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The contact centre agent of the future

Technology is dramatically reshaping the role of the contact centre and the tasks performed by contact centre agents. What will the contact centre of tomorrow look like? And what will be the role of the agents in the contact centre of the future?

The first call centres emerged decades ago. Their primary role was to handle large volumes of inbound or outbound telephone calls. As other channels were added, such as IVR, emails, social media, web enquiries and so on, they transformed into contact centres – centralised administration hubs for handling all inbound and outbound communications between an organisation and its customers.

The shift from transactional to more complex roles

As the contact centre has evolved the roles of the people who work in them has evolved. Tom Hatch, Strategic Sales Manager at DFP Recruitment (specialists in contact centre recruitment), comments, “The roles of agents has certainly evolved over time as more technology and automation is introduced into the contact centre. These roles are becoming less transactional in nature, requiring more complex discussions and problem solving with customers”.

“Once upon a time, customers would ring up to have their password changed, or activate an account or check their balances. Most of these basic enquiries are now automated over the phone, via a website, or a mobile phone app. It’s rare to see contact centre roles on the market these days that handle these sorts of basic enquiries”, adds Hatch.

To match this evolution in job roles, people employed in contact centres have needed greater customer service skills, more product knowledge, as well as greater empathy and emotional intelligence when handling customers. Hatch says, “With the addition of email, chat and social media, contact centre agents now need good written as well as verbal skills as well as greater computer literacy and technical aptitude.”

The shift from handling customer interactions through the traditional phone channel to other digital and automated channels will continue. Technologies such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT (the Internet of Things) are reshaping the contact centre and customer experience landscape. Contact agent roles will continue to evolve as the machines automate less complex tasks.

Will contact centres still take calls in the future?

In 2019 the phone call still has a significant role to play. But for how long. Ever smarter AI systems are being developed to analyse customer transactions and make decisions and take actions based on that analysis. Today, most chatbots perform pretty simple, niche, and supervised tasks like answering questions or booking appointments accurately and quickly. But in the next five to 10 years, they will have a lot more context and data to play with.

Hatch believes, that now and into the foreseeable future, we still need reliable and talented people, with the right core skills to handle phone calls. He comments, “Some core basics will never change. We will always need people with personalities who can build rapport with customers, are good problem solvers, have good product knowledge and are reliable team players. Technology will help eliminate more mundane tasks, allowing these people to add value in the interactions they have with customers.”

As such, AI will be deployed to make smarter and faster call routing. Instead of a customer having to explain their situation or navigate through an IVR menu to find, the AI would know the customer’s history with organisation and then forward the call to the most appropriate agent who can solve the problem right away.

The technologies that are reshaping the customer experience are empowering contact agents to offer greater value to the interactions that customers have with organisations. Dr. Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist at BT Global Services, comments, “The digital technologies that focus on the omnichannel customer experience, collaboration, communication and intelligent information management are empowering agents to create value for customers”.

She adds, “Research from a variety of sources, showed that customers want knowledgeable agents and that the quality of the customer interaction will trump speed, even if today first contact resolution and quick response matter a lot – and will continue to do so. However, quick response to incoming calls or other forms of interaction, is not the same as fast resolutions.”

The omnichannel experience

One thing that technology has introduced into the contact centre is a multitude of communication channels that need to be integrated and managed. The rise of omnichannel customer experience is perhaps one of the most significant trends to emerge in the contact centre in the last 5 or so years.   And the technology is constantly changing and evolving.

The contact centre is at the frontline of emerging technologies and the customer experience, creating a very dynamic environment that places everchanging demands on the people who work within them. Millard concludes, “The contact centre agent of the future will need to be a multi-tasker a natural communicator, a speed typist, resilient, knowledgeable, able to handle high cognitive load, able to listen, empathetic and has a positive can do attitude as well as having great analytical/problem solving skills.”

Tom Hatch, National and Strategic Sales Manager at DFP Recruitment will be speaking at Delivering Customer Centric Contact Centre Conference, taking place 27th – 29th November 2019 at ICC Sydney. Organised by Criterion Conferences, this event will bring together customer service leaders to discuss challenges in achieving operational excellence and delivering optimal customer experience in their contact centres.

Mark Atterby

Mark Atterby has 18 years media, publishing and content marketing experience.