We have already entered the age of virtual agents, voice recognition and immediate verification through biometric data, suggesting the future role for intelligent automation meeting customers wherever they are. Furthermore, by adding context to add value and anticipating customer needs, the contact centre could become a key aspect of brand differentiation. The key premise and challenge lies not in doing things differently, but in enabling consumers (and staff) to do different things. Gartner believes that autonomics-based managed services and cognitive platforms will fuel a 60% reduction in the cost of IT solutions by automating repetitive tasks currently tackled by humans[i]. This may not mean the end of the contact centre per se, but almost certainly indicates significant forthcoming change to both the levels of contact centre employment and the type of work done there, the skills needed for it, and the general elevation of customer service levels.
Aside from excellent communication skills, agents will need analytical problem-solving skills, project management skills, and in some cases, technical training to understand the finer details of their product or service. Customer service agents will need to adapt to changes in technology, from becoming experts in apps & wearables and social networks to utilising. In essence, the remaining core of contact centre workers will need to become knowledge workers. The range of technologies impacting on customer service could actually create whole new classes of consultant-like jobs in the contact centre space. Future contact centres will likely be able to cater to non-traditional services such as medical examinations using biometrics and similar smart technologies. Predictive analytics is likely to enable pre-emptive and perhaps even proactive customer service delivered through the omnichannel or via consumers’ virtual personal assistants. This will place greater demand and emphasis on the contact centre but could lead to greater customer satisfaction and brand loyalty if done appropriately.
The economics of this disruption are compelling. Machine learning technology and advanced speech recognition can improve upon conventional interactive voice response system and provides cost savings of 60-80% over an outsourced contact centre consisting of human labour[ii]. Customer preference must also be considered; 75% say self-service is a convenient way to address customer service issues, whilst 91% of consumers would use an online support centre if it was tailored to their needs[iii]. Personalised customer service is the ultimate goal of almost all industries and those that strategically align the contact centre experience to their overall strategy stand a chance of discovering new areas of value, providing better customer service and establishing points of differentiation.