The future of the contact center agent.
Posted Dec 7, 2007
Agents have always been central to the contact center experience. And customers' experiences with agents -- good or bad -- can forever color their view of your organization and brand. But with customers becoming more demanding, impatient and less satisfied with their service experiences, new pressures are squeezing agents and organizations.
Agents often find themselves caught between organizational demands (be more efficient; handle more customers more quickly) and customer needs (solve my problem). Organizations grapple with morale problems, turnover, absenteeism, rising costs and, significantly, growing customer dissatisfaction.
Additionally, the growth of multimedia contacts increases complexity and requires new skills of agents -- it's no longer as simple as answering the next call and reading a script. As we move into the future, the contact center agent must be more than a transaction processor and become an advisor and, ultimately, an expert.
Today's Contact Center Model
Today, contact centers are managed under a "mass production" model. Agents must meet metrics that place them at odds with customers and can lead to customer mistreatment. The rules, policies and pressure also cause agents undue stress, resulting in reduced retention, low morale, and inevitably, poorer customer service.
Under the mass production model, time is money, and all the important metrics focus on cost reduction and efficiency. Naturally, this model leads to customer and agent dissatisfaction. While customers are unhappy with long holding times, they are equally unhappy feeling rushed once reaching an agent. Worse, they become dissatisfied if the agent is unable to address issues or resolve problems on the first call.
While self-service, Web-based technologies have shifted the simple, everyday transactions away from contact centers, increasing agent effectiveness, these technologies reduce the human contact between company and customer and can work against the development of deeper customer relationships.
While the mass production model can be fine-tuned to increase efficiency, it has inherent flaws that simply can't be overcome. By nature, it is focused on the organization, not the customer. It measures cost per transaction while ignoring what customers value. It overlooks agents' skills and abilities and undermines their motivation. And, critically, it oversimplifies the increased complexity of many transactions, leading to customer dissatisfaction.
So, as we move into the future, how can we overcome the intrinsic flaws of today's mass production contact center model? What's needed is a shift to a model that can cope with complexity and personalization of customer contacts.
Mass Customized Contact Center Model
Picture a contact center that allows individualized customer interactions at a mass production price. A center that empowers agents to become advisors, not script readers. That recognizes the need for efficiency, productivity, quality and low cost, but places a premium on customer service. That delivers high levels of first-call resolution, customer satisfaction and increased employee satisfaction, attendance and retention.
Sound impossible? It isn't. The technology exists to do this today. So what factors are inhibiting the adoption of the mass customized model?
First, quite honestly, these concepts are outside the comfort zone of most management structures. The contact center is rarely on the radar screens of senior management. And it's easier to manage contact centers using productivity statistics, even if they don't measure what's really important. Cost is perceived to be prohibitive, though in fact the mass customization model can reduce the costs of failure, waste, turnover and customer dissatisfaction.
However, organizations willing to consider a major shift in mindset -- and having the courage to undertake a significant culture change -- can reap enormous benefits from adopting this model.
The ultimate aim of this model is to put customers in contact with the best person to solve their problem, wherever that person is located. We've already seen a shift in the direction of contact center agent as "networked expert" via the growing trend of "homesourcing," or enabling agents to work from home in a virtual contact center, and in "rightsourcing," or tapping into the best talent to deal with customers, regardless of location.
Bottom line: the role of the human advisor, the networked expert, is becoming more critical, and organizations need to evolve to embrace this new model.
Where does BT come into this vision of the mass customized contact center? Quite simply, we help customers run better customer contact operations. We optimize operating costs, improve service and help fuel growth with leading edge network-centric CRM services. We achieve this using the power of our global network available in over 128 countries, flexible commercial terms such as pay-as-you grow and innovative delivery models.
This helps our customers create a consistent experience and a connected workplace, wherever and however contact happens. How do we know we can do this? Because more than 2,000 customers around the world have decided to work with BT, including ourselves -- in the UK we look after 21 million customers undertaking 12 million transactions per day.
About the Author
Frank Shaffer has more than 25 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and holds inventor status on five U.S. patents. He was responsible for deploying the world's first global network interactive voice response units (IVRs) as well as the first Internet protocol-based virtual contact center service, which is now available in more than 100 countries.
Sprint Nextel will close contact centers in response to lower demand for customer service while increasing its marketing efforts.