Early each year the business journals and analysts like to publish their trends for the future, or lists of skills required for customer service in the coming year. I have looked around at many lists for the year ahead and this one is typical.
To be fair, this list is from 2016, but it does reflect a general view around contact centers – that the skills required are patience and understanding. Anyone reading one of these lists would think that the key qualification for new contact center employees is an ability to remain empathetic when a customer is screaming at them on a call.
Let’s be clear, in a voice-based contact center it is critical that agents have these skills, but I’m disappointed to continually find that experts writing about the skills required in contact centers do not often consider just how quickly the Customer Experience (CX) environment is changing. Let me summarize what I mean
- Many companies are undergoing an unprecedented wave of digital disruption that affects how they interact with customers.
- The structure of the contact center of the future remains unclear, but it is unlikely to just resemble a single large office filled with workers on the telephone.
- Skill sets in a highly digital omnichannel service environment require more than just empathy
Everyone can see – even from our own personal experience – that the way customers communicate with brands has changed dramatically in the past few years. Access to mobile devices that are always online coupled with social networks mean that many new channels have been created. Some customers want to communicate with brands on Instagram or Twitter, some want to text or chat online, and some continue to call.
But a more fundamental change has taken place because of this change in communication – the customer journey from learning about a product to purchasing it has changed. It used to be that a marketing or advertising campaign would create awareness, a sales team handled the sales process, and the customer service team was there for any post-purchase questions. That’s all in the past. Now customers can get in touch with a brand on any channel and at any time in the sales process.
Think about how customers engage in far more two-way conversations with brands – as if they have a relationship. They ask retailers about recipes, ask hotels about nearby restaurants, and ask airlines about onboard movie choices. None of this fits into the traditional customer journey.
For this reason, many companies are already exploring how all customer-facing functions need to either be merged or (at least) coordinated. This means that functions like advertising, sales, marketing, and customer service become combined. Entire corporate structures are changing because brands need to more effectively manage how they interact with customers.
Naturally this is having a dramatic effect on contact centers and will have an even bigger effect as more companies engage in this process of organising their corporate structure around the customer. Contact center managers not only need to find team members who are empathetic on calls, they need to find people who are skilled at sales, marketing, and every other customer-facing process.
The physical structure of the contact center needs to change to accommodate the change from a focus on customer service to the entire customer experience of the brand. In addition, the employees will need a higher level of skills. The contact center will in fact be seen as the perfect place for new sales and marketing professionals to prove their value to the business – a genuine career path in several directions can be seen to be emerging from the contact center of the future.
It’s a shame the business journals rarely acknowledge this, but I hope to return to this theme in future articles, because this applies across industries and geographies. The transformation of customer service into customer experience is one of the most exciting areas of business disruption to be involved in right now and Teleperformance is fortunate to be in the frontline of designing this change for the future.
Image by Alex Knight of Unsplash