Since the birth of text messaging, let alone email and live chat, experts have been predicting the demise of the traditional phone call as people seemingly look for any way to communicate other than speaking with someone on the other end of the line. This is especially prevalent for contact centres, which started out as call centres where rows and rows of agents were a lifeline for customers wanting help with the most basic of queries but have evolved to become high-tech environments where words such as self-service and omnichannel dominate conversation as much as “How can I help you?”.
And while it is true that modern phones are used more for Googling, TikToking and YouTubing than dialling, reports of the phone call’s death have been greatly exaggerated (Google ‘famous Mark Twain quotes’ for context). Customer research released shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic revealed 74% of surveyed customers had phoned a contact centre during the past year, while the phone remained the unrivalled number one contact channel across the 12 countries that participated in the study. Critically, the biggest users of the channel were millennials (aged 25-34).
The global pandemic also inspired a dramatic increase in call volumes as lockdowns and social restrictions forced more customers to pick up their phones. One study showed all industries experienced a year-on-year spike including the retail sector, which soared by more than 34%, and anecdotal evidence suggests the number of calls has remained high despite the return to relative normality.
By now it should be clear that customers are not about to stop phoning contact centres any time soon. That said, it is also not an excuse for organisations to become complacent when it comes to improving systems, embracing technology and adapting to the modern landscape. Customer experience is too important to get wrong and that is why the call centres of the past have evolved to become the contact centres of today.
Here are five tips to ensure you get the best results from your contact centres and the agents navigating the calls they receive.
Contact centre agents are often the public face of a business, which is why it is crucial their interactions with customers are excellent from start to finish. First impressions count so ensure they set the tone for calls by practising their greetings and working to quickly build rapport with callers. Building a supportive and empathetic connection will help diffuse difficult situations if they arise, while active listening and being responsive will positively impact customer satisfaction. Contact centre agent training will go a long way towards ensuring staff are best placed to interact with callers and adjust their approach to meet their needs.
While there will always be a role for human agents in contact centres, digital transformation is allowing a level of customer experience previously unheard of. Artificial intelligence tools are assisting agents to deliver more personalised experiences for customers and going as far as tracking caller sentiment to determine when an interaction is going poorly. Crucially, automation tools and other tech solutions are allowing human agents to dedicate more time and effort to customer enquiries that benefit most from their input.
Today’s contact centre managers have access to data that was once the stuff of fantasy. From digital tools and solutions that incorporate analytics to intuitive reporting dashboards that incorporate both real-time and historical metrics, there is a wealth of information within reach that provides insights into how to optimise agent performance and drive customer retention. The ability to measure average handling times and customer satisfaction levels have never been easier and, as importantly, so too has the chance to identify and address emerging concerns before they become major headaches.
There is a reason customer service is one of the bedrocks of the outsourcing industry – it pays huge dividends. With labour cost savings of up to 70% on offer in popular offshore destinations such as the Philippines and similarly attractive onshore options, money is one of the main motivators for most companies to make the leap but there is so much more to be gained. Being able to increase staffing levels improves response times and customer care, which in turn can lead to positive goodwill and word of mouth. Highly qualified outsourced agents also allow their in-house colleagues to focus on more rewarding and higher priority phone calls, while utilising agents across multiple time zones can allow customer service to unfold 24/7, which is increasingly important for time-poor consumers. Outsourced phone support is also a cost-effective and seamless way to scale teams up – or down – depending on seasonal or unexpected peaks and troughs.
While customers will never stop wanting to pick up a phone for their most pressing or challenging needs, self-service is a great tool for simpler enquiries. Contact centres that use a combination of live agents and technology deliver a better overall experience by enabling customers to choose the best option for their needs. Sometimes this will see them directed to a self-service option, while issues that cannot be solved without specialist knowledge are transferred to a live agent. Advanced speech analytics is also allowing the identification and automation of simple tasks that are repeatedly asked of agents (eg: password resets), allowing them to focus on more complex work and providing customers with faster responses.
When a customer reaches out to a contact centre, be it via phone, live chat or self-service, the one thing they all want is a positive experience. Nothing erodes customer satisfaction faster than speaking with an unprepared agent, being passed between multiple departments or being forced to repeat an enquiry across various channels.
Just as call volumes rose during the pandemic, so too did the chance for contact centres to shine. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation have a role to play in achieving that goal but one of the best ways for companies to deliver exceptional customer experience is via highly qualified and empathetic agents.
Despite rumours to the contrary, the phone call is not dead and there will continue to be a need for organisations to navigate enquiries, complaints and concerns via the most traditional of methods. Other customer service channels are pivotal and maybe even ‘sexier’ but that does not mean they are any more important than the one that starts with an agent saying: “How can I help you?”.
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