Traditionally the contact centre has been at the forefront in providing customers with information as well as a major first point of contact for customer requests; it has played a huge role in the delivery of information to customers. However in a new world with smarter customers and the Internet how does the contact centre adapt for the 21st century? At dancing lion, our position is that the contact centre’s role remains very much the same. While the Internet provides a powerful tool for providing information and allowing customers to self-service account requests, it is by no means self-sufficient.
Some example from financial services:
The human interaction provided by the contact centre allows companies to identify the needs of customers that they themselves do not know that they require. One great example of this can be found in the finance sector where credit cards might be sold to customers however some often do not realise the convenience a simple direct debit would offer them in managing their account.
In today’s contact centre world it is vital to understand your client, the service/product that you support and how to match what the customer needs or wants with the services or products the company provides. To provide good customer service it is important to recognise the difference in recommending and selling a product or service as opposed to pushing unwanted items on to the customer. Effective communication skills on the part of the agent or CSR are vital. Identifying needs, understanding wants and matching individual circumstances are essential. At dancing lion we train sales staff in an approach we call “Sales through Service.” It only works when front line staff genuinely search for a ‘win-win’ outcome and help the customer get the best result. Of course, this is the best long-term basis to secure a customer relationship.
Drawing again from the financial services market, a popular product in credit card services is a balance transfer. This is where a customer decides to pay off their old credit card with a new card under the promise of an interest free period. What you often find in financial contact centres are customers rushing to take up a new product despite having no knowledge of what the product really is, or can do for them. Fixated with headline grabbing titles and bombarded with information from many sources via email, text messages on a continuous basis through out the day, people’s attention spans are usually short – typically 10 to 15 seconds. Whilst smart customers may be adapting to assimilating information more quickly, even they do not always read the small print on promotions! Customer error here can be compounded by the popular use of jargon (much in evidence in business generally) and a mistaken belief that they have all the relevant information on a product.
The benefit of the contact centre
The real benefit the contact centre provides is an agent who can talk to the customer and help them understand what the product is and advise on whether they truly need the product or service. This human element gives a valuable higher level of customer service, which the Internet simply cannot provide. It is these types of product scenarios where a company should decide whether customers can really make an informed decision on a product online or whether they need to speak to an expert by telephone or chat. The contact centre acts as the guide in these niche areas helping the customer make the best decision and providing information that they might not know or have overlooked.
Of course smarter customers may mean less work for contact centres, but from a cost reduction perspective this could be a double-edged sword in the long term. The contact centre benefits from the growing intelligence of its customer base as it feeds into product and service development and demands more from its service provider. But this development means extra training should be provided for staff so they can meet the growing expectations of the customer.
We predict that as customer calls become increasingly more specialised and the availability of information increases it will mean that the number of staff required to resource a contact centre may be reduced. To meet future demand call centre staff will need to be able to adapt to a constantly changing environment and keep three steps ahead of the customers. They will need to be willing and happy to work within a contact centre setting, and the training needed for these roles is likely to become more specialised and possibly longer in duration.
Not every one is well connected…
Perhaps more importantly however is that there will always be customers that simply do not have access to the Internet or even a mobile phone. For those customers the role of the contact centre remains as it has always been. A quick and convenient way to find out more information and a first point of contact to request a service or to purchase a product.
The development of smarter customers is not a death knell for customer service, far from it. The development of smarter customers means an evolution of the role of customer contact centres.