All experts to the coal face

Contact centre agents don’t talk to as many people as they used to. Simple enquiries are dealt with automatically. But that hasn’t made agents’ jobs easier – it’s made them more difficult. As far as they’re concerned, the average enquiry has become a great deal more complex.

Research shows  that customers do their homework before they call a contact centre. They use the self-service tools available to them, they read the FAQ, they arm themselves with googleknowledge and then, when they’re truly stuck, they call the contact centre. Fifty-six percent of people polled said the things they spoke to agents about were much more complex than before.

This has had a big impact on the organisations they call. They now find that they have to put their experts—the people from the back office—at the customer’s disposal. Or, to put it another way, to make their back office their front office.

Contact centres used to protect the experts from the general public, but now that they’re barraged with complex queries, it makes sense to “speed-date” the customer with the relevant expert. And this could be done through a variety of channels. BestBuy, an American consumer electronics company, uses Twitter to put its experts at the disposal of its customers. Anyone with expertise at BestBuy can volunteer to be a “twelper”.

Companies need to get away from siloed back-office/front-office way of thinking and put their experts at the disposal of the contact centre. They need to make the organisation’s “hive mind” available to the customer. When customer loyalty is hard- won—as our research confirms—a good customer experience is essential.

People often ask me if it’s expensive to put all your experts at the customer’s disposal. I would argue that it’s more expensive if you lose customers because they’ve had to call half a dozen times with the same problem, only to get nowhere. It’s better to put them through to experts immediately and let them resolve problems in one hit. The “right first time” model doesn’t just apply to quality management in manufacturing; it works for contact centres too.

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