Nicola Millard

Can Your Contact Centre Agents (and Managers) Leap Tall Buildings

The world of work is getting more complex. As technology takes away the routine, mundane and predictable, we humans are left to do the heavy lifting. Few professions are immune to the march of the machines – and contact centres, in particular, are having to rise to new challenges.

One of the fundamental questions is what contact centres are there to do in a world where “autonomous” customers doing a lot more themselves. Some assume that self-service will make the contact centre as we know it redundant by 2020 – but are they right?

We decided to ask contact centre industry professionals what they believed contact centres would look like by 2020 – and the answer wasn’t really too surprising. 54% of them reckoned that the contact centre would be dealing with the complex and emotive stuff that humans are far better at doing than technologies.

Who do you entrust complex, emotive enquiries to? Is it the lowest paid, most junior, least experienced employee? Logically the answer to that question is “no” but, in practice, in many contact centres today the answer is still “yes”.

Who do we need in the contact centre? With complexity going up, along with call handling times, do we need to employee people with superhuman powers – SuperAgents?

In fact, the primary superpower required for a contact centre agent seems to be the ability to communicate often complex concepts effectively (48% regarded this as a vital). People who are good at this often need to have an in-depth understanding of the products and services that they are being asked about. By implication, they also need to be naturally good problem solvers who can effectively stick a fork through the spaghetti of internal processes on the customers’ behalf.

One contact centre strategist summed it up: “customers are calling us about an issue because of the complexity of the world we are living in. We have termed this a ‘contact centre job’ – with people being paid the same wage as ten years ago. That is unsustainable – you will not get expert problem solvers who are shifting organisations in six monthly cycles – they are call handlers – we need expert problem solvers”.

Superpowers are not limited to agents – we may need SuperManagers too! With complex tasks being undertaken by expert agents, contact centre management becomes less about command and control micromanagement and more about understanding the bigger picture. 62% of managers believed that they will become the guardians of customer experience by 2020.

In the absence of X-ray vision, they will need tools that tell them, in real time, why customers are making contact rather than just counting contacts and monitoring quality. If the website is down, they need to work with the web team to, firstly, alert them of the issue but also manage customer expectations as to when things might be resolved, as well rapidly getting the resources in place to take the inevitable deluge of contacts.

All good super heroes need a mentor. SuperManagers will need solid back up from their senior management to ensure that customer experience is given the priority it needs. This will undoubtedly be helped if customer experience, and the contact centres’ increasingly strategic role in it, is recognised at board level. Above all they need to resist falling back on traditional cost/resource optimisation measures (such as call handling time (CHT)) when the going gets tough.

Are your agents and managers ready to leap tall buildings?

Want to know more? Read our ‘SuperAgent 2020’ research.


Nicola is speaking about Super Agent TODAY at Customer Contact Expo 2014.

Find out more about BT’s Contact Centre solutions.

Nicola Millard

How autonomous customers challenge utilities companies

By Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist BT

Customers never contact you to say thank you. Some would say that’s ungrateful of them but, when it comes to water and power, we expect things to work at the flick of a switch or the turn of a tap.

In fact, utilities are services that we only realise we have, when we don’t! The product is either all or nothing. It can’t really be physically differentiated (peppermint water on tap anyone?) In fact the only thing we tend to notice is the money that gets taken from our accounts on a very regular basis. [Read more...]

Nicola Millard

The reinvention of the office: does distance still matter?

By Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist BT

Technology seems to be heralding the death of distance as we become untethered from our desks by a combination of mobile technologies, connectivity and cloud. Packed commuter trains and rush hour traffic jams show us a different picture. Maybe work hasn’t changed as much as the digital revolution initially promised and distance does still seem to matter.

The truth is that co-location may look like an easy solution for fostering collaboration but it doesn’t guarantee it. It is just as easy to feel isolated in an office as it is working from a remote location and the people just five bays down might just as well be on the moon to people in many offices. [Read more...]

Nicola Millard

Leadership in a digital age

By Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist BT

Collaboration is, by definition, a social activity. However, it needs a reason to occur, it is unlikely to happen unless there is some purpose, goal or outcome to achieve. In delivering a large, time-bound and mission-critical project — like London 2012 Olympics, for example — the goal is obvious and time is of the essence. However, when things aren’t so obvious, targets are blurred or tasks have been divided up in a way that no-one can see how they are contributing to overall success, collaboration isn’t so easy.

This is where leaders come into their own. Work is often extremely fluid, unpredictable, virtualised and globalised. Leadership is less about command and control. It is about being able to connect networks of people who ‘know stuff’ together in an agile way and enabling them to collaborate without necessarily having the advantage of bringing them together physically. The need to build trust in teams without physical presence is going to be the single biggest leadership challenge of the near future. [Read more...]

Nicola Millard

12 ways to collaborate more effectively

Dr. Nicola Millard has donned her festive hat once again, and has compiled her list of the top 12 tips for collaborating more effectively within your business. 

  1. Remember you can’t collaborate on your own. Getting the right people involved at the right time is vital. That means knowing who is available and bringing them in using whichever collaboration tool is most accessible to everyone.
  2. One size doesn’t fit all where collaboration is concerned. Culture, age, extroversion/introversion, context and pyjama wearing can all be factors dictating the best choice of ‘common ground’ for collaboration. Video conferencing is pointless if some team members don’t have cameras, are shy or are in bed; WebEx is not effective if some people aren’t looking at screens. Almost everyone has email, but people respond at different rates. Voice is still, most often, the common ground. [Read more...]