As technology advances at an exponential rate, how can we keep contact centers afloat in a deluge of change? Navigating the future involves much more than adopting new software or devices – it involves changing the way we think.
You may have noticed how it’s become increasingly difficult for your contact center to keep up with technological change. First came email and live chat. Next came social customer care (which, for some companies still remains imprisoned in the iron grip of their marketing departments). Later, messaging arrived (SMS, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, etc.); and now, companies are rushing to implement automated services via chatbot.
Managing the Future
It’s easy enough to find software solutions for any one of these communications channels; however, implementing them in a way that optimizes your workforce, resources, and data presents a whole other set of challenges. Essentially, contact centers need a comprehensive software system capable of uniting all their customer communications within one location; otherwise, their future will become chaotic and unmanageable.
The White Whale of Innovation
The bigger question is: how will you manage when the next big change rolls out? Innovation in customer experience is accelerating and it won’t be long until contact centers invest heavily in emerging technologies, like AI and virtual reality, adding more complexity to customer service operations. So, how can we steer our unsteady contact center ships through the rapids of technological change?
Do it Like an Engineer
Kevin Kelly’s Inevitable points out how every new technological advancement brings new problems in its wake. To remain resilient in a world of constant flux, we need to constantly focus on solving these problems. Essentially, we need to think like engineers. Bruce Ross, CIO of the Royal Bank of Canada, attributes the bank’s successful digital transformation plan to an underlying engineering culture—which Ross purposefully cultivated (see article).
An engineering culture is one that rewards curiosity, trying new things, investing in new technologies, being a leader in those things, not necessarily a follower.
-Bruce Ross, CIO, Royal Bank of Canada
I would also argue that engineering culture is, at its root, a problem-solving culture which seeks to understand whole systems in order to find large-scale solutions. While a technician fixes a component of the system, the engineer seeks to comprehend the relation of parts that work together to create a well-oiled machine. In this new world, we need to adopt the rigorous problem-solving approach embraced by engineers. Instead, what we’re seeing in contact centers is an approach that focuses on the parts instead of the whole, offering band-aid solutions for innovation (i.e. let’s get the next hottest channel and call it a day); whereas we need to analyze the whole contact center system from an engineer’s perspective and not be afraid to try new things—including overhauling existing structures and processes for the sake of optimization. We need to do it like an engineer—we need to do it right!
Process, not Product
How can we deal with rapid change? Kevin Kelly tells us to concentrate on processes. What does this mean for contact centers? Well, instead of looking solely at products/channels/technologies, concentrate on how these elements will be integrated into your existing processes (or how your processes will need to adapt to these new elements). InTheChat has engineered an optimized process for digital customer service which can adapt to the emergence of new communications channels (see video below):
A world of continuous change demands continuous learning, which in turn demands a curious spirit and a capacity for self-guided education. This is true for both management and frontline employees. Digital-age contact center employees will require more than well-honed people skills; they will also need curious, self-starter attitudes toward work. As software and other technologies change, they’ll need to quickly teach themselves new skills. Moreover, with their practical knowledge of software tools and their firsthand experience with customer interactions, they’ll also provide invaluable feedback on your contact center’s systems and processes.
Not enough companies are capitalizing on this collective intelligence—although things are changing. TD Ameritrade used the collective intelligence of their employees to help create their chatbot, hosting a 24-hour employee hackathon to generate ideas for their development team. Sunayna Tuteja, Director of Emerging Technologies and Innovation at TD Ameritrade, emphasizes the value of capturing frontline employee ideas:
A lot of these employees are the ones that are closest to the clients. They’re the ones talking to the clients, processing things our clients are asking for. Why not tap into their expertise?
-Sunayna Tuteja (cited in American Banker)
If companies plan on harnessing employee intelligence to solve problems and fuel innovation, the next logical step would be to actively hire curious self-starters and cultivate engineering cultures within the contact center. In the words of customer service futurist, Tema Frank, these employees are “the linchpins of customer experience” who ultimately determine the success of a company. Frank argues that employees who are engaged, challenged, and respected will be more productive, retain more customers, and will actively identify and remove the metaphorical wrenches from the corporate machine (PeopleShock). So, considering the critical role played by contact center staff, it makes sense to invest in high-quality employees—and pay them accordingly.
Automation Makes it Possible
The good news is that all of this is achievable. As automation pervades the contact center space (via chatbots and other AI-based services), efficiencies will rise and costs will plummet, granting contact centers the budget to invest in well-paid, top quality personnel. In addition, contact center jobs will be infinitely more appealing, as automation will perform all the repetitive aspects of these positions, enabling employees to focus on tasks that engage their higher-thinking skills (i.e. their emotional intelligence and problem-solving faculties). This constitutes stage 6 in Kevin Kelly’s 7 Stages of Robot Replacement:
1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do.
2. OK, it can do a lot, but it can’t do everything I do.
3. OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
4. OK, it operates without failure, but I need to train it for new tasks.
5. Whew, that was a job that no human was meant to do, but what about me?
6. My new job is more fun and pays more now that robots/computers are doing my old job.
7. I am so glad a robot cannot possibly do what I do.
My new job is more fun and pays more now that robots/computers are doing my old job. Ultimately, this is the future of contact centers. As the world rapidly changes, we will need more highly-engaged thinkers on all levels, from frontline employees to upper management. Not only will companies pay more for employees with these skill-sets, but the employees will enjoy the mental stimulation provided by their work. In a nutshell, contact center work will be challenging – and fun!
Stay Curious, My Friends
The future will be complex, but it will also be bright. So, put on your engineering hat, hold onto your seats, and above all: stay curious. This is only the beginning of an epic ride into the vast waters of contact center innovation — the best is yet to come.
Interested in navigating your contact center into the future? Contact InTheChat to discuss your digital strategy or get a taste of the digital-era contact center by test-driving the ITC Command Center!