On a recent contact center visit, I entered a room filled with newly hired agents, all of millennial age, and asked them, “When YOU are the customer, what channel do you prefer for your customer experience?”
Every one of them said they loved web self-service first, followed by web chat and social media. They also unanimously agreed that making a phone call would be their last resort.
Millennials are now America’s largest demographic group, so their preference for self-service, web chat, and social media means that a dramatic shift in the way contact centers support their customers is necessary. For example, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Contact Center Survey shows only 64% of customer interactions were made by phone last year. That number is projected to drop to only 47% in 2019, according to the study.
Voice is shrinking as a percentage of contacts, so voice-only BPOs are, in truth, fighting for a declining share of the market while other customer experience channels are growing exponentially.
What does this mean for voice-only BPOs?
It’s not as dire as it sounds, as there are still opportunities for voice-only BPOs to move into omnichannel customer service. Certainly, those BPOs that offer omnichannel customer service will have a distinct advantage over voice only BPOs this year and into the future.
Some clients may not have the technical expertise or skill set to offer written customer service, so BPOs can fill that gap. There’s also a huge market for helping clients with web chat, SMS/text, and email customer service support. Other clients may want 24/7 web chat support for their website, even if they only offer 9-5 weekday phone support, and BPOs can fulfill that need for .
Although there are clear benefits to offering text-based services, written customer service still has its fallbacks that need to be addressed from the offset.
Overcoming the Challenges of Text-Based Service
Firstly, hiring profiles need to change and BPOs will need to screen their applicants for written customer service skills. It’s common for potential agents to have learned English by writing school reports and essays, so their writing style may be too formal for the “business casual” style used on American web chats. Training in that style of customer service writing is the best way to overcome this.
Multitasking skills are another challenge. Omnichannel agents typically juggle 2-3 web chats or email threads at once, so they need guidance on multitasking, giving them the skills to switch between conversations without losing customer context or negatively impacting the customer experience.
A third challenge is how to seamlessly blend “cut and paste” answers into written web chat, email, and social media messages. For example, an agent may use informal contractions such as, “let’s” and “shouldn’t” in their chat window, before cutting and pasting a formally written marketing response to the customer’s question. The style of this copied text clearly communicates that it’s been written by someone else, so, from the customer’s viewpoint, the entire interaction now seems fake because of the jarring change in tone. To prevent this, agents need to be trained on how to properly position “cut and paste” answers to make customers feel special and appreciated.
Counteracting a Future of AI
In line with the boost in omnichannel services, I’ve been seeing an increasing use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) chatbots this year. For the uninitiated, these software programs read customer text and generate automated responses to basic questions. They can also work alongside voice analytics to determine a customer’s question and give a verbal answer using a synthetic voice. Think of how Apple’s Siri works on your smartphone – that same kind of speech recognition and natural language processing can also be used to answer customer inquiries.
In terms of how this impacts BPOs, a client’s in-house chatbots may handle many of the simple interactions that used to be outsourced, because chatbots can do it faster, cheaper, and more accurately. That leaves an opportunity to engage in more complex interactions for your agents, meaning a move toward agent profiles that display a higher set of skills.
According to Deloitte’s 2017 global contact center survey, 85% of organizations anticipate contacts will become more complex in the next 2 years, so agents need more training on problem solving, customer service skills, and product knowledge to solve increasingly complex interactions – something that chatbots and AI aren’t yet capable of.
From my perspective, it’s crystal clear that increased customer service complexity, widespread adoption of AI chatbots, and an increased need for written communication skills will cause some of the biggest impacts to customer experience this year, so voice-only BPOs will need to make some big changes to their business models in order to stay relevant in the coming years.