Marthle du Plessis

By Marthle du Plessis is PwC Africa’s Workforce of the Future Lead

A good customer experience leaves people feeling heard and appreciated. Give customers a great experience, and they’ll buy more, be more loyal and share their experience with friends. That’s what every company strives for.

Yet so many consumers seem disappointed. Call it an experience disconnect: companies tout the latest technology or snappy design, but haven’t focused on, or invested in, the most meaningful aspects of customer experience.

So, what truly makes for a good experience? It appears to be a combination of speed, convenience, consistency, friendliness, and human touch — that is, creating real connections by making technology feel more human and giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences.

Contact centres and traditional customer journeys of the past are changing, and to stay top of mind when customers are making big decisions, organisations need to become proactive while embracing a well-designed and personalised contact centre and customer-centric model.

Customers today need to be able to interact with companies through an expanding range of channels, from video calls and email to chat, social media, and the phone, because a new trend has emerged: Omnichannel customer support. Omnichannel customer support seamlessly provides assistance and advice across an integrated network of devices and touchpoints — both technical and humanistic — to enable a customer’s digital experience. This includes personalised digitised engagement; predictive data-driven insights and intelligence across products which provide an integrated solution for transactional services providers. 

To do this successfully and fulfil the demand for holistic advice, providers need to become purpose-driven, more engaging in the channels customers choose, offer non-linear (flexible) purchase decisions, and adopt hybrid advice models. By doing so, they will help customers connect to their future selves. 

What does the contact centre agent of the future look like?

Through a customer’s digital identity, a chatbot app can detect who they are and what their recent transaction history is based on their interactions with the app. If a customer has recently lost a family member and might want to discuss funeral cover, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is used to listen in on the chatbot conversation. Using natural language processing, the customer’s digital identity, and sentiment analysis, the AI agent estimates the likely emotional state of the customer and assigns an appropriate contact centre agent. 

A future contact centre agent is someone who will be a perfect match for a diverse customer base. The agent will need to be a well-trained customer retention specialist who can help diffuse a difficult situation, while the customer will not need to repeat themself as AI tools will assist the agent with the relevant data required. Agents will be able to deliver prioritised, personalised service immediately having worked through the automated Omnichannel. 

By leveraging off the ‘return on experience’ framework (a metric used to measure, understand and increase the value of a business) and applying it to the customer experience, an agent’s training and experience are also able to yield a high return on customer experiences. 

Moving into the future, contact centre agents will need to focus on the fundamentals to improve the customer experience which is driven through two key enablers: leadership and employee experience. These enablers will encompass a range of skills which will broaden as the agents harness their resilience, flexibility, ability to use data in a meaningful way, leadership skills, ability to engage proactively with others, self-motivation and problem-solving through being active life-long learners. 

Why transform the contact centre now? 

Since the advent of the internet, customers’ expectations have significantly increased because of their exposure to new digital technologies. This includes proactive service, personalised interactions, and connected experiences across digital channels. 

Continuous economic uncertainty is placing increasing pressure on revenue and the need to transform the cost base. Emerging technologies can reduce the cost of service and raise the agility of firms to be able to respond to customers rapidly. Currently, transactional services to customers are high cost and interactions are event-driven, occasional, and inbound.

The focus is on a single product or function using multiple systems that are often fragmented. Decision making is also centralised with multiple approvals and the workforce is often siloed. There is limited knowledge of customers and the focus is on the volume of customer interactions rather than the quality of the interaction. 

Looking into the future, transactional services to customers will be at a lower cost and offer experiential service. Utilising all products, channels, and integrated cloud solutions will give a single view of the customer and will lead to decentralised decision-making, autonomy, and freedom. 

The role of the contact centre agent will become more important than ever, moving from contact centre to experience hub with new flexible ways of working, enabled by cloud technologies and empowering colleagues to have conversations that add true value to customers in the moments that matter most. 

Bringing the contact agent of the future’s skills to life through new ways of working

Automation and self-service will become more prevalent in the hybrid model to increase efficiency, with technologies like AI chatbots handling common customer questions. While contact agents work on more complex queries and problem-solving, they still provide personalised and human customer service when needed.

Organisations that respond with agility will help themselves see things early, course correct, innovate and continue to have regular conversations to solve problems, will drive business improvements and enhance client value through skills development and new ways of working.

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