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The future of contact centres is technology, amplified by empathy

July 9, 2021

Everyone knows customers can be extremely demanding. And they are getting more so. That’s not a big surprise. Unfortunately, customer care is also under greater pressure due to cost and staffing constraints.

Many organisations address this issue by focusing on customer service teams. They look for humans to solve the problem while ignoring the absence of tools that customers might use to serve themselves; tools which would alleviate pressures on customer service teams.

The absence of these tools can lead to customer service agents being put in very difficult positions. Imagine an agent contacted by a frustrated and angry customer. But the agent doesn’t have the information they need to deal with the complaint. They don’t know who the customer is. They don’t know what action they should be taking to best help the customer.

And yet with the right tools this information could be made available to the agent in the contact centre, easily and in real time.

Omni-channel customer experience management

Contact centres are a key touchpoint for customers. Most customers will use several different channels to engage with a brand: stores, advertising, websites and social media, for example, as well as the contact centre itself.

All these channels are important. And certainly, the consumer sees them no differently: they are viewed as part of the same brand experience. That is why organisations need to consider their communication strategies holistically. They need to combine all their channels into one experience that reflects one single brand.

The problem is that, historically, many organisations have managed these different communications channels separately. The teams responsible for online self-service have been different to the teams managing the contact centres, for instance.

But because of changed customer expectations, this is no longer acceptable. Customers demand a single experience, irrespective of the channel they are using – an omni-channel customer experience. And the technology powering the best contact centres is at the heart of this.

Building brands with empathy

Contact centres have always been brand ambassadors. A poorly designed Interactive Voice Response journey will be irritating to most customers. Worse though, a frustrating experience with a contact centre agent who does not know who you are can be very damaging to a brand. But an agent empowered with Calling Line Identity software who welcomes you as an individual, and perhaps even predicts why you are calling, can build a powerful connection between brand and customer.

Contact centres need to leverage technology as well as human talent in order to deliver the best outcomes for the business and its customers. Technology can guide individual consumers, helping them solve their problems by themselves, or with the support of an automated virtual agent. And where that proves impossible, a human agent, supported by technology that delivers the right information will be able to advise on the next best action for that customer.

Importantly, contact centre agents who have relevant data at their fingertips will be able to relax and listen to their customers actively.  When someone actively listens to you, they are treating you as an individual. When they acknowledge your feelings, they are showing that they have heard and understood what you are saying. And when they have appropriate data about you, they can be even more empathetic.

Showing empathy is a very powerful way of establishing a connection between two people. When a customer is looking to buy, it is an effective way of closing the deal. When they are expressing unhappiness, it is a potent way of dispelling anger and even generating gratitude.

Enabling empathy through data

To be empathetic, contact centre agents need access to data about the person who is calling them so that they can easily and quickly respond to that customer’s situation.

If they have this data then they can be guided towards hyper-personalised results, where their script is specific to the correct demographic and even the likely customer need, as well as to the organisation’s requirements and limitations, such as delivery times.

Automating empathy

In some cases, customers who call a contact centre will be best served by being routed through to an automated system. For example, in some situations, when making an insurance claim to a machine for instance, people often prefer speaking to a machine than to a human.

In addition, automated processes can be simpler and more accurate, especially when data such as an address must be captured. In these circumstances, routing a caller through to a human only after the relevant data has been input may well be a better experience for both the organisation and the customer.

Helping the agent to a better job

By influencing customers to use the most appropriate channel for their requirements (for example, a web form, Interactive Voice Response, chat, SMS, email or voice), those routed through to a human contact centre agent, either immediately or at an appropriate stage of the transaction, will benefit most from the agent’s time.

With automated call routing, customers can be put through to a customer service agent in the right department, someone who is able to take appropriate decisions without having to refer the customer elsewhere.

With the right tools, agents can be empowered with relevant data about the customer. For example, they can know the caller’s history with the brand and why they reached the agent without being able to serve themselves. And the agent can be given information on how to best serve that customer and what is likely to please them most.

If the agent is empowered in this way, their experience of serving customers will be enriched: a motivated agent engaged with their role is likely to be far more empathetic, and effective, than a bored and frustrated one.

The appropriate use of technology will build stronger connections and trust between consumers and the businesses they engage with. This does not mean responding to all customer contacts via the telephone. Instead, organisations should collect data from all channels, generate insight about an individual customer with the assistance of AI, predict their needs, and then use that insight to route the customer to the appropriate channel where they can be given the most applicable information.

For those customers best served by an automated process, customer experience will be improved. And when customers need attention from a human agent, providing that agent with the appropriate data will enable them to display far greater empathy, driving customer satisfaction and loyalty. A win-win both for the customer and for the business.


This article was originally published on The Business Reporter as well as Bloomberg.