior to customers knowing about them.
If you then layer on the introduction of artificial intelligence into contact centre systems, where routine transactions can be entirely automated then the role of contact centre agents looks very different from how it does today. Agents will likely be dealing with complex problems, those that can’t easily be solved via automated routes. They will need to be able to work across products, propositions and functions within the organisation. Training and continued professional development becomes crucial and not just in your services but also in soft skills and research techniques.
Cloud enabled contact centres will bring flexibility, particularly to the location of contact centre staff. Distributed teams will be enabled – bringing the contact centre closer to the operation they support or locating at head offices to really bring the customer to the heart of the organisation. This can be supported with collaboration tools that enable conversations between agents to provide rich data on resolution issues or provide access to experts for improved customer support.
Finally, technology changes will drive the wellbeing experience of contact staff themselves. Wearables can provide real time monitoring of stress levels and health of staff, providing an opportunity to reduce staff churn and make working in a contact centre a more satisfying experience. The improvement in efficacy of voice recognition software will free agents up from their desks and fixed terminals. This should enable a more laid back, mobile approach when dealing with customers – creating a more casual and comfortable working environment for staff.
Real time ratings by customers of agents provide more transparency to the experts in your organisation. The transparent contact centre allows customers to choose who they route their calls to and provides agents with an opportunity to build skills and expertise.
Social changes will also drive transformation within the contact centre design and operation. Social networking allows customers a greater voice, creates a dialogue with your organisation and establishes contact centres as ‘relationship hubs’.
Social networking also has an impact on service levels and design that customers expect. Mobile technology and social apps means that you can be constantly updated on what your friends are up to, what your favourite brands are doing and where in the delivery process your parcel is at any time. This sets an expectation of constant communication, in a service environment. Meaning radio silence, once an issue has been reported to your contact centre, is no longer acceptable service, even if your repair process is working smoothly and the customer issue is resolved within agreed timeframes.
Social media experience also drives an ever increasing expectation of personalisation in customer experience. “Know me, know my preferences, know my interactions” stems from day to day interactions we all have with brands such as Amazon, Netflix and Google – the experience deficit is huge in comparison with a call centre where an agent doesn’t have your brand relationship history, needs authentication details that you may not have to hand and has no flexibility in service offering to suit your particular needs.
Building relationships becomes increasingly important as Generation Y and Millennials make up a greater proportion of your customer base. There is evidence to suggest that these consumers see many products as commoditised, have a lower level of loyalty and will switch providers if suppliers don’t respond as they expect.
Finally, during the recession, many firms sought to achieve cost savings by outsourcing and off shoring their contact centres. The pendulum is now swinging the other way. Customers are expressing a desire for onshore capability, not only for outbound sales activity, but also for the provision of inbound services. Organisations will need to develop contact centres with added value to offset the higher costs that reshoring can entail.
Economic / Commercial
Finally, economic factors, as ever, will impact on what businesses seek to gain from their investment in customer service. The recession has driven the need for a focus on customer retention and the efficient use of contact centre staff. This requires moving your customer service operation from being a cost centre to one which is revenue generating, reducing customer churn and that adds value to your brand.
To this last point, we are seeing a growing recognition of the impact of customer experience and customer service on brand value. Customer service is no longer an operational issue but rather part of the marketing mix, strengthening relationships with customers and contributing to customer lifetime value.Finally, the rise of the gig economy, whilst needing to be approached carefully from a staff welfare and wellbeing perspective, may give contact centre managers more flexibility in resourcing. The ability to have flexible, remote working teams available to deal with peak loads or times of abnormal activity may improve the customer experience and enable an efficient responsive service.
The Design Revolution
In the face of so much change it is interesting that the physical and operational design of contact centres has hardly changed over the past 20 years. Agents tied to their desks, isolated with headsets, often in out of town, low cost buildings more akin to factory assembly lines than modern working environments. No wonder that the CIPD pegs the staff attrition rate in contact centres in the UK at an average of 26%, ten percentage points above that of the average for all roles.
At Platform Group we have done a lot of thinking about how intelligent design can help organisations respond to a transformed customer service ecosystem.
Firstly, is the issue of staff attraction and retention. The introduction of artificial intelligence and machine to machine technology will increase the need for multi-skilled, experienced agents, dealing with more complex interactions with customers. Organisations will need to attract the right staff in a market that will be highly competitive for those agents that can deliver an emotionally intelligent, highly skilled service. There will need to be investment in training existing staff and a lower attrition rate will be essential to gain a return on that investment.
Investing in a well-designed workplace is one way of creating a unique proposition to those that you want to attract and to gain an advantage over your competition. A space that has been designed to deliver the right functional needs of your customer service staff as well as providing a modern, attractive place to spend the day increases wellbeing, commitment to the company, productivity and reduces staff churn. A great working environment should reflect your brand promise and culture, should be designed with the right aesthetic and functional considerations and is likely to include;
spaces that support comfortable desk working.
private spaces for one to ones, training and self-reflection.
collaboration space for team huddles, feedback and project work.
social spaces for down time and places to make meaningful relationships at work.
sufficient natural light and temperature control to ensure physical comfort and control.
The contact centre of tomorrow, as well as being an attractive and functional space to work, needs to accommodate a more flexible way of working. Speech to text technology frees agents from their desks, making them more mobile and able to work away from a fixed terminal. Replicating the way that many of us work today in more casual settings – in coffee shops, sat back rather than leant forward, the contact centre of tomorrow will provide comfortable but functional working space. This will facilitate a more natural dialogue with customers and enable your contact centre to move from being a transactional environment to a centre that develops long term relationships with your customers.
As the recognition of the importance of your customer service and experience to brand value grows, there is a need to create a closer link between front line staff and improving the experience. Brands need to become more agile in identifying drop outs in the customer journey and creating fixes and improvements. There will be a need to create spaces within your contact centre for teams to come together, in short sprints, to review what they are hearing in real time from customers, working on how to make the experience better and implementing changes quickly. These spaces must be functional to allow the journey to be mapped and an understanding of the drop outs to be gained. They should also be creative to generate different thinking and to engage and excite staff.
The future contact centre will also need to be flexible to respond to the impact of big data analytics. The introduction of a faster turnaround of marketing offers and propositions responding to customer sentiment and social listening will create the need for project based working in the contact centre. Bringing teams to work together for short periods of time around a specific objective will need a flexible and modular physical environment that can be configured easily.
Finally, as cloud technology for contact centres progresses, you have the option to become more distributed. Basing teams close to the operational teams they support may require contact centre pods or studios to be located across multiple sites. This also enables organisations to bring customer service to the fore – visible experience centres that all in the company connect with rather than hidden away remote from the organisation. We can see a time when head offices have an attractive, engaging, buzzy contact centre front and centre for all to engage with, bringing the customer to the heart of its organisation.
Significant technological, social and economic changes will all impact on what you need from your contact centre. Design of the contact centre needs to catch up and quickly if organisations are to make the most of these changes and to step up to serve their customers better in this new world.