How CX Platforms Are Creating The Agent Of The Future
This article delves into the issues facing contact centers such as attrition, outdated tech, ineffective leadership, limited career growth, and vague company culture. It also offers a vision for a more flexible, tech-driven, and fulfilling career path, highlighting the value of skilled 'talents' and global specialization.
In the 2013 movie 'Sunshine on Leith' a group of Scottish soldiers are attacked in Afghanistan. One loses his legs in the attack. Later in the film, he is seen learning to walk with prosthetic limbs back home in Edinburgh. He asks a friend visiting the rehab centre 'what are you doing with yourself?' The answer is 'working in a contact centre.' The legless soldier replies, 'And I thought I had it bad.'
Opinions on contact centre jobs vary, but in Europe, these views are typical - the general perception is that a contact centre job is an entry-level job that's great for starting your career, but little more. There is no future in a stressful and monotonous job where you just listen to customer complaints all day.
But what are the real problems with contact centre jobs, and how could a customer service role actually become a career of choice?
Many contact centres experience attrition rates of up to 90% - it differs across industries and companies. However, this means that contact centre managers are constantly running to stand still. Each year, they need to replace almost the entire team. If you have a team of 200, you might need to hire 180 to keep the team static and even more to achieve growth.
The reasons for this attrition explain why contact centre jobs are often perceived so negatively. This research highlights five main areas why people leave contact centre jobs:
- Poor training and onboarding: the agent has no confidence or real ability to do the job properly
- Outdated technology: you are expecting the agent to cut and paste from one system to another and juggle multiple screens when talking to a customer
- Ineffective leadership: possibly the most common reason is that CX workers find that their manager is ineffective and doesn't listen to them
- Lack of opportunity: give people no training, no career guidance, and a repetitive dead-end job, and only the most desperate will stay
- Undefined company culture: you post motivational posters on the wall but don’t engage with anything that would help employees to create a positive work-life balance or flexible hours
To be frank, this research reinforces the stereotypes displayed in popular culture. Dead-end jobs that are inflexible and managers that learned their soft skills from David Brent on The Office. But I think the stereotype is now being challenged because of a push and pull taking place at the same time. New opportunities for working from home with flexible hours are pulling agents to a different type of workplace, but customer expectations are also pushing companies to change their customer service strategy.
Customer expectations first. Think of your own experience as a consumer. You just bought a product, and it's not working. The setup just isn’t as smooth as it looks in the manual. What do you do?
This is 2023, so most of us will pull out our phone and Google for an answer. Maybe there is a YouTube explainer. Or the Google result lands on the brand website right on a page explaining the problem. Or you have the app, and you can ask an artificial intelligence (AI) powered chatbot for help. Or you might even ask Alexa to see if your smart speaker has any insight.
Most customers will try a few options like this before giving up and calling - or messaging - the company helpline. This means that when they start talking to a customer service agent, it is only because the AI, Alexa, and Google failed to fix the problem. Your agents had better be on the top of their game.
So, customer expectations about how quickly and where they can get answers are changing. Customers are also engaging with brands for more reasons than just immediate help. They are actively engaging with the brands they love, usually on social media channels. These interactions need engagement, but not in the same way as a customer that needs help right now. A customer sharing a map of their personal best run and tagging Adidas or Nike will be thrilled if the company responds, but this engagement is different to a customer calling to find out how they can get home when their flight was just cancelled. Customer engagement itself has matured from post-purchase problems to ongoing relationship building and interactions.
I mentioned that a powerful pull factor is the agent's expectation for a more flexible work environment. In many ways, this answers why agents quit their jobs so frequently. Imagine saying to a customer service agent that they can choose the brands they support, so they can stick to the companies they enjoy working with. They can choose their own hours. They can work from home. They will be supported with the latest technology and easy to use systems.
This is the vision for a new era of customer service where the agents are seen as indispensable. At yoummday, we don't even refer to our frontline team as 'agents' - we call them 'talents'. This reflects their true value. A traditional contact centre replacing the entire team annually is not demonstrating that these people have any value.
A platform-based approach to customer service design where a virtual contact centre is located in the cloud allows the talents to login securely from home. A powerful workforce management system allows the brand to plan exactly how many people they need, and when, so the talents can sign up and indicate when they will be working. So they all work from home with no commute, and they select when they want to work. They also choose which brands they want to work with.
Imagine how much this changes the dead-end and repetitive nature of CX work. Most of the mundane queries are handled by the chatbots, or are easily solved because the brand videos on YouTube describe how to resolve all the most common problems. The questions coming to the talents need detailed investigation, and if a gamer chooses to only work with games companies then they get paid to hang out in games helping people. They are an expert. They get respect.
The emerging AI technologies that everyone is talking about can also be used to directly support the talents - to make their job easier. AI can 'listen' to the call and suggest the next best action, so instead of saying 'I'll just put you on hold while I search for some information' the talent can be presented by their system with the document they need - in real-time. Who needs to write up a summary of the call once it is over if the AI can manage this process? The experts are not only getting more interesting interactions, because the self-service process works better, but the AI inside the contact center platform makes life easier by allowing them to focus on the customer, not the admin.
The platform-based approach means that the talents can be anywhere. You don't need to hire people within commuting distance of a contact centre - suddenly, there is an entire world of talent available. You can hire globally. This also means that if you want specialist skills - such as tax experts with specific language skills - they can be sourced from anywhere. In addition, by offering payment per customer helped, instead of by the hour, then the talents can earn far more than any traditional contact centre would pay.
This is a transformation of how the contact centre works, and it almost entirely eliminates attrition because all the drivers that make traditional contact centre jobs so inflexible are removed.
But this environment also creates many other opportunities. Video editors need to film and design those helpful YouTube videos. AI designers need to build the smart bots using modern generative AI. Data analysts need to explore customer behaviour and improve predictions into what the customer will need next. Take a look at any recent customer experience conference and there are few speakers talking about contact centres today. Everyone is exploring the cloud, platform-based solutions, AI, and data analytics.
The customer experience is being managed increasingly by technology and flexible platforms. It will be a challenge for the traditional contact centres to compete when their entire business model relies on low wages and managed attrition. Why would anyone want to keep doing that when a better future is available?