There are many articles and books being written about the future of the contact centre at present. Many are focused on the development of innovative new technologies, but the real future of the contact centre will be a blend of several factors:

  • Changing customer expectations
  • The changing customer journey
  • Innovation in supportive technologies

Let’s explore each of these factors in turn. First, there is a changing expectation from customers that is important to acknowledge. I recently tried calling my bank to deal with a card problem on a Sunday and heard a message saying the bank will open again on Monday. That was a disappointing experience – I called with the expectation that the bank would be open 24/7 because that’s how things usually work in 2018.

A recent feature in Forbes magazine suggested that 64% of customers expect brands to interact with them in real-time. Not waiting hours to respond to an email or chat message. They expect to be able to initiate an immediate dialogue. Most brands take several hours to respond to the most popular social channels so this is a challenge for them all.

The customer journey has changed dramatically as customers have become more connected. Smart devices and mobile Internet access has created an environment where customers can obtain information on products, read reviews, check prices, and all from a store or when browsing online. The old linear customer journey of seeing an advert, searching for more information, then making a purchase and possibly following the purchase with a customer service is history. Now customers may be in touch with a brand at any point in the journey – as well as accessing information from previous customers too.

Technologies that support agents can include machine learning systems. These capture every customer question that the contact centre has ever dealt with – along with the solution. An Artificial Intelligence platform can then support agents by tapping into this complete history and suggesting solutions to agents in real-time. Decision support is another useful technology that helps agents follow a sales path when the product is complex or has many variables. Choosing a new phone is a good example – by asking a few key questions about required features the system can lead the agent to relevant suggestions.

All these changes are taking place simultaneously and the important connecting thread is that there is a requirement for contact centre agents to play a much more important role than ever before. They need to move beyond a supportive customer service function into roles that require sales and marketing expertise. They need to adapt to the use of these supportive technologies and they need to be meeting these new customer expectations.

This combination of people, process, and technology changes is good news for contact centre workers. Not only is their role becoming more important, but they are being recognised for the value they can bring to the brand-customer relationship. This recognition is leading to real careers in operations, sales, and marketing, for the team members who start out working directly with customers in the contact centre.

Contact centre agents are increasingly the only link between brands and customers – especially as social networks become more important than traditional advertising. It’s important for all companies planning their customer service strategy to be aware of this and to recognise the valuable role these team members are providing. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.