Contact centre agents are the frontline of customer experience: your organisation’s primary touchpoint. For too long, that role has been sidelined in favour of a dogmatic focus on reducing Handling Time and Hold Time. Customer calls have been looked at in a narrow sense: problems to be solved as quickly as possible.
80% of enquiries received by a customer service team will be on 20% of the topics they cover (source). Automation allow us to divert repetitive informational and transactional queries away from agents using text and voice.
Many of the calls coming in are requests for information: “When will my order be delivered?” “Are there fees for using foreign currencies on my card?” “What time does the Manchester store open?”. These kind of queries can all be solved using customer service automation. Customers actually prefer automated solutions in these cases because they are easy to use, immediately available (no queues), and available 24/7.
Agents are not only freed up to focus on the more complex queries, but there is an opportunity for them to drive real value. It is precisely when customers have complex queries that relationship-building is most valuable.
Businesses are able to leverage their workforce to upsell through contact centre interactions, rather than just to solve queries as fast as possible. The agent role is becoming proactive, rather than merely reactive.
When customers get in touch to solve problems, businesses have an opportunity to tactically offer additional products relevant to the query. For example, agents are often incentivised to get off the phone as quickly as possible, meaning that upselling opportunities are missed. However, with a lighter load on contact centres made possible by automation, agents can spend more time delivering service above the value line.
A secondary effect of the changing requirements of an agent is that their day-to-day becomes more engaging. Repetitive informational queries and a relentless focus on Handling Time are amongst the key causes of the high turnover rates in contact centre employees.
UK contact centres deal with a 26% employee turnover annually, whereas the average rate is 15% (source). The average cost per staff turnover is over £6,000, and it reaches £9,000 for more senior positions (source).
With automation diverting the repetitive, dry, simple queries, agents are required to focus on the complex and distinctly human tasks.
By automating menial tasks, we create space for something more.
Customer service expert Shep Hyken explains that "True loyalty doesn’t come because of an app. It doesn’t come because you have a punch card where after ten punches you get a free sandwich. It is about the relationship. Take away those ‘perks’ and would the customer still be loyal?”
The role of the customer service agent is not going away, it is changing. As automation removes the burden of the valueless tasks, businesses are empowering their agents to leverage a uniquely human skill: relationship building.
It is in times of need that personal relationships are most valuable. When complex queries are routed to agents instead of automated, we’re seizing that opportunity. On the other hand, not every task is best served by a person; sometimes customers just want the right information, right away. By finding this balance, business not only create operational efficiencies and improve customer experience, but enhance a customer’s relationship with the brand.
The goal here is brand loyalty. As Twilio COO George Hu points out: “In crowded markets, great companies distinguish themselves at a customer service level.”
The key to success in your contact centre is to seize the opportunity to engage your customers in a way that is enabled by automation but driven by humans.