IS THE CALL CENTER DEAD?
I am of the MTV age, when the only thing used more than synthesizers was hair product. It was the summer of 1981 when the network launched, appropriately airing The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” as their first video ever. At the time, many believed it would foretell the decades to come on the path to radio extinction.
Of course, they were wrong – sort of. The old-school terrestrial radio has become a dinosaur, but it has adapted and survived via new technologies, formats, and customized offerings to meet the needs of its listeners.
So, why am I re-living old memories? Because it reminded me of the discussion, I hear a lot in the world of customer experience about whether the call center is dead. With the rising use of automation, many claim it is replacing (and eventually will eliminate completely) the role of humans in the customer journey.
SO….IS THE CALL CENTER DEAD?
Let’s be clear. No automation will completely replace the need for humans. AI, machine learning, bots, and all the other technology will complement humans to make the Cx machine smarter, faster, and stronger.
So, when I say “call center” I am talking about the practice of the office-based setup we all think about when we hear call center. It is a strategy that has been employed for decades and still is how many companies and BPOs insist upon when building their customer service teams.
As technology continues to advance and customer needs and expectations grow, the customer service experience begs for a reimagining. That tier 1 customer service that was the lifeblood of the BPOs for decades has been replaced by automation and pushed further and further away from customer experience leadership. The result is a bunch of empty seats.
The real value of human interaction in the customer journey is shifting to a much higher level, where the challenges that users face cannot be solved through machine learning and chatbots, and require sophisticated, specialized support to solve.
Not surprisingly, many of the same BPOs that are losing that tier 1 call center business are trying to fill those empty seats with these specialists. But they are making that decision at the expense of their customer’s best interest.
The simple truth is that technology has made call centers unnecessary, and the evolving expectations of top talent are making them less desirable. Here’s why…
Thanks to the wide availability of fast, reliable internet, those brick-and-mortar centers are no longer the only option. Remote workers are backed up by the same technology as traditional call centers and the end-user experience remains the same. All a virtual call center employee needs to work is internet service, a computer, and a headset.
Because agents can work all over the globe, call center availability can span multiple time zones, which is a significant advantage to businesses looking to offer 24/7 availability.
- Gartner reported that the legacy practice of exclusively on-site, employer-mandated work location is a “relic of the past.” Their study shows that a remote work model reduced workforce fatigue by up to 44%, and increased intent to stay by as much as 45%. Gartner also reports that “remote work opens new and diverse talent pools. It closes the gender gap, location gap, racial gap and abilities gap, empowering diversity, and inclusion.”
- A Stanford University study showed customer service teams working from home were 13% more productive than their counterparts working in the office.
- LinkedIn reported that more than 40% of millennials, who make up the largest generation in the workforce, say flexibility to work from anywhere is a priority when evaluating job opportunities.
- New challenges from COVID-19 have led to the rise of virtual contact centers, which come with their own set of opportunities for companies able to make the shift. Recent insights show that decreased operating expenses are the largest benefit companies see in the shift to remote call centers, closely followed by lower absenteeism and higher agent satisfaction. As 74% of CFOs say telecommuting will soon be permanent.
So, perhaps The Buggles anthem is analogous after all. Though the old call center approach isn’t quite dead for those basic customer needs, it’s getting there…and the next frontier is at a higher level of customer experience. One where expertise trumps “butts in seats,” and access to the best talent possible supersedes the real estate strategies.
The future here is a dispersed, remote customer experience team bound together by great program management, safe and secure technology tools and Cx leaders who are realizing it’s time to think differently.
Are you one of them?