Predicting the future of customer support call centers!

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I am looking into my crystal ball today. Thinking about what a call center is in the future? What purpose does it do for the company? And what are the drawbacks? Where are we heading?

Looking at the customer call center from the board room!
Unfortunately many decisions about call center strategies are made in the board room. When the board reviews accounting they have one large expense post; the customer call centre. How can they make the people working there more efficient? Do we really need all those employees? Why do we compensate so much to our customers? Can we regulate this to prevent future expenses? The result after a board meeting can be devastating. They are far away from the customers, and they are far away from the call centers daily life. The result can be cut back on staff, regulations that prevent the operator from solving the case for the customer and others decisions that do not match the “real world” – Move the responsibility further down the silo structure. Let the director of customer care decide more in collaboration with the team leaders and department managers. Even some of the operators should sit in a “mini board” to make these decisions. But hey if you also make crap decisions, no wonder the board takes control. That’s why you need to be two steps ahead.

Removing the expense, creating the value!
There need to be a direct income loss to remove employees in a call centre. The operator needs to be able to sell. I do not say that they should be active sellers, but once in a while a customer will ask for more products or a better deal. The operator should be able to handle this without transferring the customer to the sales dep. At least the operators need to provide sales leads to them. If the customer asks about another product, they most likely are in shopping mode. By training the operators to handle this you will create an income in a department that normally create the expenses. By reducing staff, they also will reduce income. And of course the other way around.

Multi channel communication.
The customers communicate in different ways. Some like e-mail, some like chat or instant messaging, and some like self help service like a forum or great guides in a web site. At my blog I have a live chat; all customer care centers should have this. Not only do I need to sit and wait for you to chat with me, I have the opportunity to invite you to chat with me also. This could be a great way to get in touch with your customers. Chat is already in place with a lot of companies. Phone is still obvious. Support forums should be a must, as it results in customers helping other customers. Even a customer social network seems to be a part of the future. A customer might have no problem changing operator, but leaving other friends behind in a social network might be harder.

Multiple locations.
There is now doubt that the salary expenses differ in different countries. Or even between towns. With the caller traffic always getting cheaper, locations might move to other destinations. Several companies here in Norway have customer care centers in Spain. They use cheaper living and more sun to get stiff frozen Norwegians to move south. What about moving across timelines? Longer opening hours will be a must, but to avoid shift solutions great work hours could be a benefit at a call centre with locations in different time zones. You could then be open 24/7 with no workers working more than 8.00-16.00. There is also no problem today to move the work space home. Working from home could make the job attractive.

The need for speed.
All customer care centers have one big challenge, the ability to change fast. There are often many employees that need to be trained; if new routines come along they need to be trained. In larger organizations where the board makes decisions time is a monster. If the customer care center need to implement a new function, it might take months or more to get it. Move more power and reasonability down the silo to the leader closest to the customer. Grant access to systems and rather spend time on teaching the manager to create the best center ever. If this manager feels he needs more employees he could hire on the day. If he feels the need for new information on a website, his team can put it out on the fly. Give them budget responsibilities and hire someone who can do the necessary magic. The boards around the world must realize this and put trust and responsibilities further down the career ladder.

Automation
Machines and computers can create almost anything. Can they create great customer support? I think so. A machine can answer the phone 24/7. If you are an xDSL or phone customer or any other customer that connects to a system in some way, the system can scan your line automatically and inform you about the result. The system can restart servers, ports and check and correct settings if it needs to, place orders and handle them. If it solves the problem, great, or if not, it will put you thru to an agent, or maybe apply an automatic ticket in the case. Today I can order tickets for travel online, without talking to anyone. I have read a number of blogs saying nothing can replace the human affection and the live operator will still live. Yes is my answer, a few of them. I am sure a lot of the stuff you do today can be automated. If not necessarily the conversation or the people, a lot of the task you manually do today can be automated. Being a Pizza baker today is just refilling and pushing a button. The best example ever of an automated service is when Homer Simpson gets a parking fine in New York. Dialing in on to a customer care center, and needs to press a digit to complain, instantly receiving a machine voice saying; denied.

So what does the crystal ball actually say?
Automation, Automation and Automation. I do not believe there is no other way. The other thing that is important is speed; automate faster and better than the competition. This could also remove growing pains, as machine can handle way more traffic. The spare people could then rather focus on selling? Knowledge is the next important thing in the future. You still need the specialists that can fix the stuff the machines cant. The crystal ball also mumbles about world markets, where the boarders are invisible. I think a human being is happier with a machine that can handle your request in seconds than waiting in line for minutes to speak to a person with various moods, and that might not understand what you want in the first place.

The advantages with automating are clear, the board does not need to worry about wages, they do not need to worry about locations and they do not need to worry about opening hours. They do need to worry about uptime and system failure on the other hand, but if that fails they can call their providers automated service center 24/7.

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