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The human touch is more critical than ever in a contact center environment that is being increasingly driven by technology

Over the past few years, contact centers have dramatically increased investments in emerging and disruptive technologies to help improve key efficiency metrics. Developments like AI, data analysis and other technologies are heralded for their ability to enhance contact center efficiency by, for example, automating routine tasks and routing callers to agents. But how is the growth of technology impacting and even reshaping the role of the contact center agent?

We figured Customer Contact Week (CCW), one of the largest events focused on the customer sales and support industry, would be a good place to dig a little deeper into the issues that are affecting modern contact centers. We polled contact centers’ leaders, managers and supervisors during the conference, asking them to select their most critical contact center challenges, separated into two overarching categories: agent challenges and operational challenges. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned.

Agent Challenges for Customer Contact Center Management

Leaders and managers at CCW across a variety of industries told us that the human touch is more critical than ever in a contact center environment that is being increasingly driven by technology. In fact, “improving the human touch in customer conversations” was by far the highest scoring category in terms of the top agent challenges on the radar of these leaders.

Research published by Harvard Business Review echoes this sentiment, noting that “the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs.”

The challenge of addressing this deficiency is further exacerbated by agents in call centers who lack fundamental customer-facing skills – building rapport, asking questions, listening, displaying empathy, communicating value and connecting at an emotional level, not just a task level.

The bigger issue here is that when it comes to the kind of standout customer support that forward-thinking businesses are building their competitive advantage on, emphasizing the human touch is reemerging as a key differentiator. Savvy leaders are realizing that it takes a dual investment — not just in new technologies but also in elevating the role of the human agent to deliver levels of value and customer satisfaction that will set them apart. This takes skilled people who know how to connect with customers on an individual basis and pick up the cues that reveal needs.

Operational Challenges for Customer Contact Center Management

From an operational standpoint, CCW attendees told us they’re dealing with a variety of challenging issues that could have serious consequences, including decreased customer loyalty, increased staff turnover and potential lost revenue opportunities.

One of the common denominators across all of these top operational issues is the ability of the manager to lead, coach and motivate their call center teams to push beyond their current levels and recognize how their role fits into the overall customer value equation. The challenge is, managers often lack the coaching skills and confidence to do this effectively and consistently. And, as many CCW attendees noticed, they frequently don’t really understand what effective coaching is, often mistaking it for corrective feedback or performance discussions.

Putting Customer Contact Back into the Center

Without question, technology is essential to running a successful customer contact center today. You can’t operate without it, and fortunately, new technologies are always on the horizon, offering new ways to increase efficiencies. But it’s not just about the quantity of conversations people have. The reality is, the number one factor influencing your contact center’s ability to achieve its objectives remains the quality of conversations between your agents and your customers. And it will only become more important as technology levels the playing field in other areas.

If you’re grappling with some of the common challenges expressed by contact center leaders and supervisors at CCW, recognize that managers themselves are pivotal to addressing these issues. They, along with their teams, need to have the skills, mindset and behaviors to make the human connection a priority.

Here are 5 steps to get you started:

Ask your leaders to read this post on coaching to give them new insights around what constitutes effective coaching. Discuss with them their perspectives on why coaching isn’t happening and how that’s affecting the center’s ability to achieve key metrics.

Listen to your agent conversations through the filter of value to the customer.

  • Is the agent exhibiting a product-focused or a customer-focused mindset? How do you know?
  • Is the agent spending more time talking or asking open-ended questions to uncover additional needs, wants and concerns?
  • Are they missing opportunities to build rapport and make the customer feel valued?
  • Are they developing an emotional connection with customers that generate trust?

Questions like these are key to unlocking higher call quality, increased number of products and revenue per customer.

Evaluate how you develop manager skills

If you’re offering training to managers on coaching, now’s the time to re-examine it and make sure it’s giving them the skills and tools they can easily put to work back in the center. Does it provide a simple framework? Does it help them ask better questions and know what to listen for? And keep in mind that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to effective coaching.

Focus on manager mindsets

The conversations managers have with themselves about what they believe their employees can achieve are just as important as the conversations they have with their employees. When managers believe that an employee’s potential is limited, it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But with the right beliefs and support, a person is always capable of growing.

Revisit your employee training

Does your training help your call centers agents uncover needs and build value? Does it give them the skills and the confidence to adapt quickly to individual customer needs in the way that works best for them? Take a hard look at your training methods and approach. Sometimes, even the best-intended training can backfire, in more ways than one.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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