The future of customer experience, in the contact centre and beyond

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Rich Elwell 8th May 2018 5 minute read

The future of customer experience, in the contact centre and beyond

The contact centre is always evolving, with new digital channels being implemented in a quest to reduce customer effort. But despite predictions that customers will not stop picking up the phone when they have an issue, the calls have not stopped, and voice remains the most-used channel across the customer service industry.

The prime reason for this is that, when your query is complex or emotional, talking to a human is just a better experience. When you’ve already had to contact a train company five times just to get a ticket collection code, trying to communicate the problem to a robot makes your frustration even worse – trust me!

Digital channels obviously have their uses (e.g. in transactional, data-driven query resolution), but we are not yet at a point where technology can displace all human contact. Contact centres are, and will continue to be, fundamentally about people serving people. However, we can still expect to see some significant changes to the landscape over the next few years.

Contact centre service volumes will be automated

There is a big opportunity to reduce contact centre service volumes through automation. We have already seen evidence of this in some sectors. In telecoms, clearer pricing combined with intelligent apps that monitor and equate data usage in real time has led to a reduced number of customer billing enquiries. In retail banking, the contact mix has been transformed thanks to the ease with which customers can now move their money around, view their balances and make applications. Innovations like these make customers’ lives easier through reducing effort and increasing speed of access.

Moving forward, intelligent IVRs and AI will lead to a decrease in some transactional contacts (‘where is my order’, making a payment etc.), but they will also have to recover from a bad public perception before they can be considered truly experience-enhancing.

Forecasting will die

A key component of delivering fantastic customer service is answering a query quickly, regardless of which channel it comes through. Having to wait for an advisor for more than 60 seconds is a major cause of customer dissatisfaction.

Today, many businesses still try to predict volume demand by each respective channel. However, the growth in the number of channels now available to customers is making the forecasting process futile. Organisations unwilling to overstaff for cost reasons will ultimately cause their customers pain as a result of long wait times.

So, how do we flip this problem on its head?

If you’ve ever overheard a discussion about the future of the contact centre, you’ll be familiar with the term ‘super agents’. This term is applied to the advisors that will be left in place once the predicted mass automation of the customer service sector has taken place. These agents will be able to handle enquiries across multiple channels, whilst also managing front and back office tasks. Put simply, they will manage the end-to-end customer journey while working hand-in-hand with AI.

If implemented effectively, ‘super agents’ could create agility and transform the customer experience, and remove the issue of forecasting. The cost of over-staffing would be greatly reduced in this more holistic, less-siloed approach to contact channels. Advisors would be utilised by switching seamlessly from front to back office work types, based on the customers’ needs.

However, this would of course be a massive cultural and process change for an organisation to undertake. I believe that we will eventually get to this point, but it’s hard to predict when exactly we will do so. In the meantime, a focus on developing and enhancing the skills of existing agents so that they can work across more channels may be more effective.

Investing in digital workplaces will improve employee and customer satisfaction

If we want advisors to be passionate about our clients’ brands, we need to invest in their needs first. For many advisors, the contact centre is their first ever place of work. It’s a place where they will learn employee values and meet people who may shape their professional life. Organisations need to facilitate an environment where this learning is possible – a workplace with clear progression opportunities, where employees are valued and truly cared for.

Offerings including flexible shift patterns, homeworking, mentor schemes, digitised onboarding, AI assistance tools, digital in-life, and proper offline time for development will help employees to feel like their work is a career rather than a hierarchical job.

Focusing on these specific areas will be key to retaining a skilled, committed and truly brand-aligned workforce – as the old saying goes, a happy employee is a productive employee.

To read more, check out our March and April Intelligence two-parter, covering customer experience and the contact centre of the future. Find it at our Intelligence hub page.

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