customer conversations

Our conversations with those who are leading contact center and customer experience organizations revealed that, now more than ever, technology doesn’t solve everything. In fact, in some cases, technology actually hinders having better customer conversations.

Each year during Customer Contact Week, we get the chance to hear from customer service, CX and call center leaders from across industries about the issues and challenges on their minds. Of course, over the past two years, one thing has been on all of our minds. And indeed, contact centers and their teams have been feeling the pressure as pandemic-related concerns like cancellations, bill payment extensions and other disputes have led to an increase in difficult calls and escalations. At the same time, many of the customer service agents who are working from home are dealing with other hurdles, like unreliable internet connections and a lack of face-time with their colleagues or a supervisor when they need help with a particular call or issue.

While technology was once again front and center at the Expo this year, our conversations with those who are leading contact center and customer experience organizations revealed that, now more than ever, technology doesn’t solve everything. In fact, in some cases, technology can create new problems and actually hinder having better customer conversations.

As we’ve done in previous years, this year we polled attendees who stopped by our booth at the Expo Hall to find out what their most pressing business and agent challenges are. Here are the three primary themes call center and customer experience leaders told us they’re most concerned about in 2022.

Call centers are losing the human factor in customer conversations.

This is an issue that has come up repeatedly over the years, but the emphasis is particularly notable this year, especially considering how predominant technology and automation-driven solutions were at CCW, not just in the Expo Hall but in keynote sessions as well.

There’s no doubt that AI-based applications, chat-bots, call-routing software and other tools are playing an important role in enhancing efficiencies and streamlining call center operations. But ironically, they’re also exposing just how important the human connection is in customer conversations.

We spoke with dozens of contact center leaders who said that their agents are being overwhelmed with “technology overload and disconnected systems,” a distraction that’s interfering with their ability to focus on their vital role as the other human being in the equation. While the Contact Center Week agenda gravitated almost entirely to technology-related topics, there was a great paradox. Attendees were strongly conveying that this heavy emphasis in their organizations is taking them further away from the true heart of customer service.

We also heard people say they want to reduce customer churn and increase CLV, but the question is, do the leaders at their companies and call centers give “customer experience” lip service in favor of driving call metrics?

Agents are missing important cues in customer conversations about (often unstated) needs.

Too many call center agents remain overly transactional and product-focused, spending more time talking than listening to go beneath the surface of what the customer is telling them. But when you’re trying to make sense of myriad tech tools and systems, it’s not easy to stay completely tuned in to what the customer is saying.

At a broader level, this points to an over-reliance on technology that’s eroding agents’ ability to get to the bottom of customer needs, personally connect with their situation and make high-value recommendations tailored to them. And if technology is being implemented in such a way that it’s replacing rather than complementing what the agent is doing, call centers may be facing a growing skills and expertise gap in this critical area.

It’s not surprising that this is a big concern for the leaders we spoke with. Listening for customer cues and asking good questions is how agents get to the root of the issue and understand how best to communicate with their customers and address their concerns. That’s ultimately how they’re able to deliver a customer experience that does more than just resolve the issue at hand; it creates positive word-of-mouth and long-term loyalty.

Closing this gap requires a focus on the agents’ mindset as well as their skill-set. Agents who believe their role is to create differentiating value by doing those things that only they can do will be internally motivated to make a personal connection with their customers so that they can fully address their needs. It’s not about getting through the call as quickly as possible; it’s about spending the right amount of time with that particular customer in order to solve their problem.

It’s taking too long to get new contact center agents ramped up and effectively trained.

Reducing the time it takes new agents to be productive and able to interact successfully with customers is a perennial concern we hear from call center leaders, and it’s closely related to the issues around training.

Call center leaders often complain that their agents are too reactive and take a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with customers, but that’s typically because the training hasn’t equipped their people to connect with customers as advisors rather than order takers. Training that focuses on product information, basic questioning and scripted responses won’t prepare agents to build the necessary rapport that’s the foundation for high-value conversations.

Another often overlooked aspect of training — one that accelerates agent development and also has a dramatic impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty — is a focus on internal, cross-functional communication and collaboration. Peer collaboration helps build individual confidence and an understanding of the roles different departments play in the customer value chain while also breaking down potential service barriers.

Rather than one-and-done training, this is a great way to build a stronger sense of ownership and purpose in the work people are doing every day to create meaningful value for their customers. It also helps expands their horizons about what’s possible. This is especially effective when managers are involved in the process, seeing what their teams are coming up with and discovering growth potential in their people they may not have been aware of before.

Call centers are making great strides in shedding the old stigma of being cost centers. As the organization’s front line, they’re emerging as a vital player in bolstering the brand’s reputation and increasing profitability. But as the leaders at CCW pointed out, building efficiencies through technology is only a part of the way forward. You can’t ignore the human factor — because your customers certainly aren’t.

Your people are the indispensable heart of the customer experience. Make sure they have the mindset and skillset to step up with passion and purpose, take ownership, solve problems and deliver differentiating value with every customer interaction.

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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