Once upon a time a call centre agent was evaluated by the number of calls they could answer or make in a day. Metrics around call length or other ‘hard’ numbers became the norm. The world today is a very different place for contact centre agents. Especially right now at a time of unprecedented pressure on businesses and emergency services.
As well as having to manage multiple channels in communicating with customers they need to Care, or at least learn to behave as if they do.
Self-service options are being pushed to customers through AI and automation: technologies that once believed that their dawn would signal the dusk for the contact centre, you simply wouldn’t need to actually speak to anyone anymore, would you?
The reality we see is that over the last few years the number of calls to contact centres has barely changed as a result of businesses implementing these new solutions. The customer is still calling but with added complications; when they arrive at their decision to call, they have probably exhausted the self-service options, not managed the automated system and are frustrated and possibly angry that they haven’t been able to satisfy their enquiry. ‘Emotional’ and ‘complex’ describes many calls, on most days.
As well as knowing about the products and services for their business they need to be able to solve highly complex problems, tactfully, whilst constantly assessing the mood and attitude of the caller. They need to be engaged, proactive in offering solutions, using the right language, educated and friendly with the ‘right’ attitude. The level of sophistication developing within contact centre recruitment and training is testimony to this shift. From the use of personality testing and profiling to recruit the right characters to the careful use of psycho-linguistics to manage customers frustration and diffuse challenging situations quickly whilst leaving customers feeling positive about the interaction.
Whilst self-serve and AI bots can in some cases handle simple enquiries such as; What time do you open? Do you deliver in my area? For those requiring more sophisticated answers this presents yet another barrier to finding the answer required. The contact centre is now fed with a stream of often unhappy callers delivered courtesy of AI and automation fails. The resourceful agent, for years the primary interaction point between customer and brand, now carries the responsibility for making the brand human, being there when the mess needs clearing up, when things have not gone right. There is nothing artificial yet devised to compete with this need for human connection when emotion, that unique human capability, is unleashed.
As the contact centre experience has evolved away from time and volume metrics in favour of first-time resolution to make it easy for customers, so has the need to upskill agents to a new level. Customers now expect the agents to have information at their fingertips and to be able to make similar decisions that a manager in a store could make on resolving the issue. Achieving this takes a high degree of business knowledge and information. There are an increasing number of software solutions which enable this level of intra-connectivity of data, but interpretation and application still requires a human judgement.
Agents are the most valuable asset, and not at all diminished in this modern high-tech era; until the machines are infallible their position will continue to be vital. Let’s hear it for your Super Agents, can you nominate any here?