Digital and social media channels will force the contact centre industry into significant human resources changes
Because the contact centre industry is not taking digital (email, webchat) and social media (Facebook) channels seriously enough, many operators are losing the customer satisfaction battle.
So says Sandra Galer, strategic consultant for contact centres and customer service for Merchants, South Africa’s oldest and largest business process outsourcer. Many of Merchants’ offshore clients have been with the company for eight years or more – an industry rarity.
“The Dimension Data Benchmarking survey shows that only 37% of organisations globally are measuring the cost and customer impact of handling emails, whereas all operators can quantify in minute detail the same metrics for handling calls. Even fewer organisations are measuring their management of webchat or Facebook contacts.
“The technology to do the necessary measurements exists. So, organisations are either being lazy or are afraid of the need for operational changes that the new media metrics are bound to indicate.
“The issue can’t be avoided indefinitely, however. Within the next couple of years, contact centres will be handling more written than verbal communication. Customers in older demographics still want voice contact, but generation X and Y almost never use the phone and they’re the contact centre’s future. Today’s management approach will be a profound disability in that future.”
As Galer points out, if you’re not measuring the effectiveness of how you’re handling digital and social media, then you can’t know whether you’re doing the right thing for customers or for your organisation. If you don’t understand your customer’s preferences, how do you know where your agent training focus should be, or which areas of agent behaviour and capability to improve? If you can’t quantify what type of contact is coming in through the new channels, how can you measure productivity? How can you gauge or justify head count? On the basis of what do you motivate your staff to provide customer satisfying service?
“Metrics and human capital are extremely tightly linked in contact centres,” says Galer. “If you get either wrong, your customers suffer. So, the industry must not only adjust its approach to metrics but also to recruitment, training, and remuneration of agents.”
Currently, contact centres recruit agents among school leavers, with verbal skills as one of the most important criteria.
However, webchat, email and social media communication takes place in a written format. Even so, customers expect the immediate response they would get in a telephone call. This time pressure compounds the problem of the agent’s written response going into the public domain, massively increasing the potential for agent mistakes or misunderstandings to create reputational damage for the organisation.
In addition, by the time a customer uses a digital or social media channel to contact an organisation, he has become a frustrated customer. He will have tried self-help first. If that has failed, he will have tried online research or asked for help from his peers. In general, he fails to find answers because his query is complex. So, when, as a last resort, he contacts the contact centre, the agent has to deal in writing, in public, instantly, with a complex query from an irritable customer.
“It’s a recipe for disaster with the kinds of agents the industry is still recruiting,” Galer says. “Written communication calls for the ability to pick up tone and nuance from the words on the screen or a piece of paper rather than a voice. That’s all the more challenging because, in many cases, the writers themselves are using a second language. Many younger people prefer to use slang. If the agent replies in slang, the legal accuracy of what is said comes into question. In other cases, some writers have sophisticated written capabilities that are well beyond most school leavers’ comprehension. Yet, we’re expecting agents who are recruited for their verbal skills to operate in a milieu that is, in all likelihood, foreign to them.
“To complicate matters further, some of the new skills the new communications channels are calling for, cannot be taught or trained. There has to be an inherent ability to comprehend the intent and tone that underlies the written word.
“So, we’re going to have to change the way we recruit and train agents. And we’re going to have to change the way we remunerate them. And that means that the industry will have to reinvent itself one more time.”