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6 trends that will transform customer management

Matthew Vallance looks ahead to the future of the customer management industry and how customer experience could be transformed.

Greater complexity

The biggest trend I see is a world where technology is increasingly able to automate the customer journey, leaving contact centre agents to focus on the more complicated enquiries. Simpler tasks will be handled through self serve, apps, some element of automated chat, FAQs and social media. Better business processes, underpinned by improved core business systems, should also reduce failure demand. But this means that when customers do call, they’ll be calling with more difficult questions, yet at the same time they will also be extremely knowledgeable. Perhaps more so than ever before. They will already have done their research on the Internet, and if that hasn’t answered the problem for them, they’ll now be coming to the contact centre looking for a solution – and they’ll be armed with a lot of information and high expectations. Those two forces will place an enormous burden on customer management, contact centres and the people working within them. It means the type of services we provide in the future will change, and in particular it will have a major impact in terms of the skills agenda.

More advanced skills for agents

Fortunately, I think we have some excellent experience in this area. If you look at what Capita does within customer management around financial services, those enquiries can already be very difficult and complex - PPI complaints and remediation, for example. That's not just about taking a call. It could involve multiple transactions and a lot of contact with the back office. To take a case successfully through to completion requires an advanced skill set for the agent involved. I don’t think it will be long before we see other sectors starting to experience some of the issues the financial sector is familiar with. For example, the concepts of increasing regulation, of regulated complaints, of tricky cases that go well beyond what a traditional failure demand call might be. We’ll be looking at how our experience within the financial sector can be relevant to other sectors and I think we’ll have a lot to offer other clients there around enhancing agent skills.

Technology and human come together

I think we will certainly see human contact blending into technical contact - a sort of ‘semi-automated’ contact. ‘Pivoted’ is the description you often see, where you seamlessly move between channels mid interaction. A text turns into a messaging interaction; a chatbot is diverted to a call; a call is diverted to a video. What starts as a voice call could also move into a form of Remote Management where an agent interacts with the customer’s computer or phone to help them get something done. What we’ll see quite quickly is a customer engaging with a messaging system for the initial element of an enquiry, but when it becomes too difficult, it’s then smoothly and automatically handed over to a person. If we get it right, the customer may not even be able to tell when that handover happens. How quickly we may see that happen is another matter. Some people believe very quickly, but some of this technology still has to prove itself before it zooms up the adoption curve. And there’s the question of how ready companies are to put ideas like this on their technology roadmap. They may have numerous other challenges such as a creaking legacy billing system to replace first. There can be a tendency in customer management to get excited about cool new technology – and make no mistake, it will change the landscape and we need to make sure we embrace it – but you can never underestimate the importance of the human touch.

The search for the flawless customer journey

When you look at the way customers engage with organisations, the point where their journey goes wrong frequently becomes the point where a complaint is generated. As a customer, if you're not being dealt with in a joined up way, that's often when you complain. So if you can map better journeys, you can fix that. It delivers an enormous benefit in taking out repeat calls or preventing customers from bouncing around in different channels. I believe we already help our clients improve and optimise those journeys, and it’s an important area where we will continue to invest so our clients can reap the benefits.

Training and keeping great people

This is in an industry that has traditionally been quite transactional and a high turnover environment. That needs to change. The agent of the future will be more highly skilled – and more highly remunerated – and it will take longer for them to reach that level of achievement.

But if you can’t retain them, you’ll either never get them to that level, or you’ll lose a huge investment of effort and time to get them up the learning curve. So there are a number of people challenges we’ll need to face in the next few years. For example, one for us at least, is the demographic we are appealing to. It’s extremely broad. On one hand we have people working for us in later life who are approaching the end of their careers, and at the same time we’re also hiring Millennials who are just starting theirs. How do you create a culture and environment that suits such a broad demographic? Millennials are much more digitally aware, which is obviously an advantage considering the advances in technology coming to contact centres. But they can struggle if they’re faced with clunky old systems, they have a very different view of hierarchy which places demands on leadership, and the traditional work experience can feel jarring for them. How we engage with that group will become increasingly important as their presence in the workplace grows.

Seizing every sales opportunity

The contact centre of the future will need differently skilled people; what’s sometimes referred to as Super Agents who can handle a wide range of different things. In the future I can also see them becoming more business minded as well – able to recognise when an enquiry is also an opportunity to sell. If you’ve got a customer calling with what might technically be labelled failure demand, how can you help an agent see that it might also be an opportunity to sell something? Yes, probably difficult in that particular scenario… but with personalisation, when your agents are armed with a richer view of that customer based on CRM or external data, and when on a real time basis they can know what that customer has been doing with the organisation they’re contacting, it should be possible for an agent to deduce what else they might want. For example in the background they might be running a propensity to churn model that will tell them if the customer is a high churn risk or is coming to the end of their subscription. Then it might be a case of trying to turn that enquiry into a retention call. We see this as a great opportunity and our sister company, Blue Sky, is working very closely within customer management to help us build our sales capability and also drive engagement. It’s undeniable that better engagement with your people leads to better outcomes all round – and that will be another hugely important trend for the coming years."

First published in Capita Customer Management’s monthly Intelligence report

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Matthew Vallance

Managing Director, Capita Customer Management

Matthew has worked within the BPO world since 2000 when he got involved in an India based start-up that evolved over time into Firstsource Solutions, which was listed in India and grew to a $500m revenue business over a 12 year period. During that time, Matthew worked with many of the UK’s leading Telco and Financial Services organisations, establishing operations for them both domestically and offshore in locations such as India and the Philippines. Most recently Matthew has been with Hinduja Global Solutions, primarily running the European business. Matthew has also worked extensively in North America.

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