Customer service is a big part of the customer experience, and the contact center is a critical focal point for direct interaction with customers. With all the changes in technology recently, I wanted to ask an industry expert his thoughts on the future of the contact center in the customer experience space.
In this episode of the Modern Customer Podcast, I had a conversation with an expert who has probably worked with more contact centers over the past three decades than anyone else in the world. Brad Cleveland got his start in contact centers decades ago and has watched this space grow and develop as a consultant, speaker, course instructor, and author of ten books, including his latest, Leading the Customer Experience.
One of the biggest things Brad has noticed in his career is that contact centers are often underfunded and under-appreciated. However, he sees the contact center as an incredible resource, one that so many companies leave untapped. One reason for this, Brad explains, is that leaders are so often fixated on metrics and high-level reports. They don’t want to get out of their offices and join their employees on the front lines to learn about qualitative data. However, the contact center offers a wonderfully unique opportunity to speak with customers directly and listen to their problems and concerns.
So, how can contact centers show their value so that they get the attention and resources that they need to operate effectively?
Brad offers a simple model for three levels at which contact centers can show they create value. The first level is efficiency. contact centers can demonstrate that they can handle work and solve customers’ issues efficiently, especially in comparison to face-to-face interactions. The second level is customer satisfaction. When their needs are met and issues properly addressed, customers can feel greater loyalty to a brand or business. The third level where contact centers can create value is strategic. There is an incredible value to be had in direct interactions with customers to find out what a company can do in order to improve and innovate.
For example, contact center agents may hear again and again that a product is malfunctioning from customers who call in to complain. First, this saves the company costs associated with the inefficiency of in-person interactions. Second, the contact center staff can assure customers that they’re being heard and that something will be done about it. Finally, the product can be re-engineered to improve it, thus producing an innovation that will improve the customer experience and may also attract new business.
I also asked Brad about his view on the role of AI in customer experience, especially as it relates to contact centers. His response was much more positive than expected. In Brad’s view, contact center employees should see AI not as a threat to their jobs but as a tool to enhance their work. This incredible technology is going to be useful in screening interactions and managing data collected by contact centers. However, Brad believes that humans will still be essential in handling more complex issues that require judgment and empathy. In order to take full advantage of what AI can provide, Brad says that companies need to deeply examine their customer access strategies and look at all the ways that AI can help. They can then use it judiciously in ways that support their brands and serve their customers fairly and effectively.
Ultimately, Brad feels that while new tools and technologies can always be leveraged to improve the customer experience, it is the customer service agents, including contact center workers, who are closest to customers. This makes them an incredibly valuable resource for any company now and into the future.