The role of the contact centre agent is changing. Organisations must also change their approach to recruitment, training and professional support to combat attrition and meet customer expectations.
Pre-pandemic, the role of the contact centre agent was already evolving. Growing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), the application of robotic process automation (RPA) and the increasing use of speech and text analytics had started taking over many of the mundane and repetitive aspects of delivering on customer experience (CX). In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts that by 2021, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal.
And in 2020, COVID-19 accelerated many organisations’ embrace of digitisation.
KPMG data – compiled over the summer when COVID-19 topped every organisation’s agenda – found that 80% of business leaders have picked up the pace when it comes to applying AI to their organisation. The biggest advance, according to the survey results, was in digital operations where 30% of leaders say they now believe they have a competitive advantage.
Likewise, PwC’s 2020 State of AI Report noted automating tasks (35%) and supporting employees to make faster, better decisions (31%) were already the top AI priorities for executives.
As the use of tools and technologies, such as chatbots and voice bots plus a growing focus on customer self-service, move into the mainstream, contact centre agents are finding themselves liberated. They are free to focus on delivering a differentiated service to customers in circumstances where an interaction is exceptional, where an emotional, human-to-human connection, whether voice or digital, is the only way to resolve an issue.
However, this evolved agent – using more complex technology and greater empathy skills – demands a completely new skill set. Rather than focusing on accurate data entry, script adherence and policy knowledge, frontline CX staff will need emotional intelligence in abundance along with problem-solving and analytical skills. Increasingly, these agents must be highly skilled at understanding the hidden sentiment in customer interactions and be empowered to act appropriately.
Contact centre roles naturally have high turnover, in part due to the repetitive nature of the work. As routine tasks are handed off to artificial intelligence, we can anticipate that turnover will begin to decline. Indeed, as contact centres become hi-tech interaction hubs, it’s making the role of the agent a much more exciting proposition.
Forrester estimates that collectively organisations earmarked an extra $8 billion for hiring contact centre agents with the capabilities to excel in this new customer experience environment. This fundamental change demands that organisations rethink their recruitment process to prioritise applicants best able to succeed in this new climate.
Leading contact centres are already leveraging volume-hiring tools that screen candidates via engaging online assessments. These assessments create an inviting recruitment process for candidates while matching capplicants to role profiles, enabling you to pick from a pool of candidates who possess the attributes most likely to enable them to succeed. To manage complex and high-value interactions, agents should be likable, have strong interpersonal skills and high cognitive ability. These leading-edge hiring tools help ensure your people have the hard-to-train soft skills you need.
Coaching is the cornerstone of traditional contact centre training and development. McKinsey data suggests that the average 500-seat call centre allocates $2 million in staff hours to coaching each year. Yet, this investment does not always have the intended impact.
This is because traditional approaches to coaching can’t meet today’s training needs. Coaching is usually a scheduled activity for agents and leaders. But, because of the administrative burden, it can often get pushed to one side as more immediate issues take priority.
Coaching is often informed by feedback from a small, randomly selected number of calls. In this environment, important coaching opportunities are easily and often overlooked, lost amongst the thousands of contacts that were never reviewed. As agents increasing handle more complex and diverse contact types, this approach is unlikely to deliver the necessary insights to create valuable coaching moments to empower agents and improve their ability to deliver long-term, positive customer outcomes.
However, by applying AI, the concept of coaching can be reimagined. Applying speech and text analytics allows trainers to analyse 100% of interactions flowing into the contact centre and pinpoint exactly what aspects need to be improved for each agent. This makes coaching a proactive, rather than passive exercise. With the ability to track interactions in real time, coaching can be given in the moment and its effectiveness checked with subsequent calls. Speech and text analytics essentially give contact centres the ability to provide each agent with their own, virtual coach that can give support and guidance with each customer interaction.
Engagement is a critical metric for analysing the effectiveness of a learning and development programme. How learners interact with content is as important as the content itself. It’s for this reason that contact centres need to move away from the traditional classroom approach to training in favor of methods that reflect the dynamic nature of the contact centre environment and the mediums that learners increasingly prefer.
Through the application of gamification – the use of gaming elements, principles, components, features and/or mechanisms such as rewards, leaderboards and personal challenges – these modules become ‘sticky’ and accessible, turning learning into a proactive experience.
Younger generations are used to accessing information in the moment in an easy–to–understand format. Microlearning delivers bitesize information accessible at any time through interactive digital experiences that provide interactive and gamified learning opportunities.
By adopting a blended-learning approach that leverages the best aspects of instructor-led training with the in-the-moment immediacy of digital modules – that can be accessed on any device at any time – agents have the information they need when they need it.
By mixing and matching traditional and non-traditional learning approaches, you can develop the optimum learning experience while also reducing the burden on trainers. Instructor-led training is ideal for deeper learning, skill development or complex topics, while eLearning enables continued learning and development.
As AI takes on the mundane tasks, live agents will need increasing levels of empathy and emotional intelligence as well as be able to leverage technology to support customers. With analytics, data and personalisation tools at their fingertips, they need to be empowered to make a connection or to create a meaningful experience as well as up sell or cross sell. To ensure a positive experience for customers and efficient operation for your contact centre, you need to give agents easy and instant access to the most relevant and current information.
Online knowledge bases enable access to information in the moment directly within the agent interface, enabling agents to deliver more accurate support. Agents can access knowledge bases manually or, when combined with speech and text analytics, presented with relevant information based on the conversation taking place. Ensuring your people have access to the information they need, when they need it, increases speed to proficiency while also reducing repeat contacts and lowering average handle time.
With all of the right elements in place and with the right combination of intelligent automation and emotionally intelligent agents, organisations have everything they need to deliver a differentiated customer experience.
Learn more about how EXP+™ Empower from Sitel Group® leverages award-winning learning and development solutions to unlock the power of your people, your greatest asset, to deliver superior CX. EXP+ Empower connects seamlessly with solutions across EXP+ to simplify the delivery of end-to-end CX services, while boosting efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction.