In an age of self-serve, robotics-driven Customer Experience, many have predicted the demise of the call centre and instead, expounded a vision where 100 percent of customer interactions are self-service and driven by AI.

But contrary to what the doomsayers are predicting, 96 percent of businesses expect to grow their contact centres in the next two years.

So why the discrepancy? Surely, if we are moving to a customer service future with no human involvement, we should be seeing the demise of the call centre agent as a relic of the past, resigned to history.

The reality is that while it is true that simple linear journeys are increasingly fulfilled by automated processes or self-service routes, many other journeys are not so simple, or involve customers who have fallen off the ‘happy path’ – and it’s these customers that end up in a call centre.

The International Customer Management Institute has identified this trend, stating that 73 percent of call centres are reporting an increase in the complexity of customer-agent interactions, so it is clear the role of the call centre is very much alive and kicking, albeit it in a different form. What we are seeing more and more is that agents are dealing with high value, high complexity or high emotion journeys.

While the role of the call centre agent is undoubtedly changing, the tools and capabilities have not kept pace with the changes to their role, and there have been no ground-breaking developments in the last decade. The good news is that the technology now exists to allow organisations to transform the agent-customer interaction.

We are now able to augment agents with technology to deliver better, faster, and more effective customer engagements that can cope with the increased level of complexity that today’s agents are facing.

Verifying your customers

Identifying a customer and ensuring an account has the right levels of security is an important task for a telephony agent. Security questions like date of birth, proof of address, and the name of your first pet are frequently asked by agents to confirm they are speaking to the account holder.

Yet, 85 percent of customers currently find themselves unhappy and frustrated with the identification and verification processes. With authentication methods taking up to 60 seconds, and McKinsey estimating that call-in verification represents 5–10 percent of an agent’s handling time, this issue needs to be addressed.

Biometric technologies are a solution to this problem, and are being used to verify who the customer is in a much more timely fashion. In the same way fingerprint technology is used to verify a payment using Apple Pay, voice recognition technology is helping agents verify an account holder’s identity in real-time, reducing call times by an average of 30-45 seconds.

With this extra time, agents can assist more customers, improving Average Handling Time (AHT), while simultaneously improving customer satisfaction and reducing customers’ frustration of having to answer compulsory questions.

Removing the breaks

Currently, telephony channels are limited to voice interactions, meaning journeys are often broken when a customer is required to send or sign forms or documents. Unsurprisingly, the postal and processing times for such documents lengthen the journey and add an extra level of irritation – or even result in the loss of a customer.

But this doesn’t have to be the way. Technology that allows agents to exchange documents and collect digital signatures can remove these breaks, dramatically boosting conversion rates and improving a customer’s experience, as well as reducing the costs associated with postage and making account processes faster.

The possibilities of personalisation

The more information an agent has about a customer, the better the quality of service can be. However, agents often need to start from scratch when it comes to collecting customer information, and will need to go through a time-consuming detail gathering process that is painful for both the customer and the agent.

This becomes even more problematic when the customer has already gone through this process with multiple agents, or through a different channel.

By centralising customer data from multiple channels, telephony agents can have a full overview of a customer’s profile regardless of the channel they are using, and be empowered with the information needed to progress journeys in the optimal way. With IBM stating that 54 percent of customers would consider ending their relationship with an organisation if they are not given personalised information and offers, it is essential for the contact centre to use technology to facilitate data sharing and enable personalisation.

Can you say it with a visual?

As high complexity customer journeys become more prevalent for call centres, the ability for agents to explain things in a clear way becomes increasingly important. Whether that’s demonstrating complex products or helping the customer compare product options, introducing a visual element into a call can have a significantly positive impact on a customer journey. Screen sharing technology makes this possible.

Screen sharing technology however, allows agents to conduct a telephone conversation while visually displaying products on a screen, whether that is a tablet, smartphone, or laptop.

This allows customers to easily see what product or service they are signing up for, reducing the likelihood of a customer calling back saying they have been miss-sold a product. Screen sharing technology can also be used to show customer compliance agreements or terms and conditions, removing the painful process of reading lengthy compliance scripts.

The call centre of the future

It’s clear that the call centre is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Today’s conversation is not about the demise of the call centre, but rather its evolution, which starts to blur the lines between digital and human. The agent of the future will not be confined to current channel silos, and will possess a range of tools and technologies that will enable them to deliver optimal outcomes during the first interaction.

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