Will Technology Kill the Call Center?

Talking to a customer support agent by phone is by far the quickest way to get an issue resolved. However, that’s the last thing most of us want to do. Thanks to irreverent agents, extended hold times, annoying music on hold among thousand other things, calling the helpline has now become a horrifying experience.

Besides, support via email and social media has gotten better over time. So, what happens to the call center now that technology is convincing people the experience is better of you don’t intend to seek real time support?

Research firm Software Advice hosted a debate on Google+ hangout addressing the same topic. An expert panel with representatives from companies like Avaya offered advice on customer contact channel strategy and what the future holds for the call center. The recorded session of the video runs for 45 minutes, but is worth the time considering the insights on offer.

If you are really not patient enough to sit through the video, do read the key takeaways. Thanks to Ashley from Software Advice for the write up. Here’s what the experts had to say about how call centers should prepare for the next consumer generation:

Prioritize Channels Your Customer Cares About

Customers crave speed to contact. Poor user experience for non-phone channels previously prohibited their adoption, but that has changed. The speakers said virtual agent, chat, self service and other technologies can finally deliver on the promises they made years ago.

As a result, consumers now have the option to choose which channel works best for them. It’s up to the company to “right channel” their business or determine which channels are most important to its customers and invest in those technologies.

Don’t Silo Communication Channels

All of the speakers agreed that consumers are embracing newer contact channels, such as virtual agents and self service, at a pace never seen before in the contact center world. In fact, a recent Avaya report showed 60 percent of consumers continually change how they contact a company.

This doesn’t mean customers are choosing these new channels instead of voice. Rather, they are using self service, FAQs, mobile and other channels in addition to the telephone. In fact, by the time they get to the phone it’s likely the are at a critical time in the interaction.

Make sure your team can track every interaction no matter the channel, so that the responder in the next conversation has more context and insight into that specific customer. Your CSR should know by the time the customer called the last time they logged into their online account. What did they look at? Did they call the 1-800 yesterday? All of these factors will increase efficiency, but also customer satisfaction.

The Call Center Reborn

The speakers agreed customer contact preference is shifting away from voice, but this won’t kill the call center. The concept of a call center comprising phone agents has evolved into a contact center comprising ”command teams” who manage customer interactions through multiple channels. Companies need to ensure that their team has the ability to leverage these various channels together. This means that agents will need to be more skilled and technically savvy.

What’s your take on the future of the call centre and the advent of technology?