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BusinessDay: It’s possible for clients to love your contact centre

Expansion of digital customer engagement capabilities generates data that will become mission-critical for companies.

By Johan Steyn, 5 April 2022

As much as we hate them, we need them. Contact centres are for many companies the primary way to reach a target audience to sell goods or services and to gain feedback or offer support to clients.

What will the contact centre of tomorrow look like? It is improbable that there will be a physical centre in the future. Cloud computing’s growth is predicted to boost the number of people who work from home, and this applies to contact centre agents as well.

However, this migration away from the office is not indicative of a business’s abandonment of the contact centre. Social media’s constant glare has thrust businesses into the limelight — for better or worse — and put customer service at the top of the priority list as a result.

The call centre will almost certainly be the focus of this strategy, which means that customer experience will become a significant differentiator in the future.

The expansion of digital customer engagement capabilities generates an abundance of data that will become mission-critical for companies in the future. However, data collection is merely the tip of the iceberg. If organisations are to truly alter the customer’s experience, they must first gain a thorough understanding of their customers.

Businesses that excel in customer experience will embrace a data science attitude, investing in products, platforms, and infrastructure that enable them to process and act on huge volumes of data.

Businesses that are able to swiftly identify actionable information from a multitude of data points will be better positioned to fix problems before their customers become aware of them. The wealth of data available to organisations allows them to be more proactive, anticipatory and well prepared.

Improvements in customer experience is not merely about more data or contact centre agents who are better trained, as important as these factors are. It is also about root cause analysis: why are your customers contacting you in the first place?

A few months ago a local financial services provider contacted me to streamline their contact centre operations. They employ nearly 1,000 agents who handle more than 500,000 inbound customer calls a month. Their thinking was that through automation and efficiency gains they could dramatically decrease the number of agents, resulting in cost savings.

Upon investigation, I found that this organisation’s clients were not empowered to find answers themselves in a convenient and timely way through a digital channel. Customers would rather find an answer quickly than wait in line for a contact centre agent to help them. New customers did not receive the needed information to empower them and most inbound calls were around the same basic enquiries.

The solution was to dramatically decrease the number of calls from new customers by providing them with the right information at the right time and enabling them to use user-friendly self-help digital channels.

How will companies take their contact centres into the future? Starting with a human-centred approach: make it easier for clients to know what they need to know and empower agents with technology platforms that will enable them to anticipate client demands; and provide staff with single-screen dashboards using predictive analytics, customer behavioural analytical data, conversational artificial intelligence and sentiment analysis.

Customers do not have to hate your call centre. By enabling them through digital channels and empowering your agents with data the contact centre experience can become an easy and enjoyable one for all.

• Steyn is chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA.


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