According to Annika Edberg at Teleopti, voice is no longer the endangered species many would have us believe. It all comes down to adaptability and flexible workforce management (WFM).
Voice may no longer be at the top of everyone’s technology wish list but the old beast still has plenty of life left. Just listen to the experts: research indicates that inbound telephone calls to live agents today account for 65.3% of all contacts with 53% of professionals claiming that this type of interaction is likely to increase greatly, slightly or simply stay the same in the foreseeable future. In today’s multi-channel contact centers, the continued existence of voice as a popular communications method puts added pressure on managers seeking to create a seamless, blended call experience for customers by ensuring the appropriately skilled agents are available to deal with telephone, email, chat, sms and social media at the right time.
The other part of the conundrum is that when combined, both inbound and outbound voice calls in contact centers are on the decline and have statistically been that way for some years now. But does it really matter? Well, it definitely matters if the status of voice affects the way that contact centers are run, evolve and even survive. Understanding how to replace voice channels and maximise schedules to maintain service levels is essential to the longer-term well-being of customer service, contact centers and the agents who work in them. Contact center leaders who choose to bury their heads in the sand or just accept that voice will eventually go away risk losing experienced staff as well as customers and revenues. Here we look at the major trends affecting voice in the contact center industry, what managers need to do to stay ahead of the game and how the latest Workforce Management (WFM) solutions can help.
Facing the future: a survival guide
1. Customer expectations are growing
This is something most of us have probably suspected but 80.3% of the 380 contact center professionals who responded to Call Centre Helper’s latest survey believe this to be the case. Advances in mobile technology and the Internet of Things have created an always-on culture that has radically changed the way that people consume information along with the goods and services they buy. They expect instant access to an organization’s shop window 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Technology is a great enabler and contact centers need to keep up with this trend and use WFM creatively.
2. Accept that new technology is here and make it work for you
Rather than seeing new technology as a threat to the status quo or another thing to worry about, contact center leaders should view their operations as a strategic part of the corporate digital eco-system where new technologies have the power to transform customer service. Email, web chat, social media and SMS are all on the rise.
However, first of all step back and consider if it is absolutely necessary to offer all channels because if you do, the quality has to be consistently high and meet expected service levels. Next, whatever channels you decide to offer, be sure to blend them successfully with traditional voice to create a true multi-channel contact center environment that gives customers greater choice of how they can communicate and delivers a faster, highly personalized customer experience. Likewise WFM should be blended enabling resources to be switched between channels while ensuring the most qualified agents respond to enquiries when and where required
3. Consider Artificial Intelligence (AI) to overcome staff shortages
According to Call Centre Helper, staff shortages represent a real barrier to providing great customer service, a situation that has risen steadily to 30% since 2015. In its report, ContactBabel reveals the alarming reality of agent skills today. In medium or large contact centers, 60% of agents handle voice only and 5-10% handle text only (email, web chat and social media). Perhaps it’s time to turn to the various forms of AI – virtual or digital assistants and chatbots or bots – to manage the gap between agent abilities/time and the customer experience? Start by making bots the first port of call for customers and remember to take them into account for WFM purposes.
Virtual assistants, for example, can begin by directing customers to the correct part of the website or accessing the correct part of the knowledge base. If they cannot answer a request, they may then seamlessly route the customer to a live web chat agent.
4. Chatbots – next stage in Internet revolution
Chatbots are computer programs that mimic conversations with people using AI and are fast transforming the way people interact. They are revolutionizing the mundane tasks in our daily lives, rather like having your own virtual butler. They can order lunch or a taxi, set up meetings, shop and book flights. Other more complex industries, such as insurance, are experimenting with conversational personal assistants to automate claims management.
5. When only the human touch will do
Despite all this, don’t force digital channels if your customers don’t want them. Why alienate certain demographics like the less technology-confident older generation when the spending power of the silver pound is legendary? Certain organizations, with a higher than average mix of emotional or complex enquiries (for example local housing authorities, chronic illness or emotional health charities) are more likely to consider retaining voice to accommodate their customers’ specific needs and conduct sensitive conversations. Voice will always play a part in crisis management situations such as emergency services. Maintaining service levels depends on having agents available at the right time, therefore to ensure survival when only a human will do, WFM will need to take priority
6. Look at the agent journey
Customer journey mapping is a hot topic but if a customer has a life cycle, what is the lifecycle of the agent? Enriching the agent journey will make them happier and more productive. Look at each stage – recruitment, training, working, personal development, potential attrition – to identify the delights and the pain points and then find the solutions and technology necessary to support them. Building agent friendly schedules and providing advisors with the right tools to handle customers, based on their own judgement, improves customer loyalty and delivers the quality of service that all customers deserve and expect.
Adaptability and flexible WFM is the name of the game and will ensure the survival of voice for many years to come. Act now to face facts, address the challenges ahead and take positive steps to support the evolution of voice. Make the most of this trusted channel and robust WFM to create high-performing agent teams and maintain exceptional levels of customer service now and into the future.